Grounded Review (Early Access) — The Backyard Has Never Been So Scary
Grounded is a fun experience, but still needs way more improvements to be an easy-to-recommend game.
Most of the time, I’m not a fan of early access games as I barely can tolerate bugs and technical issues in a video game. But in the case of Grounded, ever since I saw the first trailer, it seemed like it could become my new favorite tiny-scale RPG. Of course, as an early access game, it does have some annoying technical issues that try to get you angry every now and then, but Grounded is a promising experience with great potential that could take over a big share of your playtime if it receives continuous support from the developers.
The tutorial campaign for Grounded starts with a bunch of exciting missions that ask you to cut off some grass, wipe-out some sticky bugs from a power cable, and discover a futuristic science lab inside of an oak tree. Unfortunately, the story campaign ends at its peak moment. While the game still offers you various quests, they are not as exciting as the tutorial campaign. There is lots of mysterious stuff in the garden that I really want to know about, but the game doesn’t offer anything at all for now.
So, the very first part that I expect to grow soon in Grounded is its story mode. The game has a great potential for an epic narrative that justifies the horrifying adventure of tiny humans within the garden. In fact, this part should’ve been more fleshed out before the game’s launch, in my opinion. At the very least, the developers could’ve ended the story content in a better place. It’s almost shocking and totally disappointing that you see the screen telling you the story content is temporarily over within the very first hour of your experience. I can’t deny the bad vibes after finishing the story content, but it’s not the end of the game yet as the world still has much to offer.
My first reaction to the story ending was to explore the world and figure out what I’m supposed to do in this considerably huge garden filled with creepy bugs. There is much to explore in the backyard, though it’s not rewarding all the time. The more I explored the garden, the more I found new dangerous, but beautiful, locations to dig into. After locating my targets for starting a new adventure, I began to upgrade my weapons and craft new ones, thanks to the resources I collected from the spiders, ants, ladybugs, and other insects.
Most of the enemies in the garden, especially spiders, have poor AI which makes it easy to take them down. The only thing you need is to craft a bow and jump onto the top of some grass to aim at spiders and kill them. In such a situation, spiders don’t attempt to attack you. They don’t even try to flee. As a result, they stand idle in front of you until your arrows tear them apart. More or less, the same thing happens with ladybugs as well. That said, ants seem to be the smartest bugs in the game as they try to run away whenever you hit them with an arrow.
Grounded feels more challenging when you decide to attack the enemies with melee weapons. It’s important to know how each enemy moves and attacks, so that you can hit them and fall back just in time. Some bugs have their own ranged weapons as well, which makes it tough to take them down.
That said, nothing is as challenging and horrifying as roaming around the garden at night. Thanks to the haunting sounds of the bugs during the night time, you can’t really figure out the source of the sleeping threats, which means all you can do is to take your steps carefully and make yourself ready to run away whenever you feel something is moving toward you. It reminds me of the night time in The Forest, where you would need to either find a shelter for yourself or the sound of zombies would drive you crazy. Of course, Grounded shouldn’t scare you to that point, but it’s still a haunting experience after the in-game sunset.
The more bugs you hunt, the more new weapons you can make out of their body parts. As a result, it’s always rewarding to have an aggressive approach against the bugs. However, the variety of enemies still needs to grow more. As an example, I’d really love to see some threatening bugs lurking around the pond on the north side of the map, but there’s nothing challenging about diving deep into the water other than oxygen shortage. Most of the time, it’s spiders that cause you trouble throughout your explorations.
The crafting system is easy to use. While you can craft the small things on your own, for bigger or more complicated items, you will need a batch of tools and a workbench. There are different kinds of items that you can create by gathering resources. Some of them may come in handy in various situations, while others are just for decorating your kingdom. In between, there are some house-building structures that don’t feel useful as you can’t build anything on top of them in a reasonable way.
When it comes to visuals and graphics, Grounded delivers a solid experience without any infamous issues like infinite falling, long load times for textures to pop-in, or the other visual problems that you can find in any early access game. I wish the same thing would be true for the technical part of the game, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Every time I play the game I face new technical issues. There are a wide variety of technical problems in Grounded and each time I play the game, I face a new one. Sometimes, you may find unintentional super jumps for your character that sends you miles away. On some occasions, your radar, which helps you to find different analytic sites in the garden, gets out of order by sticking in a certain state. On top of all the technical problems that I faced over my playtime, having ladybugs disappear was probably the worst offender.
In order to craft a Tier 2 ax, I needed to kill a ladybug and loot its head. So I started to search everywhere on the map, double-checking the places that I had recently met some of them, but at the end of the day, there were no ladybugs. For nearly five hours (real-world) I looked in every corner of the map and there wasn’t even a single ladybug. It was as if there hadn’t been a creature like this in Grounded at all. Disappointed from my exploration, I restarted the game, and yes, they were finally back.
Generally, Grounded is a fun experience that I hope to grow as fast as it can. The game shows its most entertaining moments when you play it with your friends as a team, though playing alone will be more challenging if you are looking for a tough experience. Currently, the matchmaking system is incomplete and only allows friends to play with each other, but it’s set to be improved soon.
If you ask me, Grounded could be much more successful than it is if Obsidian would have launched it a few months later. It’s really important to hook your audience in the first few hours of gameplay, and Grounded could’ve done it much better if it had more to do at the start. That said, the game still has its strong advantages that keep you engaged with its world.
If you already have a Game Pass subscription, you should definitely give Grounded a whirl. Rest assured that it won’t disappoint you; at least not in the first few days of your playtime. But if you want to pay for it, I recommend waiting a bit more until the game receives more content.
Editor’s Note: Grounded is still in early access and as such, we’ll be updating this review in the future as the game continues to grow further.