Core Keeper makes the sandbox survival sim formula feel new

in the Core Keeperplayers are thrown into the middle of a massive, procedurally generated cave. In the heart of this cave you build and collect resources: food to prevent starvation, ore for armor and tools. You fight enemies and uncover mysteries deep underground.

It’s a classic formula that will appeal to fans of base builder survival sims, and the game sold more than 500,000 copies in its first two weeks of early access on Steam. I have described the game to friends as top-down terrariumsalthough it shares similarities with unshakable entries like Walheim, Don’t starveand collectorwith a bit Stardew Valley even. Core KeeperThe multiplayer mode of (up to eight people) similarly facilitates a lot of cooperation and strategy development. But the game is anything but derivative. It weaves proven survival sim elements into a tight gameplay loop where gameplay is tedious in a way that feels meditative without being overly repetitive.

Core Keeper feels like a dungeon crawler you create. You gather materials by mining square tiles, and for most of the game you are surrounded by walls that hide explorable areas. The early game is basically just breaking down barriers and filling your pockets. This dig allows you to dig up different regions and expand the map. But the opening hides much more complexity behind the rock faces. As in Walheim, Regions have big bosses, although it is possible to play and dodge important parts of the game. Some of these creatures are truly terrifying, however Core KeeperThe pixel art style of makes the game look self grown.

A Core Keeper character who builds his base on a river.

Image: Pugstorm/Fireshine Games

It’s a familiar cadence: use resources to strengthen your base, craft items to help you explore further, gear up for the boss fight, build secondary bases, and improve return routes to key areas. As the paths you create get more and more complicated, you can rely on your map to pull out as an overlay. And while bosses add to the challenge, the craft-focused sandbox design caters to people less interested in hardcore combat and more interested in base building. I’ve only been at it for about ten hours, but I’ve been watching Twitch streams where players have been building extensive bases and crafting advanced items that I haven’t even seen in my playthrough.

All of this is supported by Core Keeper‘s simple skill system. The more times you perform a particular activity, the more points you earn to spend on related perks. You choose a starting class that offers bonuses – I chose to become a chef, which automatically gave me a cooking pot and some mushrooms. I chose this role because it looked cute, but the food-related stat bonuses are delightful. For example, a certain type of spicy flower makes you run faster and looks a bit like a burrito when cooked. Eating is also the key to filling up your “Hunger” bar and staying alive.

This is an exciting amount of depth for a game that feels simple at first glance. Core Keeper does a great job slowly revealing its crafting system and the breadth of ways you can build your base. You learn mostly by doing it – by unlocking additional perks or finding new materials and asking yourself, “What can I do with this?” – a rare quality in a genre burdened by many archaic rules and difficult-to-navigate screens can. I love these types of games too, but I appreciate the streamlined simplicity of Core Keeperwhich got me off to a flying start.

All of this shapes into a very inviting experience that highlights dense layers of design on the road. Even in early access, these feel like the raw materials of a multiplayer survival sim that will draw a lasting audience. I can’t wait to see it continue to grow. Core Keeper makes the sandbox survival sim formula feel new


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