Grounded Xbox early access review: Honey, I shrunk my free time

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Grounded Orb Weaver Spider Combat

Source: Windows Central

Grounded is now in early access for Steam and Xbox Game Pass, and has defied expectations to deliver over a million players in just a few days.

Grounded was built by just 13 people at Obsidian over the course of two years, and already captured the imagination of the industry for its unique setting and nostalgia-saturated survival gameplay.

While we don’t score games that are still in an unfinished preview state, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on the current state of the game, what I love, and where I hope to see it go in the future.

This is Grounded, a game about being tiny — with truly massive potential.

A huge tiny adventure

Grounded

$30 / Xbox Game Pass

Bottom line: Even at this early stage, Grounded is an incredibly fun adventure with exciting combat and creative survival gameplay.

Pros:

  • Great construction tools
  • Amazing, unique setting
  • Satisfying combat system
  • Raw unbridled potential

Cons:

  • Early-access rough edges abound
  • Seriously needs dedicated servers

What I love about Grounded

Grounded

Source: Windows Central

When I first wrote about Grounded, it was from the perspective of an earlier build with a hard 30-minute time limit on play sessions, as Obsidian gathered data in its closed beta. Long story short: I loved Grounded then, and I love it even more now.

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Grounded was flying under the radar quite hard with the wider gaming press, but found its audience rapidly after launching into Steam and Xbox Game Pass, winning over a million players in just a few days and topping streaming charts on Twitch. And it’s clear to see why.

Grounded’s setting is totally under-explored in the industry. There are a few games where you’re shrunk down, but they’re usually as part of a single level or event. There are very few games that really targeted that Honey, I Shrunk the Kids nostalgia, but Grounded went all-in and utterly nailed it.

Grounded Game Preview

Source: Windows Central

You play as one of four pre-defined teens, inexplicably shrunk down and deposited into a backyard brimming with hungry insects and gigantic flora. Grounded will have a story, but the early access version only features a few elements of the wider plot here and there. Clearly, some sort of science experiment went wrong, leaving you in the midst of a dangerous adventure. The backyard is dotted with abandoned science facilities and bunkers, some of them locked out for future content patches. There are also audio logs here and there which add some context. It’ll be interesting to see where Obsidian takes the plot, which certainly has obvious potential.

Therein lies the real excitement with Grounded: it’s all about that raw potential. The game features a dozen or so insect types, but there are hundreds they could add, from scorpions to wasps, to praying mantids, grasshoppers, and beyond. The way Obsidian has designed the game’s crafting loop echoes the likes of Monster Hunter, where you craft weapons and armor from the creatures you defeat in combat. This adds a compelling reason to undertake the challenge of fighting beasties more powerful than yourself, learning their behaviors and combat patterns, planning your attacks, and even building traps if needs be. Every time they add a new bug, it could come with new armor types, adding new playstyles, new weapons, and more. It’s exciting to think about.

Speaking of combat, Grounded’s combat is relatively basic but satisfying to participate in. Skyrim-style, Grounded has both first and third-person modes, with archery, and melee combat with typical combos and heavy attacks. Where Grounded diverges a bit is with its perfect blocks and stunning system. Smack a bug in the head enough with a high-stun rating weapon and it will get dazed, similarly to how status effects build up in Monster Hunter with repeated attacks. If you time a block perfectly by learning the different bug’s attack animations, you can negate damage completely too, which rewards practice and precision. It’s a relatively basic system, but it’s easy to see how it could be expanded with new status effects, new weapon types, and other contraptions.

Like any self-respecting sandbox survival game, Grounded also features a crafting system that youngsters familiar with Fortnite will find themselves right at home with. You can construct floors, walls, platforms, windows, doors, and all sorts of tools to aid in your survival, built from blades of grass and weed stems. I appreciate the attention to detail with the system too. Instead of stuffing huge blades of grass into a magical bottomless inventory dimension, you have to transport them on your shoulder to where you want to get them to. It adds a layer of immersion often missing from survival sandbox games that also feeds aspects of the game’s tense atmospherics. If you get attacked while heaving a pile of grass planks across the map, you may have to drop them to run.

