Space Engineers Review
Space Engineers is a game about space exploration and engineering solutions to problems. Using the game’s many functional blocks, you can manipulate voxel terrain, mine, build, and trade with factions. With mod support and a massive library of mods available, this game has taken up a life that the developers didn’t even consider.
You can build custom ships and rovers with your mind as the limit for detail. There are small and large grids to work with, each with benefits and drawbacks. Also, you’ll need to be careful because the voxel system includes soft-body physics deformation from damage. You can leave yourself stranded on an asteroid if you aren’t paying attention.
There are planets as well, though significantly scaled down from real-world counterparts. With that said, they are plenty big for exploration purposes, and you can even make your own planets as a mod for others if you know what you are doing.
It supports multiplayer play, though you’ll want to be aware that some things get a bit clang-y when servers are involved. That’s a term for potential spontaneous, unplanned disassembly.
So I’ve been playing a lot of Space Engineers as of late, and I wanted to write a bit of a review about it. I know it is a little bit late to the party, but I’ve had this game since late 2013 and have seen it evolve from a space-only basic Voxel building game into what it is today. I’ve seen the many evolutions the game has gone under, from basic textureless engine models acting as placeholders to full-blown planets being added – minus water (for now, they are working on it in a new physics engine they’re making).
Table of Contents
Space Engineers Weak points
There is no such thing as a perfect video game. All games have their weak points, and Space Engineers is no exception.
Physics Clang – Things Don’t Always Work as Expected
The biggest weak point for this game is the stability of physics, especially in multiplayer. Blocks that move, such as pistons, rotors, and hinges, are to blame, but problems generally only arise when you use a lot of these blocks in a creation. The server-to-client communication isn’t perfect, so sometimes they fight over who is right, and thus things can do, well… This:
This video is an extreme example of what can happen with enormous creations involving multiple moving blocks, and it results from phantom forces between them that get into a positive feedback loop. The result is something akin to flight, usually resulting in the pulverization of your creation into the voxel terrain or anything unfortunate enough to be in the path of the misbehaving grid.
Don’t think you’re safe from it if you stick to small creations, either. The same thing can happen if clearances between block grids are too tight, too. For example, if you try to force a hinge attached grid into the base below, it will build up tension, and that tension will enable the wrath of clang, as it is called in the Space Engineers community. Again, the positive feedback loop is kicked off, and things go bad fast.
My advice is to steer clear of long hinge chains – they are the most notorious causes of clang disassembly in Space Engineers. Unless, of course, you want to see the wonky physics in action for the giggles. Then, by all means, do what must be done!
No Easy Way to Make a Road Without Mods
I like vehicles that drive on the surface of a planet. Rovers are kind of my go-to design choice, but making a road eats up a LOT of resources when laid out across several kilometers. Additionally, changing elevation necessitates slowing down a lot, or you risk destroying your vehicle and the road. All of this makes building a road across several bases impractical in the base game.
However, there is a mod that comes to the rescue, the concrete mod!
Normally, in the game, you aren’t allowed to manipulate voxels other than to remove them, but with the concrete mod, you can add them back and, better yet, replace the voxels with concrete instead. This is perfect for using the natural terrain itself as a road, as it clears grass out and makes a logical path. You need to be careful, though, because one tiny voxel will obliterate your creation if placed in a bad spot. (The guy used the Voxel hands tool built into the game in the video to make that happen, by the way.)
The Grid List Lacks Important Filtering Capabilities
When you start to build larger and larger creations, one of the worst things that you will encounter is how useless the grid filtering is. You can hide a block from the list or show it – That’s it. It is also one of the biggest complaints in the player base.
By far, one of the most useful additions to this game would be the ability to hide or show attached subgrids rather than just recolor them. As far as I know, there isn’t a mod on the workshop that addresses this, but if you’ve found one, please let me know on discord!
The Inventory System Isn’t Very Intuitive
Continuing on that idea, the inventory system in this game is flawed. You quickly get lost among all of the attached grids, again, because there isn’t a proper inventory filtering system in place. Yes, you can search for a specific component, but sometimes, you don’t even know if the inventory is attached to the conveyor system.
I feel like if they allowed the view of a programmatically unified inventory space that you have access to from the conveyor port you used to access that grid, it would be infinitely better for players to use. That is, a toggle to combine all of the inventories into a single mega-container, at least as far as the user interface is concerned.
We shouldn’t need a mod like Automatic LCDs 2 to be able to know what the heck we have in our base at a glance.
