In-Development Spotlight: Core Keeper

You might have missed any news about Core Keeper, an upcoming game developed by Pugstorm and published by Fireshine Games, currently in Early Access and slated to fully release near the end of 2022.

I’m a big fan of digging games. It’s been quite a journey, starting from Diamond Caves 3, a lot of Minecraft, Steamworld Dig and now, finally, I found another one to add to the list. Core Keeper has lots more for you to do than just mining, though. Let’s get into that.


The Premise

The story is pretty slim: You’re part of a group of explorers, you touch an artifact and you’re transported into an underground world filled with walls of dirt, rude slimes and a bunch of ore. Then, for the most part, you’re left to create your own story.

This is where you spawn. The torches, chests and that bearded man aren’t initially there.

This is a good time to tell you that Core Keeper, in its Early Access state, doesn’t have a tutorial yet. Check the settings to find out your controls!

The first thing you should do is break some roots and craft a bunch of torches – this game is really dark if you don’t have any nearby light source (note how closely together I need to place torches to get some semblance of light). Without spoiling too much, you’ll have to find and defeat three bosses in order to activate the central structure and progress into what is currently the endgame.


The Core Loop

The main progression path you’ll be on is similar to Minecraft: You’ll access higher tiers of gear, pickaxes and machinery by farming different kinds of ore. You start with Copper and then slowly make your way through Tin and Iron until you finally have what it takes to access the zone where you find Scarlet ore.

Similar to how ores work in Minecraft, where you can only find, say, Diamond ore at a certain depth, ores in Core Keeper are relegated to their own biome. You’ll find Copper in your starting biome (the center of the world), while you’ll need to travel further out for Tin and Iron and even further out for Scarlet.

That tiny sliver of ‘map’ you see in the right-hand image is actually an entire railway I built in order to reduce travel time to the endgame biome. At stop speed, it still takes roughly 30 seconds. This game could use teleporters.


The Bosses

I don’t want to spoil the boss encounters and in particular the second boss, as they’re pretty cool but also the ways you can go about defeating them can get pretty creative.

There’s three “initial” bosses that you need to defeat before you may enter the current endgame zone, which contains another three bosses. After you find the first boss (mine spawned really close the the starting area), you’ll be able to purchase boss scanners for the other two, which should make your journey to finding them in this endless maze much quicker.

That’s all I’m going to say about them. For more, explore the game!

There’s also a way to respawn a boss if you want to farm its loot! Remember where those ritual circles are!

The Other Stuff

Core Keeper is not all about mining, fighting and exploring. On character creation, you’ll be asked to choose your ‘background’, which is a fancy way of saying your profession. This will determine what item you spawn with but also give you a head start in perfecting that skill. That’s right, there’s skill trees!

Left to right, top to bottom: Mining, Running, Melee, Vitality, Crafting, Ranged, Gardening, Fishing, Cooking

You level up your skills by doing their related activity: Pick vegetables to level Gardening, run to increase Running, defeat enemies to increase Vitality. It should be no surprise the Running is the easiest to level, since you’re doing it all the time. It should be noted, however, that skills cap at level 100 and you get a skill point every 5 levels. That means you’ll get a total of 25 skill points. Each tree has 8 skills which need 5 points each to max, meaning you cannot eventually activate all your skills, so choose wisely!

Aside from the usual things like mining and killing things, there’s four skills that are more domestic in nature.

You level up Crafting by, well, crafting stuff. You can probably cheese it quite a bit by creating a tidal wave of cheap Torches. Crafting in Core Keeper is much more simple than what you might find in Minecraft – there’s no interface where you have to place items in a certain order; it’s more akin to ‘buying’ an item from a workbench. Trade in the materials and voila, you’ve crafted something.

Yup, there’s conveyor belts.

Gardening is the skill that requires you to get your hands dirty. With soil. You level up Gardening by uprooting plants, and that really about it. I set myself up with a 4×10 plot of tilled land and started work on creating an army legumes. It’s probably a good time to mention that Bomb Peppers are both edible and also an ingredient for creating bombs; but at least they’re organic, locally-sourced and non-GMO!

These are not Bomb Peppers. These are nicer legumes.

Cooking is a bit more of an idle clicking game. You throw ingredients in the pot and you gain experience when you pick them up. If you pay attention, though, each combination of ingredients created a different meal which gives you different buffs, so a master chef would definitely be aware of which food to use in which situation.

