A while back, I wrote a post on Satisfactory. However, I don’t think it was particularly satisfactory, haha, I’m so clever, wordplay. Okay, that’s out of my system. Anyway. I’m not super happy with how it came out. So I’m gonna give this a second shot, because Satisfactory deserves a more focused review.
What type of game is Satisfactory?
One of the things I’m the most unhappy with in the last article I did on this game is how I actually described Satisfactory, because I really didn’t. I think at least part of this is because Satisfactory doesn’t quite fit into any video game genres particularly well. While you could call a Automation game, or maybe a sim, it’s not really a sim of anything, and most of the elements in the game aren’t particularly… sim-esque. (For who does think Satisfactory is a Sim, please go run 3000 MW through 3 inches of cabling, over several miles, and let me know how well that experience matches up with doing the same in Satisfactory.)
Instead, I think Satisfactory might be closer to a genre of board game, the engine builder. Engine builders as a genre are mostly about building sets of systems to take actions and produce resources, all of which ultimately get turned into victory points. Most board games with this system have some sort of win-lose condition, but this isn’t present in Satisfactory.
But Satisfactory does have a lot of what I’d consider to be the hallmarks of engine builders. There are a variety of resources, and you turn them into other resources. As you progress, you get access to both new types of equipment, and more powerful/faster versions of the equipment you already had. This access is gated by having your current setup produce certain thresholds of resources.
Why is it good?
Regardless of what genre you want to put the game in, Satisfactory can be really good. The animations and models are incredibly polished*, the gameplay is smooth and satisfying*, watching conveyer belts spin up is enjoyable*, and I really like the semi-parallel tech trees.
*If you’re wondering what that asterisk is for: Don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a bit.
Lets talk about those tech trees for a moment, because unlocking them serves as both a combination of progression and tutorial. We’re mostly going to focus on the Tier progression tree here. There are several other systems in place that also unlock building items and craftable items, but they’re mostly sidegrades/semi-optional. Except for the ladder. I have no idea why the ladder is in the coupon machine.
Here’s how tier progression works. There are 8 tiers of research, and within those tiers, there are research goals. Once you unlock a tier, you usually unlock a few new structure types, the ability to see what unlocking the next tier will require, and the list of research goals.
At any given point in time, making progress on a tech tree is your general goal, usually requiring you to craft somewhere between 50-1000 of various different parts.
But the main gameplay of Satisfactory is building. And everything around the building is mostly designed to make it easy. For example, if you disassemble a structure, you get all the resources it took to build back.
It’s also fairly easy to switch between what you’re building, and you can look almost everything up in the in-game Codex. That’s right. No longer do you have to have a fandom Wikipedia page that consists of 95% advertisements and 5% the recipe for wood logs.
At the same time, the buildings themselves are fairly flexible in how they can be placed. You can run conveyer belts through each other, and also across things that you maybe shouldn’t be able to.
Look, the highest praise I can give Satisfactory is that each time I try to think of nice things to say about, I go boot the game up, play for 6+ hours straight, then go do something else because I’ve completely lost my train of thought. There’s a constant feeling of success and progress, even if you mess things up a bit.
Okay, nice things over. Lets talk about the somewhat… unpolished parts of Satisfactory.
The elephant in the room.
If I had been forced to guess how long Satisfactory had been out, prior to actually knowing the numbers, I would have gone somewhere between half a years, to maybe just sneaking up on two years. There are two reasons for this, the first being the combat, and the second being the multiplayer performance, and bugs. Let’s talk about the combat first.
If the combat in your game makes me LONG for Minecraft’s combat system, you’ve done something horribly wrong. Satisfactory has a combat system, but I’m honestly not sure why. From what I can tell, there are three or so types of enemies, all of which have larger more “Dangerous” versions of themselves. The dangerous is in quotes because every single enemy in the game can be dealt with in loosely the same way: Kite it behind something, and then hit it until it dies. Assuming you’ve unlocked one of the games two ranged weapons, you have the alternate option of “Stand far away and shoot it until it dies”. Lets actually talk about those weapons for a moment, because they’re awful. The entire weaponry array of Satisfactory consists of the pokey stick, the pokey stick that does more damage, a modified nail gun (which is the only one that comes anywhere close to fun to use) and the worlds most unsatisfying rifle.
Special shoutout to the rifle here as being the most joyless gun, both across real life and games that I have ever encountered. It both eats through ammo, which is a massive pain in the ass to make, has a laughably small clip size of 10 shots, and has absolutely no feedback/tracers/anything to make it clear if you’re actually hitting your target, or if shots are flying freely though the wind, and for all of that effort, it doesn’t seem to even kill things very well.
I can’t tell what the goal is here to be honest. If combat is supposed to be anemic to make us focus on building and other mechanics, why does every single resource node past a certain point have several of the higher tier enemies, who despite being dumb as bricks, also hit like a stack of them, and will force you to salty runback to where you dropped all of your stuff. If the combat and unlocks related to it are supposed to be meaningful, why do they all suck so much? It’s clear the devs already understand how to create gated zones with things like the hazmat suit and gas mask. That sort of thing is much more similar to the sort of game Satisfactory feels like it is, with the unlocks of various tools and equipment and options to make building more efficient and easier.