What is the Goal of Space Engineers
For a game like Space Engineers, the goal is kind of up to you. You can do whatever you want within the rules of the game:
- Mine ore
- Build things
- Attack roaming NPC Vessels and steal their ships
- Create a Trade Empire using the Faction system and the store system to buy things
- Go to war with friends in an epic space-battle complete with railguns and artillery shells
- Play pre-structured scenarios designed to immerse you into a story, both player made and developer made
- Get lost in the thousands of mods on the workshop and change the base experience entirely
With such a strong focus on community-driven content, there is almost endless content to consume in this game.
New Players – I Recommend Starting with Scenarios
If you’re just starting out, there is a scenario system that will teach you the game’s mechanics in a fun way. You’ll be given a set of goals to accomplish, and you’ll be set to a point in the game where you have the tools to accomplish those goals. Then, you only need to put the work in to make everything slip into place.
To Start a Scenario:
- Launch Space Engineers
- Click New Game
- Under Scenarios, I recommend starting with “Learning to Survive,” as it gives you an excellent introduction to the systems in the game.
Now, you can start any scenario that sounds interesting to you, as the ones in the base game are all fairly straightforward. However, as a new player, the one that will give you the best foundation in terms of familiarizing you with the game is Learning to Survive. That is why I recommend starting with that scenario first.
Once you’ve finished the scenarios, I recommend creating a Star System Survival game, which will give you a full solar system to explore and build to your heart’s content. With the default settings on creating a survival game, you won’t have to worry about hostile ships blowing up your barely-constructed base – you can start nice and easy and pace yourself into the random encounters setting later.
Or, throw caution to the wind and enable all of the encounters from the start and race to build a semblance of security. Do whatever suits your preference, I suppose, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Don’t Care About the Survival Aspect?
Not to worry, Space Engineers also has a creative mode that lets you just focus on building without worrying about things like managing and gathering resources. To start a creative world:
- Click New Game
- Select the Custom Game Tab
- Select the “Creative” Mode, and choose your base starting world
- I recommend using the star system (At the bottom) as it is a good starting point to balance vehicle thrust on your creations across all of the planets.
Helpful Hotkeys and Quality of Life Features
Space Engineers has some very helpful shortcuts hidden in the menus that will save you from fumbling through their admittedly clunky in-game UI. I’ve put these hotkeys on a little table here so you can learn how to use these features from the start.
These five hotkeys are some of the most useful shortcuts for Space Engineers. I can’t tell you how tedious it was to pull out the exact amount of individual components a build needed before I knew about them. I would spend so much time just looking for the right components that it made survival go so much slower than it needed to. Knowing about these shortcuts at the start will dramatically improve your quality of life going forward.
|MMB||Withdraw components from the targeted inventory port needed to construct a block in the build planner|
|Shift + MMB||Set attached assemblers on a grid to construct parts for blocks in the build planner|
|Right-Click (While holding a blowtorch)||Add missing items from a selected partially constructed block to the build planner|
|Ctrl + Z||Relative Dampeners (Match speed and vector of targeted grid)|
|Left Click x 2||Toggle tool on|
Like Space Games? Check out My Kerbal Space Program Review
Kerbal Space Program is one of the most realistic rocket-building games out there. Experience the wonders of Newtonian physics and orbital mechanics as you learn how to build and launch a rocket into an orbit and beyond.
How Streamable is Space Engineers?
Next, I want to give Space Engineers a stream rating, which is determined using a few factors:
- Game Content length
- Audience Interaction Opportunities
- Game Popularity
Regarding Game Content-Length, that is essentially infinite, based on the kind of game it is. Easy S. You’ll never run out of things to do. In addition to this, there are a lot of audience interaction opportunities for streamers in Space Engineers. Again, another Easy S rating.
At its peak in March 2019, Space Engineers had 23,519 players active, according to Steam Charts. In the last 30 days, that number has dropped down to 11,058. It isn’t a very popular game when compared to something like Valheim, but given the fact that it came out way back in 2013, it still has a healthy player base of dedicated individuals. This is thanks in part due in part to the fact that the game has great mod support.
So for popularity, it gets a B, simply because the player count still spikes up high whenever a content update is released.
Overall, Space Engineers gets an A – It is a solid streaming option for those of you looking for a Minecraft-Esque space-based voxel builder. These kinds of games are gaining popularity, with games like Empyrion: Galactic Survival and Astroneer being two of the closest relatives to this genre.