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Soaring on Steam, Once Human may be the biggest survival game ever

One of the most popular 2024 releases on Steam, new survival game Once Human could be bigger than Palworld, Soulmask, or Stalker 2.

Once Human Steam survival game: A character with colorful hair in Steam survival game Once Human

We all thought Palworld would find some kind of success, but I don’t think anyone – even its creators – expected the seismic splash that it made on Steam back in January. At its peak, Pocketpair’s monster-driven survival game pulled in more than two million players at once. Now, some six months later, it averages just over 100,000. That’s a big decline, but Palworld is one of the lucky ones – big games, especially middle-budget survival and horror projects, arrive, thrive, and die at an alarming rate, and the competition is more extant than ever. It’s a tough world out there. Once Human, one of the most popular games on Steam already, has every chance of success, but in such a crowded genre, how does it stand out from rivals like Stalker 2, Soulmask, and the esteemed Palworld itself? Speaking exclusively to PCGamesN, developer Starry Studio explains.

In the polished, sci-fi future of Once Human, an alien spore has infected the surface of our planet, transforming plant, wild, and human life into dangerous and mutated versions of their former selves. Somehow, you, the player, are immune to the effects of this contagious ‘Stardust’ – in fact, it makes you stronger, unlocking new powers and abilities that effectively turn you into a superhero.

Set loose onto the destroyed but surprisingly pretty landscape of our former home, you are free to do anything and everything that you expect from survival games and MMOs. Complete quests, hunt wildlife, farm animals and crops, build your own home, customize everything – Once Human is but a canvas for your every agentic whim.

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Before launch, it became the fifth most-wishlisted game on all of Steam. 15 million players pre-registered to play Once Human, and it attracted more than 300,000 users during Steam Next Fest. Despite the freedom it offers and its extremely varied mechanics, however, Starry Studio says that Once Human is not trying to be an ‘everything’ game.

“The combination of MMO and survival gameplay elements sets Once Human apart, offering a unique blend of cooperative and competitive interactions within a survival-focused environment,” Derek Qui, head of overseas operations, explains. “Furthermore, Once Human also distinguishes itself by prioritizing player feedback and a commitment to crafting an immersive and engaging gameplay experience. Our focus is on competing with our own standards, ensuring that we consistently deliver a game that resonates with our audience.

“But we would like to clarify that our intention is not to create an ‘everything’ or ‘ultimate’ videogame that combines popular components from other games. While we’re inspired by the innovative elements present in a variety of successful titles, our goal is to create a unique and captivating gaming experience that stands on its own merits. Once Human is a carefully crafted game with its own distinct narrative, gameplay mechanics, and world-building.”

Once Human Steam survival game: A player admires a house in Steam survival game Once Human

Nevertheless, from what we’ve seen so far, Once Human does feel like a pretty expansive sandbox. There’s PvP and PvE, co-op and solo play, and a gigantic open world composed of a variety of contrasting biomes. Some people want short or at least finite videogames where mechanics are constrained and there’s a strong sense of direction, almost dictation, from the creator – you play as long as it lasts and then move onto something different.

Others want a long-term commitment, a game where they can expand, explore, upgrade, and increase for weeks, months, or even years; rather than playing ‘games’ they want to dedicate their time wholesale to a game. If the tastes of videogame players can be broadly separated into these two categories, Once Human is certainly for those who prefer the latter. The problem for Starry Studio is that there are more of these types of games now than ever before. So how does Once Human punch through?

“Once Human distinguishes itself through its distinct and immersive world-building, offering players a captivating and visually stunning environment that sets it apart from other survival games,” Qui says. “The game features a richly detailed and meticulously crafted world, creating a unique atmosphere that captures the imagination of players.

“Additionally, the game’s monster design is innovative and compelling, featuring a diverse array of creatures that are intricately designed to enhance the overall gaming experience. Each monster presents its own set of challenges, adding depth and excitement to the gameplay.

“Our post-launch roadmap also includes regular updates focused on addressing player feedback, optimizing gameplay mechanics, and ensuring a smooth and enjoyable experience for all players. Additionally, we have plans to introduce new content, such as expansions, in-game events, and additional features that will enrich the world of Once Human and provide fresh and exciting experiences for our player community.”

Once Human Steam survival game: A monster attacks a player in Steam survival game Once Human

But if size and sheer quantity are Once Human’s biggest strengths, that doesn’t mean that everything Starry Studio imagines will end up in the finished game. On the contrary, a lot of ideas have already been left on the cutting room floor.

“During the development process, there were some notable ideas that we had to let go to maintain the integrity and coherence of the game,” Qui explains. “Some ideas, however intriguing, did not align with the overall vision of Once Human, or didn’t integrate seamlessly with the core gameplay mechanics.

“One example. At the beginning, we wanted the game to be more realistic. There was a territory system with a set of mechanisms that were more in-line with the concept of survival. Players needed to regularly submit resources to the territory like ‘paying the rent.’ However, after considering player feedback, we ultimately reduced the survival design in this area. We agreed with players that the sense of survival should bring enjoyment in the game rather than be a burden.”

Once Human Steam survival game: A battle between players in Steam survival game Once Human

After a series of playtests and betas, the full Once Human release date arrives on Tuesday July 9. One of the most-wanted games on all of Steam, naturally, the expectations are large.

But given the amount of survival game rivals that have already landed in 2024, and the others that are still to come, Starry Studios’ ambitious MMO, FPS, co-op, crafting, and farming hybrid potentially has some tough battles ahead. Perhaps it’s not trying to be everything for everyone at the same time – but it’s definitely close. Whether that’s what players truly want nowadays, we’ll have to wait and see.

You might be asking yourself ‘when is Once Human coming out?’ Fortunately, we have the full list of release times. You might also want to take a look at some of the other best sandbox games available on PC.

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