Took me a while, but I finally found the game that scratched the build and automate itch I’d been having for the past few weeks. I’ll admit that part of my reasoning for staying away from Satisfactory for as long as I did was the fact it was an Unreal store exclusive and it coming to Steam just so happened to coincide with when I was really getting the itch to waste hours on automating something pointless. In playing Satisfactory I feel like my gripes against many other builder/automation type games are valid as where they fall down it manages to step up and show how things could be done. However, like all of these games for me, there seems to be a natural end date to my time with them, even if that time is some 18 hours of in-game time away.
Satisfactory’s premise is, in a nutshell, the embodiment of a capitalism. You’re dropped on a world that’s brimming with untapped resources and it’s your job to extract as much of them as you can for your employing company: FICSIT. The company wants to make sure you’re properly setup with the basics before they give you access to the really good stuff though and so you’ll have to jump through some hoops proving your worth before the full toy box is made available to you. This world might look peaceful on the outside but like any other many dangers lie in wait so you’d better prepare yourself for some fisticuffs with the native wildlife if you want to survive to see your first paycheck.
For a game that’s quite likely to get wildly out of control as you build your factory up Satisfactory has surprisingly good graphics with a lot of attention paid to certain kinds of details that I honestly didn’t expect. Seeing all the items physically on the conveyor belts is honestly quite astonishing and the fact it can do that and simulate your entire factory off screen without completely tanking the framerate is really something else. Of course if you’re so inclined you can bring everything to its knees but even then, should you relocate to another area the frame rate will improve again whilst still maintaining your factory in the background. That being said the map does start to feel a bit samey after a while as there’s not a lot of variation in the different bits of terrain, NPCs or other items that dot the landscape. There are other maps types you can try though so if the only thing that’s boring you is the scenery then the game already has a fix for that.
There’s really no overarching purpose to the game (although there’s a lot of breadcrumbs suggesting that’s coming in a future update) beyond just building things so you can build more things that will then allow you to unlock the next tier which will allow you to build more, different things. The in-game tutorial does a great job of pointing you in the right direction to get your initial base setup, making sure that you’ve got a good grasp of the fundamentals before it sets you free. From there it’s a combination of exploration, base building and optimisation to get your factory working towards the current goal you’ve set for it. Then once you’ve got enough of whatever you’re needed to build completed you can then put those resources into the right place (either the base…thinger or the space elevator) and send them on their merry way in order to unlock tech. The premise is simple enough but where you’ll go with it is going to highly depend on who you are as a person and a problem solver.
I, like I think a lot of players, started off with quite a lot of assumptions which may or may not have been adequately explained in the tutorial sections. These were simple things like 1 miner to 1 builder or smelter which isn’t typically correct, or that building a factory on the ground was a better idea than laying down foundations as why would I want spend my precious concrete on that? This is why I think my first few hours with the game were probably a lot more frustrating than they would have otherwise been, making those initial starting goals a lot more challenging to complete. However once I began to figure those things out my mind started turning towards the idea of optimisation and that’s where the game got its hooks well into me.
My first factory design was built off the idea that I’d always need a steady supply of base components for whatever reason and so I had a conveyor belt system that would siphon off half the output of every stage in my factory’s process and send it back to a storage container down at the front. That worked well enough for the first few stages where you do need a lot of primary resources to get things going but after a while the complexity of the siphoning system made it rather hard to optimise the output of any particular stage, leading to deficiencies that I was making up for by ferrying materials around. Me only being a single player meant that this wasn’t a particular sustainable solution of course, so I instead decided that the whole thing had to come apart so I could optimise the current productions to the point where there was a surplus at any stage and if I needed a certain component I could just rob whatever constructor had the thing I needed.
This worked well enough that I felt confident enough to start exploring a bit further knowing that my overarching goal of getting to the next tier would bubble away in the background and I could stock myself up with enough supplies to start routing things back to my main base. This was at the same point I started to encounter some not-so-small power problems with the 8 or so biomass generators I was running doing an OK job but requiring far too much manual intervention to ensure things could keep ticking over. Getting my first coal fired power plant up felt like a pretty great achievement, enough so that I got a few more up and running to ensure I didn’t have to worry about them for a while to come. This is where I started to become acquainted with some of the less satisfying parts of Satisfactory: namely the slightly wonky save system.
