Stellar Overload is a “3D open-world, blocks-based, FPS, adventure” game from the developers over at Cubical Drift Studios, and it’s currently in Early Access on Steam. The game employs elements of several other well-known games and genres, and adapts them to its own style. It’s impossible to talk about this game without talking about Minecraft and No Man’s Sky, which were clearly large influences. At its core, Stellar Overload is a creative building game, but Cubical Drift has their own unique take on the genre.
I quite enjoyed my time playing Stellar Overload, but it’s hard to avoid the fact that the game isn’t finished. As is, Stellar Overload is a good game, but with a bit more work, it could easily be a great game.
The story mode was my favorite part of Stellar Overload. I’m not the most creative person, at least when I’m playing video games—to me, Minecraft became tedious after a few hours. Sure, I made a terrible looking castle, but I wasn’t feeling a sense of accomplishment. The story mode in Stellar Overload gives you that sense of accomplishment. You’ve got quests allow you to explore the world and build meaningful structures. I got lost on my way to one of the objectives, and ended up exploring an entire cave system. I wasn’t just aimlessly exploring, I was exploring with a goal in mind. I ended up tunneling my way into the camp I was meant to find, rather than finding the entrance. Honestly, this experience alone was far more fun than Minecraft ever gave me.
Unfortunately, the story is the place where the game is lacking as well. The missions are great, but they’re simplistic, and, even worse, they’re over far too quickly. The longevity is the real problem here. For this game to stand out from the crowd of other indie creative games, the story mode is key. Without the story mode, the game, ultimately, plays like a reskinned Minecraft or No Man’s Sky. When the story was finished, I felt like I was playing a worse version of both of those games. Stellar Overload has a lot of charm and potential, but it relies heavily on a story that’s simply not there–at least, for now.
Exploration in Stellar Overload
The exploration portion of the game was interesting enough, but eventually the aimlessness becomes overwhelming. You are given a ship and can explore different worlds, which is interesting. If you’re someone who enjoys exploring for hours on end, you’ll love what this game presents. If not, you’ll probably get bored soon after finishing the story. There are a lot of planets to explore, but again, you’re exploring for exploration’s sake. Resource collection and exploration seem to be at odds with one another, since you’re rarely able to tell at a glance if a planet has the ore you’re looking for. While the game’s textures are nice, it can be a bit hard to tell what you’re looking at sometimes.
As for actual cave exploration, Stellar Overload makes it pretty easy. I did a bit of exploring before completing the first few quests – don’t do that. Exploring is painful until you are given the jetpack and headlamp. Then, however, it becomes quite enjoyable! There are lots of caves to explore throughout the game. The loot you find is cool, but rarely awe inspiring. Still, if you’re an explorer at heart, you’ll love Stellar Overload.
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Crafting and Building
The crafting and building portions of Stellar Overload are very similar to Minecraft. You find benches that allow you to make goods, and the game tells you what you need for each item. It’s a bit simpler than Minecraft’s trial and error for beginners. Sometimes you’ll need to use multiple benches to complete a project, but it’s never too confusing, and the largest obstacle is gathering the resources you need. The biggest problem with crafting is that there isn’t a ton of interesting stuff to craft. A bunch of weapons, some fancy stuff like regeneration pods, but no end-goal stuff, at least from what I experienced. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the lack of an ‘end game’ is a turnoff for a gamer like me. Still, the crafting system was intuitive and got the job done. Props.
The building portion, however, was the largest source of disappointment. Stellar Overload has blocks that are about half the size of those in Minecraft. You can mine them in blocks of one by one, or two by two. Mining four blocks at a time is quite efficient, and you can collect or travel quite quickly. Building, however, is limited to one at a time. There is (allegedly) a mechanic that allows you to click and drag and create a wall, but it was extremely difficult to get working properly – I usually just ended up doing it one block at a time.
The textures in Stellar Overload aren’t nearly as refined as other games. This is potentially due to the Early Access status, but it does mean that building leaves something to be desired. Sure, you can build a house, but it won’t look like it has nice wooden walls, a door, and a window. Or at least they won’t be as pretty as others. Which is unfortunate, because Stellar Overload’s aesthetic and the smaller blocks mean that the game has potential to be truly beautiful.
Stellar Overload has a lot of charm. It takes what other games have done and improves on the fundamentals without feeling derivative or, like other indie games, a direct rip-off. There are parts that Stellar Overload does better, and parts that are in need of improvement. The exploration is enjoyable, especially with the addition of a jetpack and headlamp. The worlds of Stellar Overload are beautiful and vibrant. The story mode is great, and provides a goal for people like myself, who don’t do well with aimlessness.
However, once the story is finished and you’ve explored a few caves, the game begins to lose its appeal. It’s still beautiful, but it’s no better than the other dozen games in its genre, most notably Minecraft. The crafting provides no end-game content and the building isn’t optimized. Once you’ve completed the story, it feels that you’ve simply done all there is to do. This would be fine, except the story is only a few hours long.
Stellar Overload is a great game with a lot of potential, but the developers will need to provide more end-game content to truly realize that potential. Whether that is in the form of a longer story or a fully fleshed out crafting mode, it just needs something more.
I do hope to revisit Stellar Overload once it has officially released. Once it’s gone through Early Access, I have faith that the developers will have an excellent game on their hands. Honestly, with even just a bit more content, Stellar Overload could easily snag an 8 or 9 rating. For now, however…
Editor’s note: Esports Edition was provided with a review copy of Stellar Overload by the developer. As with all of our game and hardware reviews, our opinions are our own, and this article truthfully and accurately reflects our experiences with the product. Please review our Ethics Policy for more information.