The thing is though, as much as I loathe the combat, it is vestigial. An annoyance when it shows up and rears it’s ugly head, but it can be ignored a good 95% of the time. The next big problem I have with the game can’t be.
Satisfactory, much like Minecraft, isn’t a game I would ever really play single player. This is because both games are about making things, and the purpose of making things, at least for me, is to show them to other people, and to see the things other people make. It also massively cuts down the labor needed, because while you’re working on optimizing iron production, your friend can be setting up a full oil refinery. I personally find exploring the world tedious, but some of the folks I was playing with enjoy it. Where there are required tasks that one person might enjoy, others like them.
All of which would be cool if multiplayer wasn’t quite as shit as it is.
“Bugginess/Stability” is kind of a weird metric. For me, the impact a bug has on my experience comes down to pretty much two factors (1) How often does the bug occur? and (2) What happens when it does? Something like Skyrim has a lot of bugs, but from what I’ve seen, they’re usually more immersion breaking then they are save file shredding. In my playthrough of Elden Ring, bugs themselves are fairly rare, but when they do occur, the game fucking crashes, and in a game where closing the game without saving is death, and death means losing all your experience points/currency if you aren’t able to get to where you dropped it, this is substantially more aggravating. I had one friend whose entire save file was corrupted and effectively died outside the door to the final boss, after 63 hours. A patch fixed that issue, and he was able to complete the game, but that’s the sort of thing that leads to an uninstall.
There are two bugs I’d like to talk about with Satisfactory multiplayer. The first is incredibly specific and straightforward: When you log into a multiplayer game, if you’re not the host, or if you’re playing on a Dedicated Server, there’s a pretty good chance you will show up with exactly nothing in your inventory. As a result, you’ll have to spend a fair amount of time running around and trying to resupply/reequip potentially each time you log in. Disconnecting and reconnecting won’t solve it, and there’s no easy fix. When I looked up this bug, I found bug reports and discussions to it that date back several years ago.
The second set of bugs are a set of bugs I’m just going to refer to as “Desync” bugs.
While I’m not a game developer, I do have a technical background, and enough knowledge to make a guess as to what I think is likely occurring to cause these bugs, and why I’m specifically calling them desync bugs. First, a brief and somewhat inaccurate crash course in one way multiplayer games work. You have a server. The server is the sole source of truth for information about the games state. Then you have clients. Clients send information about what the player is doing to the server, and the server sends world state information back to the player. Because moving things, even across the internet can only go so fast, many game clients use various tricks to make things look instantaneous, or have the game client attempt to predict what will happen in order to give a smoother experience. When the client and server can’t talk to each other fast enough, for any number of reasons, you get latency, AKA lag, AKA the server is delayed in processing client inputs and sending the client information. I’m pretty sure these bugs aren’t lag, because they happened to me almost non-stop even while running the game on the same machine I was running my dedicated server one.
Instead, there’s a second type of problem that can occur. Usually, the game server tries to send only information that the client actually needs. If the system is well designed, this will be information that is relevant to the player. If the system is not well designed, it might not do that quite as fast, or it might not refresh certain information at the rate that might be desirable. For example, loading in that the player has walked directly into a cloud of poison gas.
And because the server is the sole source of truth, the client can send instructions that directs the player into situations where they take damage on the server, before the client receives that information. To the player, it seems like they died to nothing, because the state that the server was in did not match the state of their client. This is desync.
And it is fucking everywhere in Satisfactory. Sometimes its just annoying, such as with how every single conveyer belt in the game displays what it’s moving inaccurately, and how trying to grab things off them is a complete crapshoot.
And sometimes it will just fucking kill you, because you walked into the aforementioned poison gas. Or alien bees. Or radiation. Or a pack of angry spiders. You can see where I’m going with this.
Bugs are not inherently a reason to rip on a game. They can be a reason to avoid the game until it patches, like I’d currently suggest with Elden Ring, they can be a amusing nuisance like with Skyrim. But in the case Satisfactory multiplayer, they are a massive pain in the ass that actively interferes with the games gameplay loops and feel, and many of these issues have remained unfixed for years at this point. One friend who I had played with was shocked at how little had changed since the last time he’d played the game, about 3 years ago.
Early Access isn’t an excuse to ignore multiplayer performance, and frankly, there’s zero evidence that server performance will ever be fixed. They’ve had 5 years to do it, and they haven’t. I don’t see why I should believe they’ll do it in the next 5.
As a single player game, it’s an incredibly satisfying engine building/factory construction game of optimization and improvement, with a vestigial combat system, and some unimplemented features. As a multiplayer game, it’s all that, but with some exceedingly aggravating bugs that offset much of the games polish and design, in exchange for being able to untouched wilderness into a something resembling if MC Escher was tapped to design an Amazon warehouse with your friends, and the fun you’ll have is directly proportional to how long you can all go as a group before one of you snaps and quits to go back to a game that doesn’t wipe your inventory every time you try to log in. If this interests you, it’s out for PC on both Steam and the Epic Store at $30 a pop.