An Early Look at Grounded

You’re in control of a child, who looks like he/she hasn’t entered the teenager years just yet. Among four different children — two boys and two girls — they’ve got a big problem: they’ve been shrunk to the size of an insect. Join them in their adventure — either by yourself or with a group of online friends — as they fight to survive in someone’s backyard, trying to build shelters whilst defending against bugs, and figure out why they’ve shrunk in the first place. Enter Grounded, developed by Obsidian Entertainment — the studio that brought us such titles as Pillars of Eternity, The Outer Worlds, and Star Wars: KOTOR2.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids ring much of a bell here? You’d be right, as one could essentially say Grounded is the spiritual successor of the movie in video game form. It would also be difficult talking about this game without mentioning ARK: Survival Evolved, as several of the survival elements are similar. Set in either first- or third-person perspective, your character will need to:

  • craft various weapons and armor by means of collecting rocks, sprigs, plant fibers, the like, to fend off against predators
  • try to stay alive by keeping their thirst quenched via water droplets and roasting fresh kill on a fire to keep hunger sated

Among other needs to keep your character alive and well. The difference here is that the game takes place in the modern era, fighting insects instead of dinosaurs and your character being just a speck of dust in an enormous backyard.

How I came to know about this game? I honestly can’t remember. It probably showed up in my Reddit feed one day. But I do remember watching the trailer a few months prior to the release of the game on Steam and being in awe of the idea of being small, while trying to survive.

Released on Steam Early Access on July 28, it honestly feels 100 times more polished than ARK ever was, with the added benefit of voice acting and having a purpose to fulfill. It’s a game where you can easily sink several hours into and lose track of the time.

At first, your character starts off with the bare minimum. He/she has no idea why they’re so small; in fact, they try to pretend like they’re dreaming. The harsh reality will hit them hard later on. You’ll craft a spear made of pebbles and plant fibers as your first weapon. This spear will be essential to your survival, as you can not only fend off the various creatures lurking about the yard, but block their attacks. Blocking at just the right time before an enemy’s attack will yield a much better guard than blocking too early, the latter of which will still take some health away.

From there, more advanced weapons will have to be made, such as bows and arrows, ant clubs, and hammers. Armor will have to get made as well, to increase your defensive capabilities as well as health, hauling capacity, or stamina. The better the weapons and armor you craft, the better off you’ll be fighting off the more dangerous bugs, such as spiders, stink bugs, and bombardier beetles. After killing these creatures, you can harvest their body parts and use them to create higher quality weaponry. Analyzing the body part with one of the various field stations scattered throughout the map will yield even more things to craft. Of course, weapons and other tools gradually decay through use, so you’ll need to either repair it with certain materials or craft a new one when it depletes.

Different types of armor can be created depending on the type of material you use. For instance, you can craft acorn armor that increases your character’s health by collecting acorn shells, some clover leaves, and mite fuzz. Ant armor will increase the amount of weed stems or grass planks you can carry at any given time. And grub armor will increase your stamina.

While you’re doing all of this, just keep in mind your character has a stamina gauge, a thirst gauge, a hunger gauge, and, of course, a health gauge. So your character will be limited to how long they can sprint or how many times they can swing their weapon. Consuming stamina will gradually deplete the thirst gauge, so you’ll need to keep the character quenched every once in a while.

But your character can’t just drink any sort of water. Drinking from puddles, while slightly filling the thirst gauge, will deplete some of the hunger meter. Fresh water will have to be obtained, in most cases, by water droplets that suspend on the tip of certain grass blades. Smack the grass blade with an axe to force the dew drop to fall. Build yourself a canteen while you’re at it so you can hold water without having to cut down another grass blade.

There’s a night and a day cycle. Of course, traveling through the yard is more dangerous at night, as your field of vision is limited, and more dangerous creatures lurk about. You can craft a torch to light your way, or you can build a lean-to — a small bed made of clover leaves — to sleep through the night. The downside to the latter, however, is your character’s thrist and hunger gauges will be low in the morning, and any raw or cooked meat that was in your inventory will now be spoiled.

Instead of this being some sort of survival sandbox, you actually have a purpose in Grounded. At some point in the game, you’ll encounter a robot named BURG.L. This talking robot will help try to make sense of your surroundings and why you’ve been shrunk. This robot will also give you a few tasks each time you talk to him: be it killing or analyzing a few creatures, or finding a location on the map and marking it with a leaf post.

