The Colonists

The premise pushed by the marketing for village-management sim The Colonists is that it’s a “relaxing planetary settlement game…” That line (coupled with the console reveal trailer) got me to pay attention. It’s a good premise for a video game.

In reality, though, this is only one side of The Colonists. The phrase paints an accurate portrait of that one side — the gameplay can be very relaxing at times — but there’s a darker side to this coin that’s not being addressed. This game can be downright brutal. And I’m not saying that in the “you’ll die until you learn and then you’ll feel awesome” kind of way; I mean it oftentimes feel like the developers actually hate to see players having a chill time.

So, let me elaborate on the relaxing part for a bit. When you first start the game, you’re given some easy challenges (and the first Trophy is a breeze). You’ll learn the ins and outs of the game in a relatively stress-free environment. If you make mistakes, you can easily bulldoze something and rebuild it elsewhere, or put something else in its place. The penalty is that you’ll maybe lose some resources, but it’s really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

But you’ll eventually come to a fork in the road. The game’s campaign branches into two halves; one is based around peaceful settlement (the game refers to this as the Economic Campaign), while the other is based around combat (the Military Campaign). And I have to say, the combat side of the game is a nightmare. Your enemies ramp up production way too quickly for you to do anything about it, and you’ll end up getting squashed over and over again because you didn’t manage your resources with absolute perfection. I turned the combat difficulty down to Casual just so I could get through it all, but I still struggled. A lot.

On top of this, many of the non-combat missions feature optional challenges, such as having you build a boat within two and a half months. You can’t just build a boat from scratch, though. You need to farm the right resources to build a Workshop, which will let you research new skills, which in turn will let you research even more skills, which in turn will let you research the boat-building factory (called a Boat Yard in the game). And then, you’re going to need a ton of resources to actually build that boat.

The Colonists

At any point in the process, your supply chain can just stop working. Sometimes it’s because you’re not farming resources fast enough, and sometimes you’re farming them too fast and you’re running out of energy. Sometimes your resources are just too far away from where they need to be and your robots can’t move them fast enough; other times you end up with too many resources converging on one location and you create a traffic jam. You’ll always feel like there’s at least one thing you don’t have enough of, and you can’t refocus to that thing without causing another snag down the line.

It’s a precarious juggling act that I think would actually be quite enjoyable if the difficulty were scaled back just a little bit. And really, not even much — if a month contained 30 days instead of 28, for example, I would have actually been able to complete the highest tier of the Boatbuilding Challenge. This would have given me five extra in-game days, and that’s really all I’d need.

To illustrate this point, I’m writing this nine days after launch, and there are still 13 Trophies with a 0% completion rate. And there’s one Trophy that I suspect I might be the only person to have actually earned. Perhaps more telling is that the game’s been out on Steam since 2018, and there’s still an Achievement with a 0% completion rate. Eight of the Steam Achievements have a 0.1% completion rate. I think it’s safe to say that the harder parts of the game are too brutal for an overwhelming majority of players.

And sure, you can ignore the challenges. You can focus on the Economic Campaign path. You can even try out the sandbox mode. But those challenges are always there, dangling in front of you like a carrot on a stick. If you’re a Trophy hunter, this will drive you absolutely bonkers, because a vast majority of them require you to complete challenges.

The Colonists

I adore The Colonists in its peaceful, serene moments. I really enjoy starting small and slowly expanding my colony outward and up the tech ladder. I think Mission 5 took me ten hours to complete, because I was so slow and meticulous about my approach. Mission 7 took me double that. If you stick with non-combat missions and ignore challenges, you can have a really great time in this game.

However, there’s always going to be the temptation to attempt a challenge, or to jump over to the combat side of the mission tree. When you do, be prepared to crash into the wall while being smacked over the head with a hammer relentlessly, because all of a sudden, what was once a cozy, cute little robot game starts showing its dark side. And let me tell you, that dark side can be absolutely horrifying.

The Colonists is a little bit like an adorable little Yorkshire terrier that loves to snuggle. But then all of a sudden you’re napping on the couch and it bites a hunk out of your nose and leaves you permanently disfigured. You still love the dog, but you can no longer snuggle with it without worrying that you’re possibly going to lose a body part. So you keep loving it at a distance. And you always sleep with one eye open…

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