A fun MMO take on the survival crafting genre that brings a few new ideas to the table.
They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. In video gaming, being too similar to another game can be a stigma, but it’s also a way to build on old ideas and expand a genre. When one looks at Boundless, thoughts of Minecraft and No Man’s Sky can come to mind. The question is whether or not this this title is an homage or a derivative copy. After spending a good amount of time with it, I can safely say that while this won’t convert anyone who can’t stand this type of game, it does bring some new ideas to the table for fans of the genre.
Developed by Wonderstruck, Boundless has been in Early Access development ever since November 2014. After being known as Oort Online for quite a while, the title was changed to the much better Boundless in October of 2015. After announcing its backing by Sony, it was also revealed that PC players and PS4 players would be able to play together. That feature made it to the final release and is a welcome addition considering the stance Sony has had on cross-platform play recently.
"Boundless is one of those games that I classify as a “wiki game.” Like Minecraft, there are a lot of systems and combinations of items present in the game that a new player would have no idea how to access."
The title immediately drops you into a basic character creator, after which you grab a totem, pick a point on a planet, and get to work doing whatever you want. There are options available for players to play however they want. You can easily become a hermit on a mountain top, crafting and hunting for yourself but you can just as easily become a trader who brings valuable goods to market and sells them to other players. This makes the world feel a lot more organic and helps to differentiate itself from the pack of open-world survival crafting games. Although, if I can say one thing: when you first start out, be sure to pick a hostile planet. I played most of my time on a passive planet where no animals attack you on sight and it always felt like the world was a little empty. But once I went over to the more aggressive world, it immediately felt more like a more natural, lived-in place. It’s good that the game gives you the option, I would just strongly recommend the more aggressive one.
Boundless is one of those games that I classify as a “wiki game.” Like Minecraft, there are a lot of systems and combinations of items present in the game that a new player would have no idea how to access. However, Boundless does help you out with messages that ease you in as you get used to everything the game has to offer. Instead of just throwing you into this sandbox, you are also given objectives to show new players what’s important to do in this title. You’re even given a steady drip-feed of rewards as you accomplish tasks. This is incredibly helpful for first-time players and even more experienced players who just want something to work towards.
To get one thing straight, Boundless has an inspired technical art direction. If you’re sick of other voxel-based games feeling so static and boxy, Boundless has something to show you. The world you get dropped in is incredibly vast but the little details feel like they don’t repeat very often. Of course, you’ll see trees and mountains, but they often look just different enough that it doesn’t look copy and pasted. In this title, vegetation stretches out of the boxes that everything else is held within. And nature oftentimes doesn’t fill a complete box, utilizing corners and tetrahedrons in an organic way that doesn’t make everything look like a Lego.
"As far as gameplay goes, everything should be familiar to anyone who’s dipped their toes into Minecraft before."
However, the water is the one sticking point with the game’s art style. It seems to just reflect the sky. During night-time, this is absolutely breath-taking with the reflections of other worlds lighting up the water. However, during the day, it can look a little off, like the world never loaded in any texture for the water. The game also struggles a bit when it comes to rendering things off in the distance. Up close, things look great. However, looking over the horizon can have you seeing vistas that are less defined and the game can at times struggle with draw distance.
The aesthetic of Boundless is sublime. Every living thing in the game has this Playmobil plastic look to it. It’s a unique look and it compliments the environment quite well. During weather changes is when the game really shines. Watching the rain fall against a pink-hued sky can really put you in a relaxed mood. And night time especially is beautiful. The music that sporadically plays during your time in Boundless is great. I didn’t notice all the triggers that procked the music to start, but it would generally always start around nighttime. Unlike the more electric ambiance of its contemporaries, Boundless goes the more organic route with plenty of relaxed piano and violin. It gives the game a unique feel and just sounds good on its own as well.
As far as gameplay goes, everything should be familiar to anyone who’s dipped their toes into Minecraft before. However, there are enough things here to placate crafting veterans. In Boundless, you can assign tools, blocks, food, and more to each hand separately. This allows for much more convenient play. You can hold a torch in one hand while you go mining away in a deep cave. You can use a shovel to cultivate your land while you plant seeds with your off hand. It’s a great feature. There are also warp conduits you can create. Your world is not the only world in Boundless.
"The game is always-online, there are no pauses in-game, and other players will be present during your stay."
You’ll see these planets in the sky at night and you can even go to them, provided you get the right equipment. Once you obtain some mid-game items and learn how to utilize the “Spark” power source, you can place waypoints on other worlds and create portals to those worlds. These worlds can be completely different from yours, with different biomes and different flora. The sense of exploration and scale is one of Boundless’ greatest strengths.
Boundless is also an MMO and comes with all those wrappings. The game is always-online, there are no pauses in-game, and other players will be present during your stay. This works perfectly with one of the main mechanics of the game: Beacons. In this game, you have to stake your land and claim it as your own. So when you find a nice plot of land, you have to literally plot it so no one else can come in and alter your home.
This helps Boundless from becoming a wildland of looters and arsonists but it also gives you ownership of an area. When you put down a beacon to claim your land, there is a counter that begins to tick down. Until the timer is up, this land can only be touched by you or anyone else with permission. The timer is pretty lenient too; when I put down my first beacon, it gave me four weeks and some change. That’s not going to run out any time soon, but if I don’t keep up with it during my four weeks, all my stuff can be taken. It’s a good incentive to keep players coming back.
"There’s beauty and creativity in this title and you can tell playing it that a lot of love went into its creation."
The players in game lend Boundless a sense of life. In my time, I saw many people, all going about doing their own thing. Some were chopping down trees, some were trading with one another, there was one that was decorating his house. You can go up and interact with any of these folk and they can even take you into their home and allow you to use any of their equipment. Or they can charge for the pleasure. It’s really up to the individual and there’s a lot of freedom afforded to players. There is even a chat box that you can use to communicate. It’s not exactly ideal for console players who have to use the PS4’s typing UI, but it’s here anyway.
Boundless ran pretty well but I did end up running into some hiccups. Some networking issues had me rubber-banding back and forth, almost drowning me while I was mining for copper. There were also some graphical and lighting issues while I was trying to create an underwater passageway in my house. Once I drained all the water out of my passageway, I would still see the reflection of the sky where the water level once was. And placing a torch had the light source actually spawn off the torch several blocks away. You can also tell that this game was made with PC in mind. The UI for the PS4 version isn’t bad so to speak, but it is probably less stream-lined than it should be. There are also menus containing submenus that you can get lost in trying to find out how to buy more plots.
At the end of the day, Boundless is a good game. There’s beauty and creativity in this title and you can tell playing it that a lot of love went into its creation. This game can easily sink its hooks into any fan of the crafting genre and keep them there for a couple dozen hours. Though it isn’t perfect, the ideas and the the aesthetic of Boundless is enough to make you work through the rough patches just to get to the reward at the end.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Many gameplay options at your disposal, good teaching tools, beautiful art style, utilizes MMO aspect to its advantage.
UI can take some getting used to on consoles, technical issues, wonky lighting effects.
Boundless is tons of fun for any fan of the crafting and building genre but it won’t be the game to convert a non-believer.