Some are turned off by the survival genre. The amount of time it takes to get anything useful out of the game requires too much patience for them. And yeah, I’ve had those frustrating moments where, in the fifteen hours I’ve invested so far in this game, I end up cursing because my character came ill-prepared for a fight with a beetle and ended up dying. Just like in ARK, everything you crafted is all gone when you respawn. You can, however, retrieve your goods back by going back to the location where you died — provided you don’t slip into the same creature that killed you. By crafting a lean-to, you can set it as your respawn point. You can place this lean-to close to where you think you’re going to die, respawn, and quickly retrieve your goods. (Saves are here as well; you could probably just cheat and load the last autosave before you died.)

In the end though I think this is what makes survival games rewarding. You’re not spoiling yourself by instantly having access to items; you can’t buy them either. You really have to take the time to gather the necessary resources to craft whatever it is you want to make. And once the item is crafted, you feel a sense of accomplishment, especially after you’ve built a base for yourself and set up a few traps to keep enemies at bay. You may even feel like you’re getting a taste of what survival could be like in the real world, or get nightmares at night thinking about the terrifying appearance of the spider and how you would feel if you were in your character’s shoes. You learn to come prepared for battle, crafting yourself a couple of bandages for when your health gets low, coming with decent armor and a decent weapon, then harvesting insect parts to build more weapons — which you can then store in a basket or chest for later use.

What have we got going so far with the current version of Grounded? Well, we got the following (taken from the Steam store page, parentheses mine):

  • Groundwork laid out for our intended storyline
  • 3 major biomes – the grasslands, the hedge, and the haze
  • Crafting
  • Base building
  • Single player and online co-op play
  • First two tiers of weapons and armor
  • At least ten insects
  • Arachnophobia mode (makes spiders look less frightening)

The Arachnophobia mode in particular is a slider option that decreases the “frightfulness” of the spider’s visual appearance. It may be something that I think I’ll actually turn on at some point, as frankly the spiders are huge and look quite terrifying.

The final version, slated for release some time next year, will have:

  • Complete storyline
  • Steam Achievements and Cards
  • More bugs! The insect kind.
  • More environments and biomes
  • More crafting recipes
  • Additional features and updated systems to improve the entire experience

And I have to say, already in the state that it’s in now, I’m impressed. The graphics, harvested from the power of Unreal Engine, are of great quality, where you can easily immerse yourself into the huge world of your tiny character. Seeing baseballs, partially-eaten hot dogs, soda cans, and juice boxes at life size are interesting. While the game can be a bit difficult at times, it’s nowhere near as gruesome as ARK, and nowhere near as much time needs to be spent crafting various tools. There’s plenty of things to do in this game, and it’s a relatively painless experience.

The only couple of things I’d like to see in the near future are:

  • Being able to hold more items in your inventory. Your character has a maximum of 30 slots, and there’s no current way of upgrading this. You’ll need to harvest plenty of resources throughout the yard, in addition to holding your weapons and armor, and in so doing you will easily reach those 30 slots
  • Perhaps nerf the difficulty just a little bit for those of us who play by ourselves? This is one of those games where having multiple friends cooperating with you is a great help, but it can sometimes be daunting if you’re by yourself, even if you have plenty of bandages and armor. Sometimes you’ll unexpectedly be fighting a hoard of spiders — one or two can be taken down at a time, but not three or four

Proton Compatibility

While the game will run with Proton 5.0-9, you won’t be able to hear any audio. The fix to this, thanks to some of the reports on ProtonDB, is by installing .NET via Protontricks:

protontricks 962130 -q dotnet472

Just be prepared to sit down for a good half-hour or so while it installs. As I have not personally tested online multiplayer I can’t confirm whether it works or not, but looking at the reports, it seems like it’s working just fine. Perhaps this game may run out of the box with Proton GE, but as I haven’t done that yet I wouldn’t know.

Now you’re good to go. In order to play with a DualShock controller or other gamepad that uses DirectInput, you’ll have to force Steam Input on. Naturally, as Grounded is published by Xbox Game Studios, there’s only Xbox in-game button prompts, so you’ll have to get used to A being mapped to Cross, B to Circle, etc.

Not sure if a Linux port is going to happen. There hasn’t been a response from the developers over on the Steam discussion board yet. As far as system requirements go, the minimum requirements posted on the Steam store page are definitely not enough. You’re going to want to have at least 8 GB RAM, an i5, and a GTX 1050 or higher (it’s still better optimized than ARK, however) to play this on Epic settings. On my end the game hovers between 40-60 FPS at 1080p on the highest graphics setting, and that’s using a 1660.

Is the game worth the $30? I can honestly say yes. Given that you have some time to kill, Grounded is a great survival adventure to invest in. And it’s only going to get better over time with more updates. I may have an updated look at Grounded once it’s reached its 1.0 release.

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