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Lightyear Frontier review: Beautiful and enjoyable, but overly safe

Lightyear Frontier review: Beautiful and enjoyable, but overly safe

Sometimes you can play it too safe

Survival games are going through somewhat of a renaissance. You can’t browse an online store without tripping over 10 of them. This has its perks for those who love the genre, but it makes things difficult for a developer. If one game offers a unique twist, like Palworld or Nightingale, then players will flock to it. You need some kind of hook to pull in an audience.

Lightyear Frontier attempts this with minor success, as you’ll find yourself piloting a mech that is designed to colonise planets. The game opens with you arriving on a distant planet, roaming around for your tools that fell from your mech on entry into the atmosphere. After a quick tutorial section and the reattachment of your tools, it’s time to explore, build, and harvest materials.

Take a look at Lightyear Frontier in action below.

While it’s not an ‘issue’, Lightyear Frontier’s gimmick of mech piloting feels unnecessary. There isn’t a lot that happens within the game that couldn’t be done by a character, after all, we’ve done all this before. Instead of punching trees for wood, you use an electric saw arm; rather than plant crops by hand, you fire them into the soil with a gun. It’s a nice idea, but one that doesn’t revolutionise the genre. It’s not doing anything we haven’t seen before, and it’s doing it in a slightly cumbersome way. Running and moving in the mech suit is fine, but I often found myself tangled between trees if they’d grown closely together, and too many times I ran out of boost power and found my mech lying on its side. Thankfully, it’s a couple of button presses to right it but again, it adds an unneeded layer. Why would I clomp along in a machine when I could be walking normally?

Lightyear Frontier
Lightyear Frontier

Now I’ll freely admit, that’s a very minor quibble. It doesn’t get in the way enough to make you stop playing and when you later unlock a travelling merchant, you can customise the mech and make it feel more like your own which is a lovely touch. In fact, the game is filled with lovely touches; just small details that establish the world, or cement the art direction.

The crops you grow, for example, are all exotic-looking and sounding - plants that generate an electrical charge that can be used to create batteries; types of crops we’d see in real life but here they’re mutated and quirky. Then there’s the ramshackle design of the early buildings - a shack that looks as if it’s seen better days or items that feel like they originated in The Old West and can boost your property ratings for bonus perks. It’s a nice level of charm.

You can tell a lot of care has been put into taking the things we see in every other survival game and giving them an alien spin. It doesn’t feel like Minecraft or Enshrouded, though it does feature hints of a story and some intriguing diversions, like roaming ruins and discovering artifacts to find out more about your new home.

However, don’t expect too much difference in your actions, the gameplay loop is the same. You’ll start with nothing, explore various biomes, unlocking new crops or resources to harvest, like iron, copper, coal, and some otherworldly substances. While some thought has been put into making the biomes feel different, it’s not as radical as other games. The changes are subtle which makes me feel like they’ve missed a trick in not using some truly wild ideas to change up the scenery. The world is gorgeous to look at, but it does feel a little empty as there is no combat.

Lightyear Frontier
Lightyear Frontier

Which, I guess, brings me to the biggest sticking point; why would you play Lightyear Frontier? And honestly, I can’t give you a good reason. Now, I should point out that the game is in early access and falls under the Xbox Game Preview scheme, so new things will be added. In the state it’s in though, unless you’re a die-hard survival player and have run dry recently, you aren’t going to see anything that makes this a ‘must-play.’

It’s too safe. There was no point in my playing time where I felt in awe, or saw something to make my jaw drop, or even said, “Oh, that’s clever.” This is one of those games where you would say, “It’s fine,” because it doesn’t do anything obnoxiously wrong, but it also doesn’t set the world alight. And there can be some comfort in that, for sure. I spent a lot of time just farming or dashing back and forth across the map to harvest supplies (though I wish there was a quick travel option). It became a nice routine.

The crafting stations are somewhat unique and each dishes out a type of material - the grinder pounds crystals and rocks to dust; an oil presser squeezes fruit and veg; the assembler is where you’ll produce parts like glass lenses, copper wire, and the like. The travelling merchant who turns up every day is a great way to make money or buy new decorations for your homestead. So, there’s value in using the merchant to expand.

On that latter point of the homestead, sleeping each day can bestow bonuses as long as you’ve built enough decorations, so for level one, you can get ‘keen eye’ which gives you more resources in the wild. For level two, animals will dig up more resources when you feed them. It’s an interesting way to urge players to decorate and personalise their space.

Lightyear Frontier
Lightyear Frontier

Where Lightyear Frontier could have made for a greater experience is in learning from other survival games. For example, you can’t craft from chests and each ingredient must be in your mech, which is frustrating and leads to constant back and forth. Items that stations produce end up spilled on the floor which feels needlessly messy when you could just check the station and collect your new materials.

While I’m on the negative points, there’s a guide who talks to you from outer space when you progress on questlines, and outside of helpful plot points, she natters on to an annoying degree - constantly mentioning when you’ve scared off an animal due to your mech stomping around. I ended up muting the game completely.

Overall, it feels like this game could have used a bit longer in the oven, or will benefit from a robust roadmap of future features. It’s not a bad game in the slightest, but it’s not really learning from the growth of the genre over the years - feeling a little dated already. In a year when we’ve already seen several stand-out survival games, I can’t help but think that Lightyear Frontier will be overshadowed.

​​Pros: Beautifully visualised, simple and fun mechanics with an intriguing story

Cons: Plays it too safe, annoying moments, and feels dated in places

For fans of: Minecraft, Palworld, and Nightingale

6/10: Good

Lightyear Frontier is available for Xbox Series X/S (version tested) and PC. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: FRAME BREAK

Topics: Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PC, Steam