You see at one point Satisfactory simply forgot about a single power line connection between the coal miner and the rest of the power grid. Now since that was a rather long conveyor belt it took awhile for me to notice that the coal wasn’t coming through and a bit longer to track down exactly what had happened. I thought at first it might’ve been one of those giant things ploughing through my electrical grid but I had one of those suckers loose in my factory for hours and it didn’t do a lick of damage. In order to fix everything (since I’d torn down my biomass reactors) I had to build a separate power supply for the coal miner, wait until the power stations were loaded up again and then restart them. I then had the same issue happen again randomly with some conveyor belts, which was a bit easier to notice and fix, but it made me weary to check a bunch of things every time I started my game up again, just in case.
I ended up having to tear down my factory again when I reached the tier that unlocked the upgraded miners as I just didn’t have the scalability in my current setup to simply double all production of all elements without making more of a rats nest than I already had. This is when the words of one of my mates, a long time Satisfactory player, began rattling through my head. You see whatever your factory design is you’re likely incurring some form of technical debt as you build as each stage has a different solution to its optimisation problem. This is part of the fun though as new tech makes old solutions obsolete and pushes you to think of better solutions. Indeed I would’ve never thought of going vertical until it became clear that I couldn’t layout my factory in succinct stages as there are components at the same tier that require a separate component from the same tier. Once I had a solution to that it definitely gave me more flexibility but then made the challenge of optimising everything just that little bit more difficult.
Getting around is also a bit of a pain in the ass until you unlock the right bits of tech. The tube system is great for getting to places that you know you’ll be visiting frequently and the vehicles are OK but there’s always the issue of having to leave one behind as you go and build out the conveyor belt network back to your home base and then having to go get it back. There’s probably a solution in there using the autopilot feature but, if I’m honest, half the time I had to go back anyway to get more materials to finish everything off. Going off some of the videos I saw though there seems to be better vehicle options available to you later on so I’m sure the whole “getting around” experience improves dramatically at higher tier levels.
What killed Satisfactory for me in the end was just the endless optimisation and factory build out process that came with each tier you unlocked with the space elevator upgrade. The picture below shows my final factory in all its glory and honestly it did a pretty great job at what it needed to do. However the second I saw the requirements for the next tier (I think it was the oil production stuff) I just lost interest in basically repeating what I just did again but at the next complexity level. It took me 18 hours to get to this point and it felt like I’d be putting in that again just to get to the next level which would basically be the same thing all over again. Couple that with the fact that there was no overarching goal or narrative to drive things along and I really lost the drive to continue at that point. This is in stark contrast to say Subnautica which kept me around much longer with the tantalizing possibility that there was more to the world than just building a cool underwater base. I’m sure that’ll come eventually, and maybe I’ll revisit it then, but that’s definitely one of the reasons I found myself lacking motivation to push into the next tiers.
All that being said though I still very much enjoyed my time with Satisfactory as it really scratched that itch I had to play something where I could build, automate and watch my factory do its thing. The whole package is honestly quite surprising, from the graphics to the factory mechanics and even the little touches that speak to the capitalist overlords who sent you to the planet in the first place. I’d love to see more of the story of the world fleshed out in preference to more, bigger and more complex machines but I know I’m in the minority there, the community that’s built around this game far preferring to spend countless hours building the next amazing factory rather than chase down some tacked on plot. I’ve still yet to try multiplayer but I have a feeling it’ll be a blast being able to build stupidly complex machines with mates, especially over a beer or two. Suffice to say at this point those who will want to play this game likely already know about it but if you’re like me, on a casual tourist of these kinds of games, then I can highly recommend giving Satisfactory a whirl.
Satisfactory is available on PC right now for $44.95. Total play time was 18 hours.