If I had to put money down, I would say that Klei Entertainment has been one of the most successful and consistent studios this decade. Each game has its own sense of style and design to it, but also manages to embody the best aspects of that respective genre. This year, we saw Oxygen Not Included hit 1.0, and gives us the next best thing to Dwarf Fortress.
Oxygen Not Included has been a long time coming; billed as another attempt at the Dwarf Fortress formula. Dwarf Fortress-likes have been a consistent trap for designers — either not coming close to the depth of the original, or not being able to stand out enough from it.
With Oxygen Not Included, the developers wisely did their own thing instead of chasing after DF. Taking place on procedurally generated asteroids, your mission is to colonize it with duplicants and try not to have anyone starve, drown, and of course, run out of oxygen.
As with other colony simulators, you’re not controlling characters directly but giving them a series of priorities and tasks and letting them do their own thing. Each duplicant comes with preferred tasks to do and as they go up in rank, they can make use of more advanced machinery.
As with other colony simulators, a big part of Oxygen Not Included is attempting to stabilize and grow your resources, and this is where the game gets crazy. Through research, you’ll unlock new machines and processes that allow you to expand your base and start to really mess with the systems.
Advanced play is all about manipulating gasses and liquids to either keep the bad stuff out or refine them into what you need. At the start, you’ll just set up oxygen generators around specific points in your base, later, you’ll have to refine CO2 and set up ventilation systems around your base.
Every system comes together to create more and more layers of depth to your base building. With each new colony you make, you’ll improve your base building and create larger and more in-depth areas. This is all tied together with Klei’s cartoon aesthetic that helps it stand out from the more serious colony sims.
With that said, I’m not a fan of the genre, and the gameplay loop of just sandbox/survival mode doesn’t interest me. It’s still the only colony sim that I’ve played the longest, and why it makes it onto the list.
Up next at #7, we have an indie game that elevates one of the most basic gameplay loops out there.
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