Fish + Carrock = Tooth-breaking armored meal.

Then there’s Fishing. I’ve not found a way to cheese this one. It seems that you just need to spend hours fishing for ore, kelp, spoons and unruly fish.

We can do this the easy way or the hard way!

Game Settings

On the personal level, there’s two ways to play: Standard or Hardcore, the latter obviously meaning that once you’re dead, you’re dead. I decided to play Hardcore and lost three characters because of it. I would not recommend it until you’re somewhat accustomed to the way combat works, or you may find yourself charged down by an army of larvae with nothing but a slingshot in hand.

It is worth noting however that the only noteworthy thing deleted in Hardcore is your skill progression. The world is not deleted, so you can create a new character and keep playing with the same world generation, loot-filled chests and defeated bosses. You can thankfully even go to the place you previously died, destroy your tombstone and recover your inventory.

The one big critique I have for Core Keeper is that the game feels balanced for co-op. The skill system’s XP curves make me think that ideally, you’d have a player focused on Cooking, Fishing and Gardening, another on Crafting, a couple on Melee/Ranged + Vitality and then one more on Mining.

It would take a lot of time to max out every skill on one character; while the core progression pushes you to spend most of your time outside your base, scavenging for resources, exploring and killing things, half of the available skills require you to spend a lot of time home, grinding out plots and creating complex machinery.


Road to Release

Core Keeper’s next update, Sunken Sea, is set to release today and will include an all-new biome (The Sunken Sea), boats (so you don’t need to craft thousands of bridges), a new tier of ore, gear and weapons, new plants, fish, food combos, base-building items, a new boss and basically everything you can expect to find in a new tier of tech.

We should also expect more seasonal events akin to The Great Egg Hunt they ran for Easter, hiding eggs across the world which, together, would combine into ‘the mysterious Golden Egg’, a permanent collectible.

During Early Access, we can also expect further updates with even more biomes, additional mechanics for Cooking, Fishing and all base-related activities and the second part of the story as well as a proper ending!

Teleporters!

Have you played Core Keeper? Are you excited for the Sunken Sea update? Let us know in the comments below!

Summer Game Fest Showcase: The Callisto Protocol

Summer Game Fest is taking a break over the weekend so we’re here to showcase a few of the games that were announced or received some juicy new information!

The Callisto Protocol is an upcoming space horror shooter currently slated to release December 2nd this year. The game was first announced with this gorgeous cinematic trailer but now we’ve finally gotten a peek at some gameplay!

Who’s Schofield?

Glen Schofield is the head of Striking Distance Games, the studio working on Callisto Protocol but also the father of Dead Space. When Dead Space 3 undersold back in 2013, EA moved Visceral Games to work on developing Star Wars games with two other studios. In 2017, EA closed the studio based on “listening to player feedback and following marketplace trends”, and the hope for a fourth Dead Space waned.

The current Dead Space remake is being developed by Motive Studio and has no connection to Glen Schofield. Schofield joined Krafton as the CEO of the newly created Striking Distance Studios and promptly got to work on The Callisto Protocol.

If you’ve played Dead Space, you are probably well aware of how similar Callisto is in terms of gameplay, monsters, UI, sound and, well, most everything else. While Callisto was not the only space horror game to be announced on day one of SGF (you could say space horror was one of main themes of the entire stream), it is certainly the most alike to Dead Space and, pending review, could be its spiritual successor in a similar way Path of Exile is to Diablo II.

Let me end this section with a fun fact: The Callisto Protocol was initially supposed to take place in the PUBG universe. At some point during development, this idea was scrapped; Callisto now lives in its own world.

Gross. Awesome.

Breaking Callisto Down

While we’ve only seen a few minutes of gameplay, it is clear to me that Callisto is a new iteration on Dead Space’s overall design and gameplay loop. The UI is fully built into the character, the camera is positioned exactly the same, it’s dark and there’s monsters.

While Dead Space let you pick up objects and throw them around with your Kinesis module, Callisto takes the concept a step further by introducing The Grip; a gun that lets you pick up enemies and, as we’ve seen in the trailer, shove them into vents. Take note of how we went from enemies jumping out of vents to throwing them back in.

Gives them the jitters!

A scene later in the presentation shows the player interacting with some kind of terminal, activating the various machinery in the room. This collection of grating, ‘brutal’ sound effects of machines powering up and whirring blades, followed by monster growls should be no surprise to the Dead Space player.

