Core Keeper is a sandbox survival game that has a rather cute style, and tons of fun buried underneath the adorable exterior. It’s a Minecraft-inspired title, through and through. But don’t let that comparison push you off. Let’s talk more about what this game does to keep the player engaged. As is par for the course with these mining games, you have to figure things out and make your own fun.
The game world clearly took inspiration from the style of Stardew Valley. Although with Core Keeper, you’re much more inclined to mine and explore than the caves of the former. You will have to hack your way through a variety of biiomes, which all look quite beautiful. The lighting and reflection effects on the walls and water look rather impressive for such a simple game.
It’s one of the things that helps immerse you in the setup. The lighting effects create a truly oppressive sense of darkness. It’s actually kind of spooky when all you see around in the pitch black is glow of your own eyes. The setting has some serious potential. But that sense of dread kind of doesn’t carry through to the story. There are some mysterious ruins that you’ve uncovered as part of a team of explorers, but the player is left to their own devices to explore more. But first, let’s talk about how you actually play.
With a mixture of RPG mechanics frontloaded, players also have more choices to make. Even during basic character creation, there’s a surprising amount of character customization. You can also pick your starting background for a small boon. Explorer, Miner, Fighter, Chef and more can all be chosen as backgrounds during character creation. Each one gives you a small boost to your starting scores.
Each discipline within the game is also separated by skill trees. Everything from cooking to swinging your sword can be altered by just playing the game. As you play, you may notice small messages popping up above your head. That is your first clue that skills are actually pretty complex.
But aside from admiring the mining and rather brilliant lighting effects, there are a few things to do. You can explore as much as you want, but you have to be careful. Dangers are everywhere. You may find a river blocking your path, or some biome made of a material you can’t mine yet. One of the things about the exploration that I quite like is that rare ores and other items are much easier to find. Blind mining is out, as you get a little sparkle on your screen when nearby to a resource.
Then there’s the fairly unforgiving combat. Pretty early on, you learn that this is a much more dangerous world than the cutesy theme might portray. The first slime I ran into took out half my health in two hits. Combat is all about weaving around attacks and not getting hit. There’s no facetanking to be seen here. If you die while out exploring, your inventory is lost, but it will be possible to grab it again. This does help setup interesting ideas about late-game play where you could potentially eat an intentional death to make it easier to get back to base to grab new weapons when you take on a tougher enemy.
And the difficulty of the combat highlights one major shortfall of the game in this state, it lacks concrete tutorials and guidance. Sure, it’s a very simple game on the on-screen prompts that are there are very intuitive and simple, but it remains an issue. Having to figure out certain aspects of the deep crafting system isn’t fun for some players. There’s a reason Minecraft has a Recipe Book and tons of additional resources to help players learn their crafting. On the same token, there’s a sense of directionlessness to the story. The early area has some interesting ruins in it, but you’re basically left to your own devices with how to actually interact with them.
The game does have some incredible potential for blending the ARPG combat with massive amounts of crafting and building. Players can make some truly impressive bases to mess around in. By the time you put a few dozen hours in, you’re going to have a full complement of weapons, gear and more. Players who put the time in will be able to dive really deep into multiple tiers of gear and find some very interesting magic items as well. Without spoiling anything, you will be able to uncover a lot of mysteries and have a ton of fun figuring things out.
This is an Early Access title, so some rough edges are to be expected. Crashes have been seen according to some players. Also, even with lighting effects on Medium, this game couldn’t maintain a consistent 144 FPS on my rig with a few torches placed down. There’s clearly some room for improvement on the optimization front. I wouldn’t get too bent out of shape about it, as long as the devs continue to fix up the game.
This is one of those games that’s a pretty easy buy if you just have to try every title in the open-world mining adventure genre. If you’re burnt out on the concept of having to dig through sand for Tin and Copper, maybe skip this one. It does help that the game is actively being improved and some of the rough edges should be smoothed. Also, the game is a relatively cheap $12 USD. But be warned, if you’re looking for a deep story with tons of lore or characters, it won’t be found here.
The big draw for many will be the 8-player multiplayer mode. You also have a public game system whereby you can open your game to others and have them join. Exploring with your friends should be a blast, and take away a lot of the minutiae that these games tend to deal with.