I noticed the game is feature complete (except the very ending) so I gave it a swing.
It's a very similar deal to the first game, unsurprisingly, but with more annoyances.
The vibe and exploration is great again but with less awe and wonder since it's not novel anymore. Still, I haven't felt such a vibe in my 20 years of playing video games. An incredible achievement.
The Seatruck is a nice idea but only the storage module is somewhat useful. Also I wish it had some sort of manipulation arm so you don't have to clamber out and back in for every little rock.
The lack of any mapping mechanics was seriously annoying. In the OG I kindda got over it because the biomes were distinct enough and the underwater caverns were well designed. But in Below Zero, especially in the extensive Glacial Basin/Arctic Spires biome, a map is sorely needed. Everything looks the same and you're constantly looping around. Plus there IS a map, sort of, on your Seaglide. But using it during longer exploration trips meaning clambering out of your Seatruck, grabbing the Seaglide, switching on the radar, swim around for a bit, then clambering back in. Not very practical. In short, in a huge open-world exploration-heavy game like this a map is a must.
Vast majority of what you can scan is purely cosmetic. You can build a fortress of a base with all kinds of bells and whistles (10 different kinds of beds, tons of posters, pictures, plants etc.) but nothing is really tied with the gameplay. I wish it was better integrated – if you HAD to sleep, if there was some use for all the decorations (i.e. morale system), if you could research and prepare better food stuffs etc.
4.1. Speaking about useless, you never really need your Prawn suit, sadly. Everyone's favourite mech from the OG got sidelined in Below Zero since the max depth upgrade for the Seatruck is 1000 meters and the deepest point of the game is also at 1000 meters (at least I haven't discovered anything deeper). So the only use for the Prawn is drilling the resource nodes which is annoying since you have to lug it around just for that.
Food and water somehow doesn't feel fun. After two hours in the Survival mode I restarted in the Free mode. I don't mind survival elements but they must be fun and not too taxing. It was so nice not having half of my inventory full even before I went out on a longer voyage. And when I was hopelessly lost in the Arctic I was SO glad I don't have to eat and drink, omg.
I understand the devs said publicly they don't like combat or some such? The problem is the world is packed with aggressive nasties who'd chase you across the map to bite your face off and all you got is a weak electrical shock at a melee range. Trying to evade FOUR Shadow Leviathans with their AoE grab attack in the cramped crystal caves was not entertaining at all. I wish there was a way to permanently deal with those beasties. I wouldn't want to turn Subnautica into a streamlined, mindless underwater shooter, that would be terrible. But combat could've been an entire minigame with creating harpoons, setting traps, fighting leviathans with your Prawn while jumping and grappling all over the place. It could've been super exciting. As it is, you can only delay or distract them with expensive torpedoes which is annoying, especially when you want to explore really carefully and you're constantly harassed by leviathans.
Both the OG and Below Zero are games that could've been dazzling gems. But the lack of map and a fun way of dealing with threats brings it down a lot for me. Such a shame. Still, I'll never ever forget my first blind playthrough of the original Subnautica, especially the first few hours. That was some of the best fun I've ever had playing any video game.
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