It’s been a little tricky getting out of the house this past year, so those of us with grand crafting aspirations have had to settle for digital alternatives.
Either that, or risk filling your house with glitter as you delve into the alternatives. Let us here at Vicarious fill your spring with a finely polished collection of indie games centered around crafting and building, and save you getting sparkles in places you didn’t even know you had.
While it’s perhaps a bit obvious these days, we can’t talk about crafting and indie games without a nod to Iron Gate’s Viking mega-hit Valheim. Unceremoniously dropped into a world of Norse myth by a giant crow, it’s familiar enough stuff – chop trees, gather stones, set up a crafting table and build yourself a hut, then expand your ambitions. What sets Valheim’s crafting apart is just how powerful its construction tools are.
With enough resources and time, almost any structure is possible. Channel5 Gaming on YouTube did a run-down of some stunning build projects, including a gorgeous wizard’s tower spiralling high into the sky with multiple balconies and stairs that wind both inside and outside of the structure.Just make sure to build somewhere safe, as Valheim’s bigger monsters are known to be harsh architecture critics.
Survival games can be mean enough when you’re just worrying about finding enough water and food. In Klei’s Oxygen Not Included, you’ve got to establish a space colony on a shoestring budget, starting out with a handful of loyal minions and rapidly dwindling supplies of… everything, really. You’ll have to put your thinking cap on as you craft systems to circulate atmosphere, process fluids and generate power to support your grand ambitions and keep your little red-shirts alive.
Walking a similar fine line between cartoon wackiness and realistic space science similar to Kerbal Space Program, Oxygen Not Included is involved, challenging and funny. There’s also a beefy expansion in Early Access that lets you expand out to other planetoids, once you’ve managed surviving on your first. We’d recommend you just stick to the regular edition of the game until you’re comfortable, though.
Most crafting-heavy games ask you to build a home, whether terrestrial or orbital. Not many offer you the option to build your own tools to tear the world apart. In ingenious physics-driven roguelike Noita by Nolla Games, you play as an itinerant witch, wandering the world and its dungeons in search of forbidden magics and wands powerful enough to house them. What do you do with them? Mash them together to create even MORE powerful and forbidden magics!
Through a complex spell-crafting system, you can create everything from a surgical, lightsaber-like digging wand to staves loaded with apocalyptic, earth-shattering fireworks displays and everything in-between. If you want to get really fancy, the game even has an advanced alchemy system, letting you combine an assortment of bottled elements into dangerous new compounds. Just be careful not to turn the entire world into gold. Yes, you can do it, and it’s less fun than it sounds.
Developed a taste for designing weapons, but wands and witches aren’t your vibe? Perhaps you’ll find yourself more at home in space (again) with Nimbatus, by Stray Fawn Studios. Tasked with mining asteroids, clearing out alien infestations and even competing in far-future sporting events, you’ll have to construct remote control spacecraft completely from scratch.
While normally Nimbatus gives you a limit to the number of physical components you can bolt onto your hulls, the most advanced players can choose to play without physical restrictions, but disable manual control of your craft, forcing you to create intricate flowchart-based AI for your vessels.
For those who have developed a taste for advanced crafting, those willing to learn a complex user interface will find a lot to love in free sandbox roguelike Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. Set in a near future world where every possible apocalypse has seemingly occurred simultaneously (zombies, demons, sentient plants, rogue robots, you name it), keeping alive is largely a matter of resourcefulness. Play long enough, and every pile of junk becomes a treasure trove of crafting resources.
Most impressive of Cataclysm’s features is car engineering. Every vehicle is made of real functioning components which can be stripped out, replaced or expanded. With enough effort, you can rebuild a humble RV into an armored killdozer with a hot-rod engine. And then drive it straight into a tree, realizing that you forgot to install brakes, or invest in driving skills to keep yourself on the road. Them’s the breaks.
