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Factorio Early Access Review

We have developed quite a fascination in recent years with crafting and creation.

And, no, I don’t mean literally making things -- though I do understand there is a large contingent of players who literally make things. However, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Of course I am referring to games a la Minecraft: which focus on gathering supplies, bundles of stuff, and slapping them together to make other stuff. Chop down a tree, use those sticks to make an axe or spear, that kind of thing. Something about this whole “making things” trend has captured our imagination, and so here we are in 2016 with a whole host of developers taking that concept and running with it.

Enter Factorio, which is about -- you guessed it -- making things. Played from a top down, isometric perspective that throws us back to old school PC strategies and RPGs. It is very much about making things and then using those things to make other things, Factorio attempts to do something new and fresh with this hot-button genre by increasing the scale. The early goings have you chopping down trees, mining ores and building basic structures. Where Factorio deviates is the mechanics of the later stages, where it begins to resemble Sim City far more than it does anything with “craft” in the title.

There’s a loose story about being an engineer setting up shop on an alien planet, but that’s about the beginning and end of my interest in whatever stringy narrative hooks were put into place. What takes up a large part of your interest in lieu of any real story hooks is the joy and complexity of the crafting and building itself. While you begin with handcrafting certain tools necessary to jumpstart your little colony of factories, conveyer belts, and resource gathering structures, eventually your role as output manager shifts to something far less direct. Why waste your time crafting items yourself when you can make a factory that pumps them out for you?

And you’re going to need to be efficient about it. You are, after all, on an alien planet. Your little base needs defenses, ammo to give those defenses some bite, and resources to keep the whole machine running. This is where Factorio’s primary loop comes into play: mine, build, defend yourself. That’s not, as you might have gathered from the description, the most original concept in the world, but Factorio isn’t going for originality. What it’s attempting instead is the feeling of creating and managing your very own well oiled production and defense machine, which is joyous and fun in its own right. Do it right and, eventually, when zoomed out, your base looks like a mechanical petri dish amalgamation of pure efficiency, managing and defending itself from potential invaders.

For those who might not be interested in that sort of management, Factorio doesn’t really offer much in the way of fun.

Or, that is at least the hope. For those who might not be interested in that sort of management, Factorio doesn’t really offer much in the way of fun. Its complex systems interlock with one another eloquently and intelligently, though it is that very complexity that might serve to put players off of Factorio. I understand that there is a demand for this, for assembling and managing complex intertwining gameplay mechanics, but it’s the type of thing that only gives as much as the player does. For example, if you’re not particularly jazzed about base assembly and management, you might want to look elsewhere. Factorio doesn’t offer much aside from that.

However, if this sort of thing does sound like your cup of tea, Factorio offers more than enough interesting, albeit familiar, mechanics that will satisfy crafting-minded players. For these players, there is also the multiplayer option that allows for you to link up with a crafting buddy and do some joint building. It is in multiplayer where it opens up into something far more fun and interesting than what is offered by the solo-play. Being able to work with some like-minded cronies makes building far more fun and compelling. However, in the same way that the solo-play requires the player to put in a certain amount of work to ensure an adequate level of fun, the multiplayer requires players work with one another and with the game itself in order to have a good time.


The Verdict

And that’s what Factorio is all about: work. Not unlike other titles in the crafting genre, it all feels like work, like a job. Which, for some people, is what makes a good video game. However, I felt as if I were butting my head against its mechanics in a way not necessarily satisfying more often than I felt like I was enjoying myself. If you’re the type of gamer who likes their experience to feel like work, to feel like management, like another job, then Factorio might be for you. For myself, however, Factorio doesn’t necessarily do anything new or otherwise exciting.

Shane Jones
Written by
Monday, 14 March 2016 00:00
Published in Strategy



Shane Jones lives in a cave with internet access somewhere in the American Midwest. From this location, which he calls his "base of operations," he can sit and be crotchety about the state of modern video games. From this location, he sits and stews in his nostalgia, crying nightly about micro-transactions, day one patches and always-online games. From this location, he can sit and wish WOW was still good. In spite of all this, he continues to play most new major releases, waiting impatiently for a new Burnout game.

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