Sound plays a very important role in horror games and it sure looks to be a big focus for the team behind Callisto. You can probably also expect monsters to show up whenever you turn on heavy machinery. While the clanks and bops add a great deal to the atmosphere, they also serve to “muddy” the soundscape, making monsters harder to hear (and consequently easier to be ambushed).

Don’t press that button!

One other aspect I’d like to touch on is the gory deaths. I’ll be honest, very few games come to mind when trying to compare what is shown in the trailer to what’s already out there: Mortal Kombat (of course), Dead Space (naturally), Until Dawn: JAWS; I could go on.

Callisto seems to have this aspect nailed as well. If you’re into nightmarish cutscenes of your character getting disassembled piece by piece or just enjoy hearing what the sound design team achieved with nothing but some bell peppers, a banana and a microphone, you can add this game to your list.

The two gameplay scenes (which take place in the first half of the game) show you wearing two different outfits, so we can expect a suit upgrade system that adds armor/health and perhaps more inventory slots. While not explicitly revealed, I’d also assume there’s going to be weapon upgrades as well as a bunch of ‘engineering’ problems to solve throughout the game.

Dead Space 1&2 had a simple, elegant upgrade system. You can probably expect Callisto to iterate on it and add some depth.

Something the first two installments of Dead Space are known for is being a pretty linear experience. Dead Space 3 added optional “dungeons” (some even co-op exclusive, for whatever reason) which tended to award a bunch of loot and perhaps a little bit of story here and there, centered around the two playable characters. In a recent interview, Glen Schofield confirmed that Callisto Protocol will have a lot more optional story content, seemingly focused on learning more about the characters you find along the way. This will be paired with lots of hidden paths ensuring there’s a reason to go back and replay through the whole game.

As we near the launch date, I’m sure the marketing machine will pick up and we’ll be getting an increasing amount of information on what Callisto has to offer. We’ll keep you posted on any updates!

Where To Play

The Callisto Protocol launches December 2nd this year on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC (on Steam).

While I become less resilient to body gore as I age, I’ll definitely be picking this one up. Space horror shooters have become their own genre but there’s something reassuring about having the man behind Dead Space developing Callisto that makes me believe it’ll be an excellent game.

What did you think of The Callisto Protocol? Are you going to play it when it comes out? Let us know in the comments below!

Summer Game Fest Showcase: Cult of the Lamb

Devolver Digital’s Marketing Countdown to Marketing happened a few days ago as part of Summer Game fest, and one of the games shown there was Cult of the Lamb. While the game itself isn’t new, the event gave us a release date of August 11 and a demo on Steam. We’ve played through this demo, and are here to give our first impressions of the game. Let’s take a look!


The Story

From Death…

The game starts with your character, a cute little lamb, tied up and surrounded by what appear to be cultists. Your only option for progress is on the bridge to the north. Once you get on the bridge, two of the cultists will block your way back.

Once on the bridge, the credits for the game start rolling. At the end, you’ll reach a new platform, with more cultists, a big executioner, and four very large, very eldritch creatures. The latter start talking about how you’re the last one, and how killing you will prevent some sort of prophecy. At that point, the axe comes down, killing you.

That’s Cult of the Lamb! Let us know what you think-

Nah, just kidding. After you die, you wake up in a new area, where you seem to be on some sort of cloud with large chains coming out of the “ground”. As you head upwards, you meet another creature similar to the previous four, but this one is chained.

The creature, known as The One Who Waits, offers you a deal. You’ll be brought back to life, and in return you’ll create a cult in their name, as well as kill the other 4 creatures, known as the Bishops of the Old Faith. At this point, you’re given two prompts: “Yes” and “Absolutely”.

After you make your choice, a small animation plays where the little lamb is given eldritch, otherworldy powers, and we get the title sequence for the game.


…Rebirth

Once you’re brought back to life, the action starts! You return to the same area where you were killed, and the cultists immediately attack you. The good news is you can fight back (we’ll talk about combat in the Gamplay section of the article).

Once you clear out the cultists and move further into the level, you meet Ratau. They’re the former vessel of The One Who Waits, and is here to lend you a hand. They instruct you to head towards the ruins of their old temple, where you’ll start creating you cult.