Also on the sandbox roguelike side of things is Freehold’s Caves Of Qud. Still in Early Access but an enormous, highly playable game already. Set in a far, far future where dozens of civilizations have risen and fallen on Earth, the planet is going through a bit of a dark age. Of course, this means that tinkerers willing to brave the ruins of cities past are going to find all kinds of fun junk to use or disassemble into crafting components.
Ever wanted to take apart a folding chair, two grenades and a digital map and turn them into a missile launcher? Perhaps you can modify your more high-tech gear to run off your own bioelectric current? There’s a vast number of strange devices to play around with and dozens of potential modifications and custom functions you can bolt onto them. We do recommend that new players disable perma-death and play Qud like a sandbox RPG. Turns out that hitting quantum energy sources with a hammer can end a tinkerer’s career pretty quickly.
If all that sounds a little intense and you’d prefer something a little more casual, you can’t go wrong with Forager by Hopfrog. Part idle game, part exploration sandbox, part roguelike dungeon crawler. It’s easy to lose hours to this game as you create self-powered resource loops to passively increase your fortune, which you then spend on revealing more of the world, each new segment of map presenting its own rewards and challenges.
While the early game in Forager is focused on crafting everything by hand, mining resources from rocks and picking plants, as you automate more of your home base, you’ll be free to explore elsewhere. Forager’s dungeon-delving and combat is surprisingly fun, playing a bit like a top-down version of Terraria. Better still, cooperative multiplayer is currently being playtested and should be available for all soon. Crafting always goes faster if you bring a friend.
Resource loops got you all hot and bothered? Perhaps Factorio from Wube Software will appeal. Stranded on a hostile alien planet with nothing but a pickaxe and the ability to create complex machinery from basic resources, you’ve got to build your way up from the stone age and back up to the point where you can launch yourself back into space.
Obviously, doing this by hand is a no-go, so the focus of Factorio is constructing complex automated systems using conveyor belts, sorting mechanisms and robot arms to do the heavy lifting for you. Where first you started off digging up rocks by hand, late-game Factorio has you directing fleets of industrial robots to build entire mining complexes in seconds. Despite leaving Early Access last year, the developers only declared Factorio ‘complete’ a few weeks ago. Now they’re hiring new staff for a major expansion. We can’t wait to see what they’ve got cooking.
But perhaps you’ve got a hankering for a game that sits comfortably between Forager and Factorio in terms of complexity. Mindustry by Anuke is completely free (though a commercial version exists on Steam with auto-updates and Workshop mod support) and combines Factorio-style construction with tower defense. Piloting a construction and combat spacecraft, you’ll be rapidly assembling mines, defensive lines and occasionally dogfighting with continual waves of enemy attackers on land and air.
It’s a frantically paced game, but an elegant UI allows you to copy and paste complex systems from one part of the map to another. A recent overhaul also reworked the game’s campaign structure. Each sector of the planetary map you challenge is a self-contained battlefield, but once you’ve completed your work there, it will continue to generate resources to help you in future missions, making each new encounter bigger and higher-stakes than preceding battles. It’s compelling, moreish stuff if you’re up to the challenge.
Or maybe, after reading all of this, the thought of complex and involved crafting is just a bit too much. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered there too. From Shattered Journal Games comes Super Raft Boat, a free arcade survival shooter with a creative twist. Sailing across the ocean on a raft, enemies and obstacles constantly threaten to sink your vessel, forcing you to expand and reinforce it as you fight.
It’s a fun challenge, trying to optimize your raft so that it can survive whatever the ocean throws at it. Some hazards can cut vertically through your craft, like rocks, while others slice horizontally, or nibble at the corners. Losses are inevitable but smart play will give you a platform that can survive the worst problems. It’s light, fun and fluffy, but not without depth.
And there you go, from building Viking long-houses, to space colony ventilation systems, spells and fortresses and beyond. Give these games a try, start a grand project, and show us your wildest creations. Show us what you’ve got on Twitter and we’ll share it with the world – let’s build something together.