Rust - Facepunch Studios’ multiplayer survival sandbox - has changed significantly in the year it’s been on Steam Early Access. After several months of incredible sales and gradually increasing content, Facepunch did the unthinkable: they scrapped everything. Deciding the code base for Rust was unworkable, the studio rebuilt the entire game from scratch in a new engine. New Rust looks and feels both different and familiar: like returning to your dreary university city after it’s had a multi-million government investment.
I don’t like it.
Rust’s head developer Garry Newman doesn’t like it either. In his end-of-year developer blog, he graded Rust’s progress at C-. They called that ‘significant room for improvement’ when I was at school, and it certainly applies here. “The game looks better than it ever has, but what we gained in graphics we have lost in gameplay – and that’s unforgivable,” said Newman. That loss can seen in the gaping hole left by so many cut elements. Roads are missing, which were essential for navigation. Blueprints and research opportunities are absent, which were vital for providing something to discover and work towards. And the zombie-infested towns are cut, which previously offered a genuine sense of danger.
So what has improved? It’s a much prettier game; its visuals now betray that it’s still very much a work-in-progress. The UI is lovely and slick with simple colours, bold text, and contextual menus. The island map has been abandoned, and the world is now procedurally built up from a handful of different biomes. A trek across the landscape takes you from snowy mountain slopes, through cactus-sprouting deserts, and into dense forests. The world feels a little less barren thanks to ‘monuments’ - interesting structures like satellite dishes, lighthouses, and even huge wolf statues that hint at a long-dead civilisation. Not only are they great exploration opportunities, but also points of reference that make navigating the map easier. Combined with the fact that a default map is now 16km² rather than 64km², finding other people is now less like diving into a hay bale to find a needle.
Getting started also feels less of a chore thanks to resources offering up more per mining attempt, and at a much faster rate. Within a few minutes you can have an axe, a spear, and some food ready for the journey. Gathering the lumber to produce a house is equally as quick.
The workbench has been scrapped, eliminating the need to research new items. Everything can be built without preparation from a crafting window, excluding items that require smelted metal.
Building has had a massive overhaul and is the most obviously improved element of Rust. These days you craft a design plan, which is then used in combination with a radial menu to produce components for your build. Each section is represented in the world with a hologram-like placeholder, and draws wood from your inventory when placed, rather than having to be built in advance. This makes construction quicker and easier; being able to see a visualisation of your next construct before spending the resources stops you wasting wood on components you don’t need. There’s a ‘stability’ rating too, that will cause your buildings to collapse should you fail to prop it up with enough pillars and supporting walls. It’s not based on any real physics so you can make some pretty amazing structures, but the system does demand a level of logic to item placement.
Neat new additions that make buildings more secure: keyed or coded locks can be added to the doors, and a new hammer tool reinforces walls with metal panels. There’s also a tool cupboard that lays claim to a zone around your house, preventing other players from building in the area. This last addition destroys what was one of my favourite things about Rust: outsmarting other players’ home security by building stairwells up to their top-floor windows and breaking in where defences were lax.
This is where the improvements stop and the sad realisation that Rust is only half the game it once was kicks in. After you’ve built a fort and killed enough bears to be wearing some cool clothes, there’s not really all that much to be doing. The only option from there on is to go and raid other people’s settlements, but thanks to the removal of blueprints and research it’s absolutely guaranteed that everything they have you could quite easily build yourself.
The irradiated towns that I felt provided so much great ‘end game’ content have been completely eradicated. There are some radioactive areas on the new maps, but they don’t seem to be protecting anything at all. They feel like pointless hazards to stay away from, rather than risk and reward adventures to embark upon.
Zombies are long gone, too. I didn’t expect to miss them - Rust shouldn’t be a DayZ clone - but the problem is the only credible threat you’re left with is other players. I feel that Rust is a game that tries to encourage banding together to survive rather than promoting lone wolf savagery; the fact that you can’t easily rob people’s houses anymore is evidence of that. So it seems unfortunate that there’s now no longer any enemies you can attack as a group. Zombies shuffled around in hordes and were difficult to tackle without friends. New Rust has more variation in its wildlife, but wolves don’t travel in packs and you can take down a bear with a couple of well-placed arrows. Animals feel like odd annoyances you have to stab in order to find meat, rather than genuine threats that will reward you with treasures should you be brave and strong enough to combat them.
For Rust’s big leap forward, the game has being dragged several steps back. It feels more pointless than ever before. Without the depth of material options that Minecraft has, it’s not a satisfying building game. Without the terror of enemies, it’s not a good survival sim. Thankfully Facepunch know this; Garry realises that the first step should have been recreating the old Rust ‘Legacy’ entirely in the new engine before attempting any new features. So whilst Rust may now be in the worst state it has ever been, it is encouraging to know that Facepunch has exactly the right goals for it. It may be the end of 2015 before Rust is actually better than it was at the start of 2014, but I’m positive it will be worth the wait and patience.
For our original Early Access review from January 2014, take a look at page two.