Explore and build on a mysterious island!
Aground is a survival crafting game with an emphasis on progression and quests. You're a crash survivor in the middle of a storm that sets about making a shelter. You quickly meet another survivor, and working together, begin gathering supplies. More characters can be found as you play, allowing you to build a thriving settlement with a farm, workshop, market and more.
Unlike some of the more free-form survival crafting games, you won't be building houses block-by-block as you see fit. Instead, the various NPCs direct your progression via quests, typically asking you to gather materials for building a new structure. Once you've done so, new features are available based on the structure's purpose, and often the NPC becomes a worker of sorts, using their skills to gather resources.
While not full automation, this feature alleviates some of the tedium and busywork often found in survival games. Having helpful NPCs that can harvest resources and hunt animals while you focus on the next stage of progression removes a lot of the time sink.
I found myself continually surprised by the amount of content currently offered by Aground. I'd finish a round of quests, thinking I'm probably nearing the end, only to have a whole new set of quests pop up. Mining through stone, I happened upon the lair of a red dragon and a cave that led to an entirely new map! Building a boat unlocks the ability to travel to new islands, though I'm not sure if they've been implemented yet. The game is in a finished state, but like any good survival title, the developers have plans to expand the game with much more content.
I'm also fairly intrigued by the game's story and lore. It's handed out slowly via NPC dialogue and isn't crucial to gameplay (as far as I can tell), but contains some interesting tidbits. Speaking as a fan of pixel art, Aground doesn't blow me away, but it has a certain charm that I can appreciate. Likewise, the music and ambient sounds aren't amazing, but fit well enough. I could do with a change to NPC chatter, though - something about it is a bit grating.
In addition to the amount of content, Aground comes with a surprising level of polish. It's compatible with Xbox controllers straight away, and you can set commonly-used items to 'hotkeys' (L and R buttons on the controller). The game remembers what you've keyed where even if you run out of that particular item, meaning you don't have to reset it. There's even an alternate recipe for cheeseburgers, allowing you to upgrade any already-made hamburgers - not a necessity by any means, but it shows that real thought was put into every aspect of the game.
That said, there's a few things I'd like to see changed or improved. Muting the game audio is keyed to the left D-pad, which is a feature I'd readily disable. Melee combat consists mainly of standing in one place and hacking away while the monster does the same. I'd really enjoy a little more action - maybe a back-rolling dodge or a short-ranged charge attack, perhaps tied to different types of weapons like blocking is a feature of the shield. Arrows seem way too expensive to craft with a 1:1 ratio for wood when 8-10 pieces can build an entire structure. I also see no reason to make iron tools when steel is so much better and requires so little additional effort and material.
Minor complaints aside, Aground is an exceptionally polished survival crafting game with a lot of potential! I really hope this game builds upon the solid gameplay they already have with much more to explore!