Steam's "Fest" events are a way to get more eyes on titles in specific genres that might otherwise be overlooked; today, we're going to be looking at the Open World Survival Crafting Fest that is currently running, May 27th to June 3rd. On top of being a total mouthful, I must admit that the "Open World Survival Crafting" genre is...not my favorite. Like, at all. But hey, we're here in the interest of exploring outside our comfort zone, so perhaps some of them will find their way into your Steam library (and mine) in the future!

Remember you have until Monday (June 3rd) to play what you can!

These are presented in alphabetical order.

Ars Notoria

Release Date: "Coming soon"
Developed by: XRON Software
Published by: XRON Software

According to the Steam page, Ars Notoria is a survival Action RPG, and I'm guessing you can get to that day. Eventually. Hopefully. If there is a major storyline or quest I didn't make it far enough to find one; starting the game simply drops you into a generated world and sets you on your way, doing the typical "stone + wood = axe" crafting shenanigans.

Perusing the menus, you can find what appears to be a solid amount of mechanics for what could be an RPG adventure: there's a Class tab, schools of magic you can mess with, different weapon types, and so on. XP can be gained from doing basically everything, from harvesting materials to exploring the world and killing enemies. Each individual source of XP has its own Skill tree to put points into, making you better at cutting down wood and so forth, or it can expand upon your combat arsenal of tricks and spells. You have to learn what each aspect of your character development is by experimenting and figuring it out, and I think that could make for an interesting game.

Unfortunately, I didn't get far enough to truly start enjoying the "Action RPG" part of this survival Action RPG. The tutorial had me learn to make an axe and hammer so I could cut down trees and break stone faster, then it was make a campfire, make a tent, make a weapon, and so on. Eventually the game had me making a circular saw and acquire fuel for...something (neither of which jived with the fantasy setting, even if this place does have guns), so I'd gather the base ingredients for that, and none of it felt like I was adventuring. Just...gathering so I could craft and crafting things to gather more. I got mad at it all, and started sprinting in one direction until I found another character, wherein a bandit ten levels higher skewered me, and I closed the game. The game promised combat with cool bosses, vast exploration, and the like, and I couldn't find an escape from the unending forest of being a hunter-gatherer.

Without an idea to go on as-to its release date, I cannot begin to judge how close we are to acquiring the aspects of gameplay that actually interest me. The Class, Character, and Faction tabs were grayed out and inaccessible; did I simply quit too early, or are they actually unavailable in this "testing build"? I don't know, and won't ever know. I was annoyed from the jump when the game took forever to load on medium settings, and the Gender selector in the Character Creation menu was grayed out (despite a vast array of intricate options being available, like tweaking one's nose and the exact color of one's shirt). Turns out the latter situation ultimately summed up my whole experience: flaunting choices, only to be stuck doing things one way in a manner I don't appreciate.

The Riftbreaker

Release Date: October 14th, 2021
Developed by: EXOR Studios

Published by: EXOR Studios, Surefire.Games

In The Riftbreaker you play as Ashley, who rift-jumps in her mech suit to Galatea 37 in a one-way trip to explore and research the planet, with the intent to eventually establish a lasting connection with Earth for colonization. Along the way you'll build up a base (several, in fact), traverse a wide variety of biomes in search of resources, and set up defenses to protect against the local wildlife. It plays like a Diablo-with-guns Action RPG, with a heavy focus on tower defense and base management.

The game exudes personality, with Ashley and her mech suit - dubbed "Mr. Riggs" - both expressing a lot of humor and charm. They banter even in the face of such a dangerous situation, which I find much more preferable to the dry/super-serious alternative. When you're the only two on the planet, you've got to fill the silence somehow, right? The environments are quite pretty, with colorful flora littering the procedurally-created map, and there's a solid variety to the Zerg-like fauna...creatures that doesn't appreciate your disturbance of their home.

You see, while building your base and extracting resources, you'll be creating seismic and sonic disruptions that upset the locals; Mr. Riggs is equipped to estimate when they'll come for you, and that's when the base-management "happy peace time" turns into tense tower defense, as they quite literally swarm your position. Thankfully Ashley came prepared to participate in combat, and you'll be able to upgrade your sword and mini-gun into a wide arsenal of weaponry, from rocket launchers to flamethrowers, lasers, and more. Later on, you'll build rift points to teleport around the map (and the planet at large), instantly jumping from base to base as the need arises for defense or exploration.

With several maps to explore, each with different weather effects and species to defense against, plus the overarching quest of building a sustained rift back to Earth, there's a lot to see and do in The Riftbreaker. The rift will require various resources from across the planet, but it's not like there's a time-limit to establishing the connection, so how you tackle this problem is basically left to you. You can beeline as best you can to get what you need, or you can thoroughly explore and catalogue the planet's inhabitants to aid with research and upgrades. You can make your bases as self-sustaining as possible, or get your hands dirty by equipping Mr. Riggs into a true war-machine. This is the kind of sandbox I can get behind, where the narrative pushes you forward to a foreseeable end-point, even if the moment-to-moment gameplay is just doing what you want.

In the interest of full disclosure: I already own The Riftbreaker. According to Steam I played one 4-hour session back in 2022; I must've got side-tracked by a different game coming out, or some other IRL event, because I forgot all about it until today (I imagine there's some undiagnosed ADHD in there, as well). Either way, I enjoyed my experience with the game and will attempt to find time to get back into it! I'm not really a base-manager type of person, but give me Action RPG mechanics and a story or goal to achieve and I'll see you there. With a third major expansion on its way, there is plenty that can keep one busy on the world of Galatea 37.

Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon

Release Date: March 30th, 2023 (Early Access)
Developed by: Questline

Published by: Awaken Realms

Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon is a first-person open world fantasy RPG, in the mold of Skyrim or Oblivion. You take on the role of a prisoner (sound familiar?) who is released from their bonds to get involved in a fantastical adventure that will presumably save the world. Unlike the titles found in The Elder Scrolls universe, The Fall of Avalon is a darker tale more based around the legend of King Arthur.

You can build yourself in a variety of ways, starting with some base questions from your captors to set the scene and give you some initial bonuses. After you are freed, it's left up to you to escape however best you can from the island, to rendezvous with one's savior. The demo isn't as long as I might have expected, but I suppose a demo of Skyrim would've had to cut you off at some point, as well. I opted for my "comfort zone build" for such games - stealth archer, with knees bent in a permanent crouch - and the game thankfully allotted me a bow and 15 arrows soon after my escape began, plus some other weapons to try out.

Anyone familiar with the aforementioned series will be able to understand how to play this, although the game did take the time to emphasize how parrying works, so maybe there will be a dash of Soulslike combat in there as well. Attacking requires Stamina, and once drained you're pretty helpless...but it takes a toll on enemies, too: by parrying their strikes, you can damage their Stamina and force them to recover while you lay into them with your sword or spell. Blocking is not generous enough to keep your Health 100% intact, so you need to be more mindful and not just mash the buttons when enemies close the distance. I found combat to be challenging, but certainly not impossible on Normal difficulty: I came dangerously close to dying three times, with nary a Health Potion in sight until the demo was basically over, but I presume you would be able to locate, buy/sell/steal, and or craft your own in due time.

A couple of quality-of-life features really stuck out to me as being superior to the games that have come before, such that I frankly would like to see The Elder Scrolls adopt them as well. The biggest one is that, when you look at a lootable object, the contents of the chest, corpse, etc. just appear in a pop-up window, such that you can quickly discern what you want, take it, and walk away without a secondary menu ever disrupting your flow. There are multiple weapon loadouts available, so switching from bow to sword when I had to was pretty fast as well. Some things about the game might not be as seamless as I'd like - you can only level up when you rest at a bonfire, although you can create one from a radial menu - but I didn't get enough time with them to determine how annoying that might be. Could just be a more stylistic choice or a balancing concern, so you're not leveling up in the middle of combat like you can in other games.

All-in-all, I came away much more interested in Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon than I expected: Ars Notoria shoved crafting in my face and rubbed my nose in it, while "Skyrim, but with a darker storyline and more challenging gameplay" got me to perk right up. It may be an Early Access title, but definitely consider giving this one a look; the second act was recently added to the game, not but a couple days ago.


Release Date: May 9th, 2023 (Early Access)
Developed by: HypeTrain Digital
Published by: HypeTrain Digital

The premise of Voidtrain is that you find yourself on a simple train that seemingly travels through an open void leading to parts unknown. A stunning turn of events, I know. Being the clever person you are, you'll learn to drive the train, float around the immediate area to gather resources, build workstations on the train itself, and craft materials to upgrade the train and further progress. What starts out as a simple crafting game turns into an adventure as you discover there are other individuals in the void with unknown intentions.

From the outset, the first thing I noticed was that the game is very pretty, and attention was spent on allowing the game's world to express itself. You may be a silent protagonist in the first person, but that doesn't prevent little bits of character to leak out, such as the way you interact with found objects. For example, I liked the interaction at the very beginning of the game, where you pick up a hammer and try to find a space for it on your person. Others such as tapping on a locked box, with a little head-tilt like a normal person might do when they're perplexed; the game could have just had you scoop up stuff into an invisible pouch lifelessly (and it will do just that when you're picking up basic resources), but it's the little moments that I appreciated the most.

Of course, that could be a long-winded way of hinting that I don't care for the main gameplay, and that starts out very true. Until you reach the fun stuff expressed in the trailer - the grappling hook, the guns, the other people and aliens attacking your train, getting off the train for extended periods of time, etc. - Voidtrain begins as an incredibly boring, literally-railroaded experience. This is an example of some early moment-to-moment gameplay:

  1. Float around grabbing scrap metal, wood, and other bits you notice in the void,
  2. Return to the train,
  3. Get stuck on the edge of the train, when the rope stops but you're not on your feet again,
  4. Eat some of the ice or organics you found to keep up your stamina,
  5. Spend a minute messing with the smelter you've built,
  6. Attempt to use the wood for smelter-fuel but run out,
  7. Move the train a little until you find more wood,
  8. Repeat 1-4, return and use it to smelt an iron bar.
  9. Congratulations, you have 1 iron bar; you need another one to build the workstation, then copper bars for wiring, more iron for nuts and bolts, etc. etc.

The whole sequence was beyond monotonous. This is helped later by the aforementioned grappling hook for picking items out of the void, and of course some additional excitement in the form of combat, but they both were so far in the future that they might as well have not existed for those starting out. By then it was too late: I was ready to tap out. If you're like me and got intrigued by the action in the trailer, you'll need to stretch that level of interest long enough to make it past the opening. Or bring a friend, which seems to be the developer's main intention for Voidtrain: double the people to double the speed of progress.

And there you have it! Don't forget you have until next Monday (the 3rd of June) to play whatever demos tickle your fancy, at least until the next Fest event.

What do you think of these games? Discover any good gems in this month's Steam Fest? Find anything worth buying? Let us know in the comments below!