When Obsidian announced an online survival experience as their next game, we were taken by surprise a little bit. The studio is known for big, single-player RPGs and this is quite a departure from that. However, after going hands-on with Grounded at X019, it definitely has the potential to put a unique spin on the genre.
That different style is evident right off the bat. Survival games are realistic by nature, and most examples follow that with their art style. However, Grounded is more A Bug’s Life than Mad Max, as it’s set in a suburban backyard. In a Honey I Shrunk the Kids twist; you play as four kids who are about the same size as ants. This makes the typically friendly nature of a backyard scenario seems strangely imposing. Spiders look like giant monsters and even your typical garden bug poses a threat. In short, Grounded may look cartoony and friendly but there’s something strangely eerie about it.
You have some decent tools at your disposal though. In my demo, I started out life with a scrappy-looking spear, a thrown together axe and a giant wooden hammer. I was given no real direction for the demo, aside from a vague in-game message of “Craft, Build, Survive”. However, the crafting systems and menus were nicely laid out and easy to grasp. Your base had a more complex crafting table, which you needed to gather resources for first. From this point, I went to explore the garden and came across a nasty ant colony.
The spear was the best choice for these foes, as keeping the nippy beasts at a distance was advisable. Combat felt solid, and the ants made a satisfying squelchy sound upon death. The performance did take a hit when multiple ants ganged up on me, but for pre-release code of a Game Preview title that is to be expected. After this encounter, I wandered aimlessly in the world of Grounded before a message popped up saying my base was under attack. Startled, I ran back towards my base (there was a convenient icon onscreen) to tackle whatever was waiting for me.
It was just a spider, but in the world of Grounded it was a mini-boss fight. I didn’t manage to kill it before my time ran out, but the encounter provided some interesting push and pull. We circled around my base for a good five minutes, while I launched axe attacks and spear throws in his direction. The spider’s hits were powerful and for a hot minute I thought I was playing Dark Souls. The fight might have been easier had I got a few friendlies with me, or if I’d crafted some better equipment. In any case, the spider had absolutely wrecked my base.
Outside of exploration and combat, I didn’t have much time to test Grounded’s other systems. The crafting menus were intuitive though, and with a little messing around you could get a good thing going in your garden. The team at Obsidian have said other world systems are in play too, like a full day/night cycle with different critters in each. It would be interesting to see Grounded take a leaf out of Dying Light’s book and provide a tougher experience at night. The environment can already be creepy, and night-time play could set up some tense survival moments.
Grounded still felt like it had a ways to go before completion, and I’m intrigued to see how it will do in Game Preview next spring. The setting was the biggest differentiator from other games in the genre, and hopefully Obsidian can run with that. Behind the performance issues and lack of objective clarity, there is a decent-feeling survival experience at play in Grounded.