After being in early access for more than two years, Subnautica: Below Zero is set to release on May 14th for Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch. Developed by Unknown Worlds Entertainment, it provides the same underwater exploration and survival mechanics that made the first game such a hit…with several changes and improvements, of course. Here are 15 things you need to know before picking it up.
Story and Setting
Subnautica: Below Zero features dedicated voice acting, some cut-scenes and a few scripted sequences to shake things up. The plot takes place two years after the first game’s events. It sees Robin Ayou traveling Planet 4546B to find her sister Sam after the latter has gone missing. This time around, players explore an arctic region that’s full of new threats and dangers along with sub-zero conditions. The Alterra Corporation, responsible for launching the Aurora in Subnautica, also plays a part.
Along with Robin and Sam, there are several other characters involved with the mysterious Planet 4546B. Fred Lachance was featured in a recent trailer, doing his best to survive, though how he pops up in the full game is unknown. Marguerit Maida was seen in the State of Play trailer, having been a security guard on the Degasi when it crashed on the planet (which players discovered voice log for in the first game). Other characters also figure into the story but we won’t spoil anything here.
Much like the first game, Subnautica: Below Zero has four modes to choose from. Survival is the default experience and sees players having to manage food, water, oxygen and temperature. Failing to do so results in death with all items being dropped at that location for retrieval. Items can also be secured through a Seabase or Seatruck so if you happen to die later when the inventory has been secured, then all those items can be kept.
Freedom Mode is the same as Survival but without having to manage food or water. Creative Mode removes all survival mechanics, including the threat of death, and you can craft and build without needing materials, unlocking blueprints or Energy to maintain Seabases. Finally, there’s Hardcore mode where the player has only one life – dying means starting over from the very beginning.
One big departure in the sequel is the presence of various biomes on land. The main location for the setting is Sector Zero, a mega biome consisting of multiple smaller biomes with different resources, flora and fauna. Above-water biomes also figure into the mix with the likes of Arctic Spires which is a vast frozen landscape with several ice spires emerging from the ground. Of course, the sub-zero temperature also presents hazards.
Once again, hunger, thirst and health must be managed on the default Survival mode. Having edible food and clean water along with maintaining oxygen levels while exploring is key, lest death swiftly takes you. Temperature is a new condition on top of this as players must stay warm in order to avoid catching hypothermia. This is especially challenging in the above-water biomes but can be done by eating certain consumables and locating steam vents, hot springs and Thermal Lillies.
While the weather doesn’t currently affect one’s temperature, Blizzards can restrict vision and make it harder to navigate (with Whiteout Blizzards obscuring vision beyond one foot). Electric Storms will cause lightning strikes around the player and also slightly affect vision with fog. Of course, there’s also a chance for aurora borealis to occur, at this time of year, in this part of the world but unfortunately, only at nighttime.
Thankfully, you won’t have to trudge around on foot continuously in the tundra. The Snowfox Hoverbike is one of the new vehicles and is all about speed. It’s even capable of making jumps. Other upgrades allow it to run faster and quieter, which is key when you’re trying to avoid attention from the Ice Worm above-water. Though its battery needs to be charged, the Snowfox will be one of your best friends out in the cold.
New Underwater Biomes
Of course, this is a Subnautica game so there are plenty of things to see underwater as well. Several new biomes abound from Twisty Bridges with its various twisting structures to the Crystal Caves with its fissures and trenches. You’ll also explore underwater regions of the East and West Arctic to connect to other biomes.
New Fauna and Leviathans
New biomes means new resources and a lot of different fauna to discover. While you’re encounter the adorable Pengwings and Penglings in the Arctic, there are also Squidsharks, Rock Punchers and Snow Stalkers to deal with underwater. Numerous Leviathans also adorn the world, from the immense Ice Worm that will assail players in the Arctic Spires to the mysterious Shadow Leviathan. It’s not all bad news though – various passive herbivores like the Arctic Peeper and Sea Monkey exist though you’ll need to be careful of the latter stealing your items.
Seabases will be your home away from home on Planet 4546B and can be customized with different compartments, rooms and modules. Below Zero still allows for decorating rooms with desks, beds, chairs, signs, vending machines and so on (along with having a Jukebox, which we’ll talk about more shortly). However, rooms are bigger and can have partitions for properly dividing sections. You can also place reactors in Large Rooms instead of a Multipurpose Room only.
Crafting System Improvements
You’re going to be spending quite some time crafting new items so all the improvements that Below Zero makes are very helpful. Along with a more streamlined layout, you can now pin recipes. When you have materials to craft an item, it will be highlighted in blue while its corresponding section is highlighted in green, helping to cut down on checking and re-checking requirements.
Given all the different challenges one will face, some new equipment should help increase the chances of survival. The Cold Suit can be crafted for protection against the harsh cold; the Booster Tank allows for consuming oxygen in exchange for boosting speed, making underwater exploration that much quicker; and the Headlamp provides a hands-free light source. Finally, you can explore the depths of 4546B without having to hold a flashlight.
Another nice new addition is the Seatruck. It’s a modular underwater vehicle which means the player can add numerous carriages to it. Want to capture nearby fish? Attach the Aquarium Module. Want some inventory space on the go? Craft a Storage Module for five small storage lockers. You can even attach a Fabricator Module for subsequent upgrades. Overall, it’s a more maneuverable option than the first game’s Cyclops while retaining a lot of functionality.
Jukebox and Discs
Sometimes, it’s nice to just relax in your base with some music. The Jukebox module allows for this, and can have speakers to transmit tunes throughout the Seabase. Players can import their own music into the game or locate various Jukebox Discs in the world to listen to the works of “Alterra’s best musical artists.” You can even have a Jukebox inside the Seatruck’s Sleeper Module for listening to music on the go.
As confirmed in Sony’s recent State of Play, Subnautica: Below Zero is capable of running in 4K targeting 60 FPS in Performance Mode. Haptic feedback on the DualSense is also supported while various audio-visual cues will be provided when using resources. Also, PS4 players can upgrade to the PS5 version at no extra cost.