Following a rough early access launch, how’s the game faring right now?
Online survival games and MMOs are a dime a dozen these days, so you would assume that if somebody were to try to break into that space, they would have something pretty special up their sleeves, right? Well, that was the original aim with Grapeshot Games’ Atlas, a massively multiplayer action RPG that has been in early access since 2018. Going on two and a half years now. It’s a game that promises to be an all-encompassing survival pirate game, where resources must be gathered, bases and boats built, and strenuous voyages traveled. It’s also a game that chooses to float its entire boat on the waves of its player base, and let them ultimately decide if it sinks or swims. It’s a reasonable premise that seemed perhaps a bit too good to be true, but early footage of the game was looking promising and the developers were seemingly chugging along with their milestones. So, what exactly happened? Why would a game that generated as much interest as this one did, and fill a void that so desperately needs filled become the husk of a game that it is today, with almost nobody online and seemingly being left dead in the water by its team? What the hell happened to Grapeshot Game’s Atlas?
The goodwill generated by this game’s initial buzz would only last so long. While the promises and goals of the game were certainly interesting and worthy of the attention they got, unfortunately, upon the launch of the game’s early access state, there was a bevy of problems. Clipping into and getting stuck in objects, wildly inconsistent enemy AI, and rampant stability issues server side all served as things that, perhaps any single one of them wouldn’t sink a game, but getting all of these things at once definitely drove down the broad opinion of the project. That said, games go into early access all the time and there is a reason why early access exists; to let players own and experience a game with a soft launch that allows the developers to gain valuable feedback that can help move the project along. While there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of the early access system, replacing your QA team with the end users of your game is less forgivable.
“Early access” should not mean “broken”, and unfortunately it seemed that Grapeshot had not received the memo on this. For a game to come out in any states other than totally playable is inexcusable. There’s just no way to justify it. If it’s not ready to be played then it just shouldn’t come out. regardless of why or how the game was rushed it’s pretty unavoidable that it certainly was even though we all know to tamp down our expectations for early access games, despite relatively decent communication between the developers and the players, the number of online players in Atlas has dwindled fairly steadily ever since. you’ll see a few spikes here and there every time a big update comes out but because many of those updates either don’t quite fix what they say they’re going to or end up breaking other things, those spikes and players don’t really seem to last, in fact given the data that we have so far, many of the games updates and patches have had the opposite effect by contributing to a net decline in people that are in the game’s servers at any given time.
That said, it would not be accurate to simply say that Atlas had nothing interesting or redeeming about it. there were and still are plenty of reasonably addicting gameplay loops with in this game such as building your ships and managing your resources generally – although it is incredibly grinding to come across resources and can often lead you down a rabbit hole of seemingly endless variables to keep track of that can make you forget you’re supposed to be playing a pirate game here. So, while the survival elements are definitely there and they technically work, Atlas seemed more concerned with that aspect of it then making sure you would be able to enjoy using those resources in a constructive way that gave the player a feeling of genuine progression. But even those moments which eluded the game often still existed here and there especially if you had your friends with you on your finished ship as you sailed the seven seas. Working with your friends to solve various problems like taking out enemy ships and navigating your way out of dangerous storm systems could easily elicit the feeling that all of the game’s elements were starting to click. And that feeling would intensify once you were rewarded with the resources that come along with defeating an enemy ship or arriving on a new island. That sense of risk and discovery was not totally lost on Atlas, and there were absolutely moments where that feeling could be found.
Of course, as with many games of this type, the challenge for the developers is to maintain that sense of swashbuckling discovery and not let the games rougher edges get in the way of it. This, as you might have guessed, is exactly where Atlas has gone wrong. Many patches for Atlas have ended up breaking more than they were intended to fix. Enemy AI has gotten worse before it’s gotten better. But what’s even worse is that there seems to be very little attention being paid to balancing out various aspects of gameplay between human players. Islands can be flooded with game-breaking tactics from other players to prevent newcomers from even having a shot at doing anything with it, and other areas seem to just inexplicably refuse to generate resources at all. If you could pile on these problems on top of the game just feeling unfinished in myriad other ways, then you can start to see why the game is such a problem child at this point. Now, many games have come close to providing the ideal pirate survival experience, but given the results we’ve seen over the last several years it does seem to be a pretty tough nut to crack, and you can’t blame grapeshot for taking a stab at it especially considering that many of the creators working on Atlas also worked on ARK: Survival Evolved, which was actually pretty good overall. We all know that developing games is absurdly difficult and developers have to roll the dice that certain junctions no matter how good they are, but it’s hard to summarize Atlas in any way that doesn’t mention its many missed opportunities.
All of that said the game has received some substantial patches in the past few months and they seem to mostly beep actually fixing problems that were reported by the players. Some of the game’s biggest improvements have just come within the last couple of weeks, and that’s a good sign despite how long this game’s issues have dragged on and how small of a number the player base has dwindled to. We’ve seen developers give up on games who have suffered less than an Atlas has, but it appears that Grapeshot isn’t ready to let go of this game just yet, and that is absolutely the correct attitude. Despite everything we could see a resurgence of this game if it’s able to prove itself worthy of its players’ time – and of course their 30 bucks.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.