When we started reviewing Atlas, we noted that there were many problems with the game, some of which ended up being non-issues or solved quickly, such as the issues we encountered with vitamins, but the core gameplay was fun and the concept was great. Unfortunately, by getting through the honeymoon period and getting further along in the game, we became aware of larger, systemic problems that couldn’t be overlooked. While it’s possible that these problems will be solved in future updates, and we hope they are, we aren’t holding our breath because Ark, the game that acted as a base for the development of Atlas, still has unresolved issues, which the developers seem uninterested in fixing.
The claim system that Atlas released with is simply unacceptable. At release, our entire group played more or less all day every day in the first couple of weeks. We were definitely ahead of the curve in getting a ship built, yet because the claim system allows anyone to make as many claims as they want, by the time we sailed off looking for a place to call home, literally everything was already claimed, including islands that were missing key resources, not to mention that defending claims is easy enough that we had multiple occasions where we would land on what appeared to be a mostly uninhabited island, just to fail at staking a claim because one or two dudes would manage to re-take it through guerilla warfare before the timer went far enough to flip the claim.
As time went on, these claimed islands did change hands – typically to groups with vastly superior numbers. This sort of claim system, where the only limit on the number of claims you can have is your ability to defend them, makes the game very difficult for smaller groups, and coupled with other issues we’ll discuss later in this article, led us to the realization that in order to survive in Atlas in its current rendition, you need to join a much larger group than the six or seven people we were playing with.
We’ve given the claim system a lot of thought and we think there are a couple options for solving the claim system. The first thing we came up with is an upkeep system – if it cost a certain amount of resources a day per claim, with the upkeep being low for the first claim and increasing as you claim more land, even larger groups would avoid claiming too much land lest they need to spend a lot of their play time gathering resources just to pay for the upkeep.
The other option we thought of would be implementing a hard cap on the number of claims that a group can have, based on the number of members in the group, so that a single person cannot sail off in a raft and claim an entire island for themselves. Indeed, it may be a more prudent response to combine size-based limits for groups as well as an increasing upkeep system.
Until a solution is presented for the claims system, it will remain extremely difficult for a small group to be able to get a plot of land to build on.
The other major issue that makes the game difficult, if not impossible, for small groups to progress is the way that ships are implemented in the game. For a game that largely revolves around building and sailing ships, it is pretty easy to destroy someone else’s hard work. Granted some changes have been made to make ships more resilient (at launch, a single player with harvesting tools could break ship planks and sink ships after only a few minutes – this was changed to make planks invulnerable to tools), they are still really easy to destroy – especially when the people who built the ship are offline.
Even with ships not being able to be sunk by spiteful players with tools, the fact that wood is the only material you can build with on ships means that they can never be used as a mobile, main base of operations, because wood is not a very resilient material – anyone, given a few minutes of time, can easily and inexpensively raid ships.
The final issue with ships has to do with the cost of using cannons, which we will go over below.
In our opinion, offline raiding of ships is way too easy for the amount of effort that goes into building them. For a minimal amount of resources and a couple minutes of time, a single player with a barebones vessel with a cannon can sink a ship that takes many man-hours to build. Without being part of a massive group, it is next to impossible to ensure that ships are protected at all times. One of our suggested solutions is an invulnerability timer – if, say, ships became invulnerable after 30 minutes of being anchored and not taking damage, small groups could sleep easy at night knowing that their ships will still be there in the morning.
Cannons in Atlas are rad; they feel great to use and the noise they make is awesome, but realistically, both the cannon itself, and cannon ball ammunition are both extremely inexpensive. One of the main ways players defend themselves in other, smaller scale survival games, such as Rust, is by being an unattractive target – raiding in most survival games requires expensive explosives, the number of which is determined by how many doors or walls need to be taken down to penetrate into a base, but in Atlas, with ammunition costing very little, this defense does not exist; that is to say, in Atlas, unlike any other PVP survival game, the cost of putting a wall up isn’t way cheaper than the cost of destroying it, meaning that if a group is offline, there is little to no reason for potential raiders not to use cannons to destroy ships and bases as the breakeven cost is very low.
The conclusion we have come to is that while Atlas may be ground-breaking in scale for a survival game, there are still many bugs to be worked out, and several core game design issues that make it impossible for a small or normal-sized group of friends to prosper – indeed, unless you are willing to join a massive alliance that has hundreds of people, a situation that will likely involve you spending time in game gathering resources just to pay tax to whatever group you join, and are okay with being an unimportant pawn, Atlas in its current state probably isn’t for you. As for us, we’re cautiously optimistic that Atlas will continue to evolve – the underlying game is pretty fun – but this is the end of the line for us, for now. As for me, I’m taking this time to revisit some of Steam’s greatest single player games, Rimworld, Kerbal Space Program, and Factorio (Okay, so Rimworld and KSP both have 3rd party multiplayer and Factorio has seamless multiplayer integration supporting literally hundreds of players in co-op, but they’re all amazing single player experiences).