Firing up the preview for Grounded on my Xbox, I wasn’t sure of what to expect from this project from Obsidian, it is an open world-ish survival game made by a small team of a dozen or so developers as a passion project. It’s main premise is best described as “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” meets Rust or Minecraft but there is so much more under the surface that makes this gameplay loop super satisfying.
You start the game by selecting 1 of 4 colourful characters and are sent into the world with the clothes on your back and nothing else. Everything in this world feels interesting to say the least, pebbles become big stones which you can use to defend yourself, sprigs of grass become weapon shafts and plant fibres the binding agent to make your first tools. the game world doesn’t hold your hand, you explore the world for landmarks and have environmental puzzles to solve as you delve deeper into the back story and ultimately try to solve how to restore your size and get home.
Enemies in this world are things you normally wouldn’t expect to be challenging but when you are the size of an ant everything can be a challenge. I spent most of my time bullying mites and gnats while trying to tactically take-down or avoid bigger bugs which have no worry chasing you down and trying to take you out. there are the obvious big bads that everyone has seen in different spider types, merciless hunters that will not easily lose your scent but also stink bugs, beetles and soldier ants that will also provide you with the opportunity to defeat them to extract carapaces to make armour and more deadly weapons.
The gameplay loop is something you would expect out of an open world survival game. you start small and collect resources to craft tools to extract better resources to craft bigger things. there is also a scientific element, using an analyzer station to inspect your findings to glean into bigger recipes with which to master the world. a few blades of grass can be turned into planks to make walls which then can be built into a makeshift hut, or you can harvest more and build a fully fledged base with a cooking station, sleeping bay and defensive fortifications. A trampoline to springboard yourself above the grass and more easily find landmarks.
While doing all this you have a hunger and thirst meter to manage while your combat is dictated by a health and stamina bar, you will have to manage how you engage enemies by checking to see how much stamina you have, how low your hunger meter is and what other enemies are around you. For instance my first foray into attacking an ant for armour pieces led to a quick defeat because I had forgot to check my surroundings and was attacked from behind by a pair of ants and a few mites.
Unfortunately, for now, you are limited to a 30-minute foray into this world which only begins to scratch the surface of what is possible and I wasn’t able to make use of the multiplayer mode where you and up to 3 friends can work together to perform various roles and work together but in the short time I did have with the world cements further in my belief that this is a fully realised game world and a solid base from which obsidian can expand and make a truly great game that can rival the survival world paramours that currently occupy the genre.
Graphically the game is nicely polished, I didn’t experience any game-breaking texture issues or bugs in my playthrough and had a fun time in this cartoony world, your crafted tools and weapons feel right and enemy bugs react well to being hit or staggered. Another shining piece of storytelling is done through the music, you will notice tonal shifts in the ambient soundtrack when discovering new landmarks, rising above the canopy to see the backyard world in its majesty or more spookily notice the ominous change to battle melodies when being stalked or attacked.
Compared to its paramours in Rust or DayZ the gameplay is no more difficult or simplistic but the allure and charm of grounded is leagues above thanks in part to the fully realized game world and systems in place. If this is the starting section I can see a game that grows into something wondrous along the lines of Rare’s Sea of Thieves where the game world is the story teller and the interactions with your friends are the stories.
As this game comes into a more open preview in a few weeks, there will be another preview update launching July 28th on Xbox consoles and a full release slated sometime in 2021. The word that describes this game most is potential. The potential for more experiences, more stories and more fun with your friends. I leave this preview with a great anticipation of the updates to come.