Thursday, June 13, 2024

Once Human is a multiplayer survival game with a Stranger Things vibe

Once Human

 With the dark days of New World upon us and Elder Scrolls Online not cutting it I was on the search for newer games to give a try.  I had caught bits and pieces of Once Human in various places, but did not realize it was so close to release.  To my surprise there was a demo available.  One download later I was in and enjoying a new game!  Hours later I think I'm hooked!

 Once Human is a looter shooter survival crafting builder sandbox massively online game with a theme that is hard to explain.  Players play as a "mayfly" that has some connection to some alternate realm (maybe time travel?) and go around the world fighting sci-fi zombie-like creatures.  Simpler: it's a multiplayer survival game with a Stranger Things vibe.

A screenshot of a player created in Once Human
The character creator offers a lot of options; heart face tattoos included!

 The introduction to the game walks the player through some background about being a mayfly and having access to what are called deviations.  Deviations are best compared to Pokemon.  When a player encounters one you have a % chance of capturing it.  Once captured players can stick it in their backpack containment unit and use it in combat (though later on there are some that I've found that are more general purpose; like a balloon animal dog that generates balloons for crafting).

A screenshot showing a deviation from the game Once Human
The starting deviation

 Along with the deviations the player also gets access to an arsenal of modern day weapons and armor.  My favorite weapon set up far has been using a crossbow for ranged fights and a machete and shotgun for up close and personal encounters.  Of course all the weapon and armor can be crafted, upgraded, and eventually recycled.

 The tutorial progresses through the survival game staples: build a camp, chop down trees, break up rocks, and do a little starter crafting.  The tutorial then culminates in a big boss fight and when I say big I mean BIG.  A giant shadow creature with what looks like an embedded cell phone tower attacks the tutorial base with waves of creatures.  The base has functional defense systems that start mowing down the creatures while the player takes on the big boss.  Thematically amazing but mechanically easy.


A screenshot from the game Once Human showing a big tower boss
The tutorial boss is a giant tower creature!

 Past the tutorial the player is left to venture the world.  The game has a clever journey system that sets out a series of tasks that help the player learn the game.  It also gives step by step instructions on how to complete each step.  For example; "train this skill", then open this menu and press K, then do this specific action.  It is a simple idea and well done.  I found myself using it regularly to find things to do.

 There is also a story quest to follow which takes the player around the world.  I didn't want to go too far into the story since this was a demo period.  So far the story was nothing amazing but so far has been fully voice acted which is nice and each segment doesn't overstay it's welcome.

 Like other survival games one of the main objectives is to build a base and upgrade it so once I was past the initial story quest I got busy chopping down trees, breaking up rocks, and collecting material.  I started my base at the top of a hill but soon realized that limited expansion.  Fortunately the game makes it easy to move your entire base; just open up the build mode, press Z, and plop it down anywhere you want.  I ended up selecting a nice and flat roadside location.

 I got to crafting all the various crafting work benches and followed the various journey steps to unlock different aspects of crafting and upgrading.  One of the neat items that can be built is a containment vessel for the deviations that are collected through your journeys.  Once contained they seem to do various things.  One deviation which was literally a balloon animal dog that once in the unit started generating balloons as a crafting material.  Another deviation was an electric eel (which I got from fishing) that can supplement my base's power supply (I don't have electricity generation yet).


A screenshot from Once Human showing crafting work stations
Crafting and refining work stations

 My upgrade spree brought to me the garage option which caught me by surprise as I did not realize the game has vehicles.  A little digging around  I found a quest I needed to complete to get my starting motorcycle and voila there was a motorcycle in my garage in my base!

 Riding around on the motorcycle I ended up at the game's first dungeon.  This was a single boss fight, but it featured some cool mechanics including at one point picking up the minigun that the boss was holding. There are other temporarily usable items that enemies drop in the rest of the game as well.

A screenshot showing a player using the minigun in Once Human on the first rift boss
A satisfying brrrrrt!  Giving back to the boss with it's own weapon!

