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  • Writer's picturePaul Neafsey

Early Access Review - Core Keeper

Developer: Pugstorm

Publisher: Fireshine Games

Available on: PC (Steam Early Access), set to release on consoles in Summer 2024

Core Keeper drops players – literally, as the pixelated character falls from the world above – into a world of survival and discovery. From foraging to farming, mining ore to crafting better equipment, and defeating stronger monsters to discover farther and survive longer. This is a cycle familiar to many gamers with evocations of action-oriented sandbox survivals like Terraria and Valheim, with a dash of cozy game Stardew Valley thrown in that extends past just its top-down pixelated look. 

Core Keeper attempts to thread the needle to keep it familiar enough to feel intuitive while offering a balanced challenge. 

The game involves the necessity of resource grinding and occasional difficulty spikes, both of which are inherent mechanics in the survival and RPG genres. Core Keeper avoids the pitfalls of repetitive actions through its sheer breadth of options, making it easy to cycle through the goal-of-the-moment and progress at your pace. 

Uncovering new ores allows better weapons and tools, enabling further exploration. Crafting is a major part of the genre, and Core Keeper is no different. Eventually being able to craft modes of transportation and even generators and circuits to build surprisingly complex systems. Drills to chip away at ore deposits, conveyor belts, and crane arms to move the resources to smelters, and even depositing them in a chest ready for pickup are just some of the options some inventive players have created. 

Of course, between mining and fighting you might decide to put down the sword in exchange for a fishing pole or try your hand at farming. 

The world is massive, and it is up to the player to explore it how they want. Core Keeper rewards each player’s individual style while offering incentives to try out new options. A streamlined skill tree accumulates experience in a particular skill the more you use it, rewarding your playstyle and encouraging experimenting with others. Advancing one skill tree can benefit others. For instance, cooking may enhance the benefits of certain foods, while fishing could increase your ranged accuracy.

Each item and gear found or crafted offers various bonuses that can be better suited to certain environments or tasks. Even animal companions can be better suited to different playstyles, and you can upgrade them as they gain experience as well – making them not only useful but an extension of the game’s progression.

All of this will be helpful to traverse the truly massive map of different biomes or environments, each with its own familiar and new slew of resources and enemies. As the map grows and the enemies get harder, you might want to call in some help. Luckily, players can invite up to seven friends through a game ID system. Playing it solo, however, offers a rewarding challenge that never tips into being punitive. 

Not much direction is given – in fact, there is little direct storytelling, preferring to leave it to the player to fill in the blanks with their own narrative. Core Keeper utilizes its procedurally generated map to craft a world that feels more than the sum of its parts. Often, exploring offers ways to find hidden treasure or uncover a new resource, but sometimes the player will come across structures that hint at a longer past and deeper tale. While exploring one might find camps where the inhabitants have set up their own miniature farms complete with animal pens and decorative items. This is a well-balanced edge, providing just enough story and mystery providing a foundation to the world while letting the player fill in the rest. 

All that being said, there is still room for improvement. The 2D top-down view comes with the inherent obstacle of larger foreground objects hiding objects from view, and in the mid-to-late game the map becomes cluttered, making utilizing the map markers and late-game options cumbersome – often resorting to zooming out then into an area you want to look at. Additionally, while expected in many games of the genre and despite the praise for the intuitive logic, it is often required to resort to the Wiki to understand next steps and cryptic instructions. 

This game presents a balanced recipe that tries to be attractive to a wide audience – appealing to fans of the myriad of games that have obviously inspired it. Hopefully, it manages to establish its own identity. The ultimate verdict on Core Keeper’s fate – whether it transcends mediocrity or births a novel sensation – rests upon individual palates. 

Being in Early Access, players can expect more tweaks before release; however, the current version offers a hearty meal that should satisfy many taste buds. Overall, Core Keeper’s ability to provide depth and complexity while remaining inviting is promising.

Core Keeper is set for full release in Summer 2024

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1 Comment

Ann Green
Ann Green
May 28

Players are very impressed with Core Keeper in this update as players are given new options and this experiment encourages players to experience more and bring more benefits. Happy Wheels

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