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Huge new 400-hour survival game is about to launch its first playtest

One of the most popular games at Steam Next Fest, PCGamesN has the exclusive on a huge survival sandbox about to launch its first playtest.

Soulmask Steam survival game: A masked warrior from Steam survival game Soulmask

What’s the biggest game you’ve ever played? There was a period of about two weeks where all I did was play Fallout 3, sunup to sun down. Likewise, I’m not sure how many hours I’ve committed to Red Dead Redemption 2 and the Grand Theft Auto series – and heck, by modern standards, these aren’t even that gigantic, not alongside goliaths like Last Epoch or Baldur’s Gate 3. Back at Steam Next Fest, a new survival sandbox pulled in more than 180,000 players to become the third most popular game of the entire show, thanks to a stupefyingly large 40-hour demo. Now, it’s about to launch its first ever global playtest. Between 300 and 400 hours long, if you want it to be, it puts an original spin on rivals like Rust and The Forest, and you can play it yourself real soon. Speaking exclusively to the developers at GDC, PCGamesN brings you the exclusive on a behemoth of a beta.

This is Soulmask, from developer CampFire Studio and publisher Qooland Games. An RPG, sandbox, and survival game rolled into one, it has a smart central mechanic that overhauls the busywork and everyday back-and-forth of building and crafting. To begin with, you’re set loose on a sprawling map inspired by the ancient Mayan era. There are seven biomes to discover and explore, and plans to potentially add more post-launch – a simple comparison point, but where the map for Ark: Survival Evolved totals 48 square kilometers, Soulmask comes in at 64.

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Hunt creatures, mine resources, finish quests, and gradually discover new equipment and abilities. There’s an enormous amount to do in Soulmask, but so far at least, it might sound a little routine. That’s where the NPCs come in. As well as developing your own character, you are also the leader of your own tribe. The Claw, Fang, and Tiger tribes are your enemies, and it’s your responsibility to foster and maintain a community and an army to keep them at bay.

If you want to skip some of the fussy work that normally comes with survival games, you can have your allies chop food, gather food, and manage things at home. However, these NPC compadres are much more than mere automatons. They have their own lives, their own drives, and individual reactions to how you behave. Push them around too much, and they might even rebel.

“It shouldn’t be a chore to play survival games,” Qooland Games business manager Elson Soh explains, in an exclusive interview at GDC. “I mean a couple of years ago when survival games first came out, cutting stuff was fun, but now you’ve done it so many times. Getting firewood – you’ve been doing it since World of Warcraft. That’s something we wanted to solve. We really hate repetitive labor tasks.

“But your tribespeople are not just plain NPCs, like in an Excel sheet. We’re trying to give them diverse personalities and emotions. For example, one of your tribespeople might be an alcoholic, so if you assign them to do work at night, you see them sneaking into the storeroom, grabbing alcohol. These are good stories that players can share.”

Soulmask Steam survival game: Being attacked by animals in Steam survival game Soulmask

Another twist on the sandbox survival formula comes via the eponymous soulmasks. At one level, these serve as stat-altering equippables that you can customize yourself. If you want to be stealthier, you can wear the Shadow Mask. Alternatively, if you want to improve your hunting and tracking, there’s the Rich Mask. Every single one can be upgraded, developed, and personalized, but the key is how you combine the masks with your tribespeople.

Let’s say you’re using the Shadow Mask, which is helping you to sneak, but your melee attacks are pretty frail, and you want to be stronger in combat. Go back to your settlement, find an NPC in your tribe with a high melee stat, and hand the mask to them. You’ll jump from your body into theirs – out of all the characters you have recruited, you can choose to play as any one of them at any time.

Soulmask Steam survival game: A young warrior collecting a treaure in Steam survival game Soulmask

As such, the key to success in Soulmask is mixing the distinct personalities, characteristics, and skills of your people with the finely tuned and personalized masks that you have built. Whether it’s hunting, building, hand-to-hand combat, stealth, or brute force, you can play as anyone, and do anything. It’s a sandbox game in a very comprehensive sense.

The NPC system is also designed to make Soulmask more accessible as a solo player. If it’s hard to organize a bunch of friends to all play together at the same time, you don’t need someone handling resources, or a pal who’s playing the tank build while someone else handles magic. Set your citizens off to do the mining and gathering, and if you need a quick loadout swap, just choose a mask and hop into another body.

Soulmask Steam survival game: A warrior overlooking a temple in Steam survival game Soulmask

If that sounds promising, you can soon play it for yourself. After the success of its Steam Next Fest debut, the Soulmask open beta will begin on Wednesday May 1, and run a full nine days until Friday May 10. If you want to wishlist Soulmask or get into the first playtest, just head right here.

Alternatively, take a look at some of the other best open-world games, or maybe the best upcoming PC games arriving in 2024 and beyond.

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