On your way out of the woods, you encounter another woodland critter about to be sacrificed to the Bishops. You kill all the cultists and free the critter, teleporting them away. Afterwards, you make your way out of the woodworks and finally arrive at the ruins.

Ratau helps you around a little more. You indoctrinate the critter you saved earlier into your cult, then start building up the base, managing to make a small fireplace before Ratau tells you to go out there to get more materials.

You go into the Land of the Old Faith, the same land you just escaped. The area is similar to the one in the first section of the game, except larger. Your objective is to kill Amdusias. After you do that, or if you die along the way, the demo ends.


Gameplay & Controls

The game is split into 2 main sections: the base-building manager and the so-called “crusades”. Let’s start with the latter.


Crusades

The crusades are where the majority of the combat happens. They are dungeon-crawls where you fight enemies, collect resources and save potential members for your cult. Finishing crusades gets you closer to defeating the four Bishops.

Each crusade is randomly generated and is split into multiple areas with different purposes. When clearing an area, you’ll be brought to a 2D map with multiple branching paths that let you go to the next area. Each area is split into rooms with one or more exits.

The combat areas, which can be identified via the sword icon, are the largest and offer a small dungeon map at the top-right corner of the screen. In the demo we also encountered an area that offered a large number of resources to the players, and there’s also the one where you save a potential cult member from the beginning of the game.

At the start of each crusade you’re offered a weapon and an eldritch ability, called a Curse, to use. The Curse uses Fervor charges, which can be replenished by killing enemies. The selection is random, and it’s likely you’ll be able to unlock more options as the game progresses in the full version.

There are characters you can meet during crusades that can alter your run in various ways. The two we came across are Clauneck and Kudaai. Clauneck gives you a choice between two passives to alter how your run goes. Kudaai lets you change your weapon or Curse.


Building Your Cult

Your cult represents the base-building side of the game. What we get in the demo is pretty limited, but should give us a good idea of what the full game will be like.

The first thing you do when you get to the site of your new cult is indoctrinate the critter from the tutorial section. At this point you can change their name and appearance (kinda’ messed up when you think about it). Each cultist will also have some positive and negative traits that you have no control over.

From here you can give orders to your new cult member. Your initial options are to make them cut trees or mine rocks. At this point, the game takes the cultist over and they perform the tasks assigned. You can talk to them later to assign new tasks or see how their mood is.

Once the little critter is indoctrinated, Ratau will prompt you to create a fireplace and cook some food for your followers. You’ll first need to gather the wood and rocks necessary by chopping down trees and mining the ore.

Once you’ve gathered the materials, you’ll be able to pick where the fireplace will be… placed. You can start building it yourself, or you can wait for one of your followers to come help. From what we can tell, this is true of most activities you can perform in this section.

After the fireplace is built and you make some food, Ratau will tell you go back to the Land of the Old Faith to get more materials and followers. This will likely be the main gameplay loop, where you swap between building your cult and crusading.


Controls

The combat in the game is fast and very responsive. The game fully supports Xbox and Dualsense controllers, each with 3 layouts available, and the game also has fully remappable keyboard controls. The on-screen prompts change to fit the layout of your choice. Both of them play great, but we recommend a gamepad.

There is a fairly big issue with the keyboard controls. The keys for changing from one submenu to another are mapped to A and S and can’t be changed. This means that, if you want to use WASD to navigate the menu, you’ll change submenus instead of going from one item to another. You can assign different keys specifically for menu navigation, but we’re hoping the final game lets you reassign the sub-menu keys as well.

Visuals & Audio

As can be seen from the screenshots, the game has a hand-drawn, cartoony art-style that contrasts really well with the more disturbing parts of the game. The characters are very expressive, and the animations are smooth.

The game has a fairly wide range of graphical settings even as a demo, allowing you to toggle shadows, vsync, chromatic aberrations, and more. It’s not as in-depth as a AAA 3D game, but it’s got quite a few options. It also supports a large variety of resolutions, including ultrawide, for the 10 of us who care.

The music for the game is really good, with upbeat and groovy tunes that fit the situation you’re in (combat, being at the cult, etc.). The sound effects when you hit an enemy are crunchy and really sell the impact. There’s no voice acting in the game, the characters instead making grunts when they talk, which fits the game well.


What do you think of Cult of the Lamb so far? Download the demo on Steam and let us know in the comments bellow! The game will be available on all major platforms on August 11th for 23 USD or your regional equivalent.