Grounded Game Preview

Grounded Game PreviewSource: Windows Central

Make no mistake, I’ve described Grounded as a horror game in the past, and if you’re scared of spiders it can truly take you to some fearful moments. The game’s day and night cycles elevate the game’s living ecosystem. Certain bugs sleep during the day, while others become more aggressive, and seek out prey to eat — namely you. Spiders are also incredibly stealthy while on the hunt. Turning around to see a gigantic Wolf spider in your face with glowing, murderous eyes is as exciting as it is terrifying.

Finally, when Grounded isn’t scaring you half to death with its creepy nighttime spider hunting, it soars as a truly stunning visual experience. With gorgeous Pixar-style art, evocative music, and impressive lighting and water effects, Grounded is a testament to what a small team can achieve with nothing but hard work, talent, and raw passion.

What I hope improves in Grounded

Grounded

Source: Windows Central

As an early access game, I feel it’s only fair to give the team behind it the benefit of any doubts, which is why we’re not giving a score until it’s officially released as a final product. That said, it’s still a product you can buy right now, and there are things you should be aware of before dropping your cash.

Grounded has a fairly large range of rough edges.

Grounded has a fairly large range of rough edges. Some of the most annoying include issues with clipping. Bugs can attack you through walls, and often do. Additionally, certain objects in the world seem to interfere with critters’ pathing. Ants and other bugs often get stuck inside rocks and other environmental features, which has gotten me killed by “invisible” enemies more than once. This is one area I’d prioritize highly for a fix. Although, there are far worse issues.

One of Grounded’s most annoying, and potentially harmful issues stem from bugs in its lighting and reflection systems. Sometimes the edges of the screen can flash at random in bright multi-color lights. This issue was fixed in the beta, but has returned for retail. This is irritating at best, and could actually induce harm in people with photosensitive epilepsy, and the game certainly doesn’t carry any prominently-placed warning about that problem. If you suffer from seizures of this type, you may want to avoid the game for the time being, or at least avoid bodies of water in the game, which is where the issue seems to occur most frequently.

Grounded

Source: Windows Central

I spent the majority of my time with Grounded playing solo, but naturally, you may want to play a game like this with your friends. And you can, up to three of them in fact. However, the game’s engine seems to struggle with online play, which can really hinder combat mechanics and other systems. Also, I’ve seen anomalies where a player could see something totally different to another one, with the game rendering placed-objects differently across different clients. If there was ever a game that desperately needed dedicated servers, it’s probably this one.

Finally, it’s all still a little bare-bones overall. The story elements can be completed in about 10 minutes, leaving you to focus mainly on the sandbox aspects and gear upgrades. I explored across the entire map, unlocked every recipe, and got all the most powerful gear after about 10 hours of play. If you’re not into the construction and base building aspects of the game, you may find yourself running out of things to do and discover relatively quickly. This is something that will improve over time without a doubt, but you may want to hold off on an outright purchase, or just play via Xbox Game Pass, until subsequent updates. To that end, Obsidian has confirmed the game will receive monthly content drops, starting at the end of August.

Should you play Grounded?

Grounded Landscape Image

Source: Windows Central

Grounded still needs a lot of work before it can join some of the other top-shelf survival sandbox games out there, but what Obsidian has offered thus far has been nothing short of impressive.

Obsidian has already solidified itself as one of the best studios in Microsoft’s arsenal.

Grounded is an exciting promise dripping in fuzzy nostalgia, with huge potential for expansion across its construction features, a broader sandbox, and more invertebrates to squish. Any mundane real-life setting becomes an exciting adventure when you’re half an inch tall, and it’s tantalizing to think where Obsidian could take us next.

The game still has some kinks and rough edges to iron out, whether it’s janky animations, pathing issues, or the desperate, desperate need for dedicated servers, but those will all come with time. This is one of the most promising games Xbox Game Studios has released in recent years, and with Grounded, Obsidian has already solidified itself as one of the best studios in Microsoft’s arsenal.

Survive the yard

Grounded

Huge potential.

Grounded is an epic survival game set in your very own backyard. Shrunk to the size of an ant, you have to scavenge, survive, and investigate what went wrong.

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