 There are also some bosses scattered across the open world as well and right when I didn't think the game had any more surprises I ran into a mutant bus creature that you can jump inside and catch a ridge to it's next destination.  I have no idea the purpose of this thing but it was pretty cool to run into.

A screenshot from the game Once Human showing the motorcylce and mutant bus monster
Vrrrrrroooommmm! (and the mutant bus)

 And that is really what I liked most about Once Human.  It surprised me around every corner.  Whether it was the mutant bus, getting my motorcycle, finding out I could relocate my entire base in one step, or the time my base was invaded because I started up a stardust converter thingy the game just keeps dripping interesting things into the players path.

 Will that drip drip drip last across the entire game?  Based on the demo I can't answer that but so far several hours in the drips haven't stopped and have kept me going.  I honestly can't say how cool I found the mutant bus thing (it also had a chest to loot inside).  I've not had a new game hook me like this since New World's preview beta.


A screenshot of the map inside the game Once Human
Even the map is well done and thought out.

 There is still work needed to make the game better.  I found the PvE way too easy and from reading other testers comments the content was harder in past beta tests but then simplified. At no point in the demo, even fighting these towering bosses, did I feel at risk.  I also took on the "recommend bringing friends" dungeons with ease as a solo player.  Don't get me wrong, I like to play solo, but this is too easy.

 Weapon balance also needs a pass.  I was excited to get my first guns, a shotgun and an SMG, only to find out they were far less powerful than the crossbow I got in the tutorial.  Balance between weapons is a key progression for survival games so if unlocking and crafting new weapons just leaves me wanting to use my old weapon then the progression can fall flat.  With that said I barely scratched weapon crafting in the demo so this may not be an issue later on.

 Building your base also has some quirks.  I kept getting an error about being too close to a stronghold but only when trying to place a specific triangle wall piece.  Placing a square wall worked fine.  Also sometimes structures don't snap together and it's not clear why.   I had to give up building a fence around my base.  Also when placing your territory it does not indicate to you in anyway what part of that land is not buildable.  I only found out after placing my base down that I couldn't build on the nice flat road area.

A base in the game Once Human
My roadside base after a few hours of effort.

 Performance was good but could be better.  I did play on the highest settings (AMD 5800x3D CPU / Radeon 7900XT GPU) and average FPS was 233.  Boss fights though dipped to low FPS and from time to time I would get a freeze or stutter.

 Visually the game looks great and I really enjoy the apocalyptic world feel and exploring ruined buildings.  The game has a sixth sense ability where when you press Q it highlights objects in the world you can interact with.  This was a nice feature saving a lot of time going bucket to box to can to see what could be picked up.

 Over all I was really impressed with the game.  Everything I mentioned was all done in a shared game world inhabited by other players that were also building bases next to me and we passed each other going here and there.  The game launches in July and since New World's next update is not until October I can see myself giving this one a spin.

 Some more screenshots:

A screenshot from the game Once Human
The crafting survival game staple: your first camp

A screenshot from the game Once Human
Base #1 on a hill; it didn't work out

A screenshot from the game Once Human
Don't forget your gas to fuel up your motorcycle

A screenshot from the game Once Human
Oh crap!  My base is under attack!

A screenshot from the game Once Human
My stardust converter thingy on the roof is what is attracting the enemy!

A screenshot from the game Once Human
The Journey system not only teaches the game but also rewards the player.

A screenshot from the game Once Human
My balloon animal dog deviation.  It makes balloons (literally).

A screenshot from the game Once Human
The map is very useful and it will give you directions via the roads in game to reach marked destinations.

A screenshot from the game Once Human
The first rift (aka dungeon) entrance.

A screenshot from the game Once Human
Gotta catch em all!  A chance to catch a deviation at the end of the first dungeon.

A screenshot from the game Once Human
A peaceful evening at home.  I really need to get electricity going and some lights!



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