Grapeshot Games is a spin off development team started by Studio Wildcard. Atlas is a pirate themed survival MMO set in a massive world. Players will sail the high seas as they travel around and make their mark on the world as a pirate, an explorer, or whatever else may catch their fancy.
Atlas offers quite a bit of character customization thanks to its massive skill tree. Obviously, most players are not going to be a master of everything, so specializing in certain skills and teaming up with other players to form a crew seems to be a big part of the game. The experience gain is a bit slow on official servers, which makes the game feel a bit grind heavy for casual players right now. I think the experience rate could be increased by 50% to make progression a little easier.
There is a decent amount of content to explore right now as there is a beefy tech tree that is tied to the skill tree. The tech tree will keep players busy between gathering materials, capturing animals, building new facilities, and crafting new equipment. The world is extremely large as each official server is essentially a string of smaller server instances with its own map that connects to another server. Once players get bored of the scenery or need some resource not available locally, they can explore the high seas for new locales and adventures.
The servers were lagging quite heavily during testing, which made combat difficult. There’s a good variety of weapon types in the later half of the skill tree, so players will have a lot of options to fit their preferred fighting style. There is also a decent balance between the number of ranged and melee weapons. Due to the slow experience gain, players will also be spending quite a bit of time with basic weapons like the stone spear.
The ship system is interesting so far. Players start off with the most basic raft that serves as a mobile home base and can slowly scale upwards, creating larger ships and adding crew members. The ship controls do a pretty good job of mimicking the feeling of sailing an actual ship as players need to rotate the sail around to move in a certain direction, then unfurl the sail to control speed. It’s easy enough to learn, but not the most maneuverable thing in the world. Players are still at the mercy of the wind direction, meaning getting stuck is still a very real possibility.
The early game is still very much a work in progress right now. Players choose to join either a PVP or a PVE server, then choose a part of the world to enter. After character creation, new players are dropped off at the nearest Freeport with some basic text instructions. The odd tooltip appears in the top left of the screen, but the usefulness varies wildly. Some basic survival mechanics like vitamins are still poorly explained and are left to Steam guide writers and wiki contributors to deal with. At the very least, Freeports are generally safe areas for players to experiment and get a hang of basic gameplay mechanics until the level 8 experience cap.
The UI could use some improvements. Certain elements on the HUD are not well explained. Menus are usable, but they are not as intuitive as I would like. The crafting menus for crafting stations is very clunky, looking and working more like Windows Explorer than a proper menu. Inventory management is decent, though moving items between inventories can be a little clumsy.
Considering Atlas’ roots in ARK: Survival Evolved, its rocky Steam Early Access release is a disappointment. Testing the game was a challenge as servers were in a dire state. Extreme lag was a constant issue, making some areas of the game nearly unplayable. A lot of technical optimization is needed in the coming months as the game runs poorly. While the state of Steam Early Access titles run the entire spectrum of development, it is clear that Atlas is still in its early stages of development.
Atlas has a lot of intriguing ideas, taking the well trodden path of sandbox survival games and moulding it to fill the empty niche of pirate-themed video games. The current sailing system is an excellent starting point, hitting a decent balance of ship control and helplessness in the face of the powerful seas. Like all Steam Early Access titles, Grapeshot Games has a bit of work to do. The game already offers a decent amount of content thanks to its roots in ARK: Survival Evolved. There is a hefty tech tree, a deep skill tree, and a large world to enjoy right now. But it’s the less glamourous areas where Atlas needs the most work. The game is in dire need of technical optimization and user experience improvements. It’s not as sexy as new features, but these upgrades need to be at the top of Grapeshot Games’ priority list.