BitCraft: Age of Automata Preview: A Social, Sandbox MMO With Some Big Ideas – IGN

BitCraft: Age of Automata’s announcement way back in 2021 caused quite the commotion in the IGN community, and I’m not going to lie: I was sceptical. Though this survival-crafting sandbox MMO looked absolutely beautiful, I wanted to see some evidence of how exactly players are supposed to craft this world together from the ground up.

I was excited to finally go hands-on; I played the beginning stages of BitCraft on PC, learning the basics of crafting and staking my claim in the world, before going on a fun little adventure across the sea.

I can say that BitCraft has come a long way since that initial announcement. What I played was memorable and – more importantly – fun. But it also has a long way to go. With the amount of ambition the developers are feeding into this game, it still remains to be seen whether BitCraft will fulfil its lofty vision.

I was guided by Tyler Cloutier, co-founder of studio Clockwork Labs, who bills BitCraft as the “first large-scale survival-crafting MMO.” Though currently, it feels less like a world in which you have to survive, and more of an opportunity to build a civilization from the ground up – with the help of thousands of other players.

As a PC gamer entering this world for the first time, I was immediately impressed by the graphics. The colours were gorgeous and stylised, like a levelled-up Tears of the Kingdom, and moving around felt fluid. I must admit initially confused by the movement controls, with the WASD keys controlling the camera rather than my character. Instead, the game uses a click-to-move system to facilitate crafting.

Building up

Upon waking up in the world with nary a hint of my automaton’s background, I quickly found myself perusing a Pokedex-like menu of crafting recipes to discover, find, and learn. It’s from here that you can select what to build, and start your construction site.

This is where the fun really begins: Scrappy, early-game structures can be built by just piling a bunch of sticks onto that construction site. But you likely won’t get far as you learn more complex schematics, and this is where the collaborative community aspect kicks in – other players can drop by your site to contribute building materials or even resources specific to their own specialisations.

In later stages of BitCraft, projects may take days or even weeks to complete – or, as Tyler suggests, you can think of it in terms of people, with some projects needing tens or hundreds of people to reach completion.

BitCraft – March 2024 Screenshots

But what one giveth to the world, one can taketh away. A major concern I had was around griefing; could another player dismantle a town you’d painstakingly built from scratch? If your structures are taking up space in the world, you should be able to keep them, right? This is where the claim system comes in.

Anything built within that space can only be touched by you. The initial space covers a few square yards, but as you upgrade it, the radius can grow to accommodate entire towns. As you meet and begin to form bonds with other players, you can also add others to your claim so they can help you build the city of your dreams.

You can build a totem, which lets you “claim” a small area of land around it. Anything built within that space can only be touched by you. The initial space covers a few square yards, but as you upgrade it, the radius can grow to accommodate entire towns. As you meet and begin to form bonds with other players, you can also add others to your claim so they can help you build the city of your dreams.

You could even set up a job advertisement – maybe you need someone with the blacksmithing specialisation in your budding town to help with a specific building.

I wanted to try terraforming, since BitCraft’s first gameplay trailer made this seem like something you could do a little too easily. But as I quickly learned, this too requires crafting materials to raise or lower one hex-shaped terrain tile. The more you terraform a tile from its natural height, the more expensive and time-consuming it becomes.

This system is in place to prevent the world from devolving quickly into an unnavigable hellscape, but with enough teamwork, you could build a pyramid, or replicate a picturesque mountain range.

Progression in other aspects, such as specialisation, seemed scant in my playthrough. A few NPCs called “travellers” are sprinkled through the world, and these guys can help you in various disciplines. For instance, one traveller is a builder: In return for bringing him supplies, he can sell you construction tools or teach you how to build a boat. I sadly did not have enough sticks to exchange in return for his knowledge.

Praise the (land)lord

Finally, I got to embark upon my first adventure. First stop: a small settlement, built from the ground up. It was set up with some player-made shopping stalls, campfires for cooking, and even little houses available for rent. That’s right: BitCraft has a landlord system.

You can build and own a home, and then rent it out (furnished or unfurnished) to other players. It’s a good way to establish a “home base” in a town, make some local friends, and even put your goods up for sale in the market. As you get higher-levelled, you may want to join a more established town that has the high-level resources you need.

You can build and own a home, and then rent it out (furnished or unfurnished) to other players.

Alternatively, you can bring in some income with your investment property and, well, lord over the place. The tools are there for you to organise a town how you want, whether that’s a quaint commune or a city under the rigorous rule of an iron fist – though Tyler is quick to assure me that the team is constantly balancing BitCraft’s mechanics, so that griefers won’t go about making everyone’s life a pain.

After crafting my early tools, such as a pickaxe, Tyler and I headed into an Ancient Ruin. This prototype dungeon took the form of an underground maze; finding a scroll on the ground, I learned that I should follow a draft through the dungeon in order to reach the end. I figured out that to accomplish this, I needed to watch the way the smoke blew from torches throughout the maze.

This particular puzzle felt quite gratifying to solve – without needing hints from Tyler. I managed to get to the end of this Ruin (and its treasure chests!) on my own, but later-stage Ruins may require more teamwork, such as a miner friend to help you clear rubble.

With claustrophobic dungeons being such a mainstay of RPGs, I’m hoping the final release explores different settings for these Ancient Ruins. I think it’d be amazing, for one, to hack through a rainforest and feel like you’re uncovering an ancient City of Gold.

Team

Clockwork Labs is a really small team; developing an MMORPG typically takes more than two dozen people, and they’re talking about a game that will house tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of players and beyond.

BitCraft Screenshots

In that same vein, my short time in-game only scratched the surface of the final vision, including features I didn’t get to experience: PVP combat, or specialisations like tailoring, fishing, and even scholarly pursuits. BitCraft is one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever come across, though I am cautiously optimistic that the things I experienced will remain in the game at launch (with even more to do).

Perhaps the strongest thing BitCraft has going for it is its thoughtful consideration of social dynamics, and I’m super excited to watch BitCraft’s development as it nears release. The first closed alpha test begins April 2 on PC.

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