If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might remember me praising the (still in Steam Early Access) game Subnautica a few times. Well, I’m back again today to praise it some more, and also offer some thoughts on game updates, and game changes more generally.
First let’s get some formalities out of the way. From the beginning I thought that Subnautica was a beautiful and immersive game, and over the past few updates it has only gotten moreso. They recently did a pass on the game that effectively just made everything prettier, from improving some models and animations to updating the lighting effects. I want to spend so much time exploring this world because it is so beautiful.
Now it is time to move on to some meatier changes. The most recent update promised the ability to craft planters and large aquaria for growing your own terrestrial and aquatic plants, and for growing sea creatures from eggs. Cool! Unfortunately, this also required starting a new game again. This highlighted some changes since the last time I restarted that, while I think make the game better, made getting up to speed again much slower. There was a tiny bit more of an introduction sequence than I remembered, which was very nice. Once I hopped in the water and started working toward making a new sea base so I could start my new garden I discovered that many of the items I could craft immediately before now required blueprints, and the system for gaining those blueprints was different. Now you need to craft a scanning device to carry with you so you can scan fragments that you find until you scan enough to learn the full blueprint. You can’t add any sort of power supply to your base until you learn the blueprint for one. This really slows the pace of building, since it means you have to constantly run back to your escape pod to use the fabricator for much longer than before.
I think I’m so conflicted on this big change because I’ve been playing so long now and it is quite disruptive to my usual path of progress. It didn’t feel great to have to spend a while searching around for a blueprint for something I had from the outset before, especially when I just wanted to check out some of the cool new additions. Perils of early access I guess, but there’s also parallels to many other games. Leveling for the first time in a MMO I almost always want to take my time and explore. After that, I’m often just looking for the most direct route to get caught up to where I want to be. Having to re-earn something I already worked hard for feels incredibly unfun, whether a cosmetic item, reputation grind, attunement, or other unlocks. It is why big disruptive changes in a game feel bad sometimes, even when they’re adding great new content. The changes to old-world WoW in the Cataclysm expansion come to mind here. They added a bunch of new quests! There was so much to re-explore and see! But it disrupted my known alt leveling path, took away something I was so very familiar with (ah nostalgia!) and replaced it with new stories that I sort of wanted to pay attention to but mostly just wanted to get through quickly on my way to the level cap. To this day I feel like I never gave that content a fair shake because I was always in a hurry to rush through it, even when it was brand new.
This is a very different feeling from a simple addition of new content that picks up where you left off. New DLC for the most part, or new patch or expansion content in MMOs that adds max-level activities or increases the level cap doesn’t invoke so much resentment in me. Hopping into an existing game file or on to an endgame-ready character and working toward newly-added goals is satisfying because it feels like progress, not retreading old ground in a slightly different way.
I’m not sure exactly what all this means for me and Subnautica going forward. I absolutely love the game and will continue to highly recommend it. They are still adding monthly updates though, so maybe I need to space out my play time a bit and let a few pile up before returning and starting over from scratch again. Hopefully that will allow more cool new additions to outweigh my grumpy resistance to change.