You'll love it if:
- You love the survival genre.
- You want a unique setting.
- You want a beautiful environment.
Not for you if:
- You hate the surival genre.
- You don't like grinding.
- You hate insects.
Doing a Grounded review for me personally was 99% conquering my fear of spiders and 1% spending in awe. Grounded is Obsidian Entertainment‘s original take on the survival genre. While the core of survival gameplay won’t blow you away the setting, biomes and sheer quality in visuals keep you coming back.
Grounded review – Playing in the yard again
Grounded’s uniqueness is the setting you get dropped into. Think “Honey I Shrunk The Kids” but a lot more brutal and a grind. The backyard is now untapped potential, and you are demoted to the lower tiers of the food pyramid. Do you have what it takes to become a full sized awkward teenager? Can you survive a battle with a wolf spider?
Tiny bites into a huge mystery – Grounded review – story
You or your team of up to four wake up in a suitcase inside a dirt cave. As you emerge, you are immediately greeted by a baseball of huge proportions and a dog’s paw print in front of you. Without any memories of how you and your friends ended up there and shrunk to the size of an ant is the mystery that surrounds the story of Grounded.
The team of up to four unique teens sets out to explore the neighbouring forest of huge grass stalks. As Aphids, Gnats and Weevils rush past you, all seems well. These cute harmless creatures are not interested in you and scare pretty easily. As the first row of worker ants pass by, that first hint of fear starts brewing in your gut. There are bigger insects in the backyard and some of them might be interested in some tender teen meat.
Has science gone too far?
As you stumble upon your first piece of human technology (a kitchen scale heavily modified with three giant lasers pointing towards it), your character is smart enough to figure out this could be the key to being the apex predator of the yard again. So you set out to free up the line-of-sight of one laser and destroy an infestation of mites on another. The scale and system overloads, causing a huge explosion in the distance near the Oak Tree.
Now the Oak Tree is not near. You are still only equipped with basic tools and a stick with a sharp stone. Time to get inventive and prepare for the journey to the Oak Tree. You set out to murder and analyse everything in the vicinity. Use that newfound knowledge to create an arsenal of tools for your survival.
Nothing is safe any more as you will slaughter your way to the top of the food chain. Consume everything that remotely seems consumable. Grind materials to a smoothie or paste as you industrialize the resources of the backyard.
Slow burn story but fast paced gameplay
The story of grounded comes in bits and pieces. At every major discovery and completion of the puzzle or maze you will learn more. Either through dialogue, tapes you find or the occasional cutscene. Dr. Wendell is a scientist that focussed on the miniaturization of organisms and robots. Over the years he has built several labs in the backyard to do research into the power of Raw Science. Where he is and why you suddenly awaken so small, remains unclear pretty long.
Mainly because the focus is not really on the story but the adventures you and your friends go on, the exploration of the amazing biomes, puzzles and crafting out a set of gear for a specified task. While I wasn’t motivated to progress for the story it was nice to have some background to continue on playing.
Newly painted survival – Grounded review – gameplay
The core of Grounded is the same as the one in The Forest, Vallheim or any other survival game. You collect resources to make tools that collect more resources for better tools. Grounded can thus become a grind especially if you are going for some bigger projects in base building or need some rarer materials. Higher tier tools and weapons also force you to grind out stronger enemies and this is the basic survival game genre loop. If you already don’t like that I’m pretty sure Grounded is not for you.
Survive the backyard and your arachnophobia
Your character will get hungry, thirsty and die if you take lethal damage. Finding food sources and water to survive in this unique setting might seem hard at first. After a few trial and error tastings you will get the hang of it pretty quickly. Unlocking recipes for new tools and base parts is done by analyzing them in base stations and discovering new options. These stations are set locations on the map and all items that you can still get some research out of are marked in your inventory.
This is the drive to exploration and exploitation of everything and everyone in the backyard. Even the most harmless creatures are victim to a round of slaughter when you first encounter them. Those materials are science power and science power unlocks more tools that allow you to discover more species to slaughter.
Denizens of the yard
From mites to spiders, a lot of things are trying to kill you as you explore. If by any chance you have arachnophobia there is a setting where you can simplify the spiders. From a simple round blob to two flying orbs, it has a few settings with previews that can ease your phobia.
Not only are the spiders scary, all of these tiny insects are now straight up giants and monsters compared to you. You can fight them using self made weapons and later on even turrets to defend your base. But I always hated how weak we felt even after spending tons on upgrades. Sure the fight got a little bit easier with every upgrade but I never felt like I was growing stronger.
Basic survival and basic combat
My biggest gripe was the combat and mechanics that bugged out or didn’t seem to work. The basics of combat are pretty boring, building up a three hit combo with the last hit doing most damage. Certain weapons have perks like stun, chill, spicy or bigger crits. But I always felt like I was just clicking like crazy to attack as fast as possible.
You are weak in comparison to the heavily armoured lady bug or giant fangs of the wolf spider. And grounded will always remind you as the power gap barely shrinks. Sure by the end tech tier and fully upgraded kits you truly are the strongest. But it takes an insane amount of grind to get there.
Eventually I found the most fun in playing the full on classical tank. Sword and shield at the ready and the heaviest most aggro inducing armour at the ready. I was now the frontline of the fight, the timing of blocking and learning the attack patterns and what attacks to block and avoid took me back to my MMO days as a tank.
I can hear you think: “But as a dps you can do that”; well yes but weapon blocking did almost nothing. Your HP shrinks even with a good block. And there is no option to dodge or roll out of the combos and their insane range. Not to mention that most attacks go through cover and objects when they are directed towards the player.
Explore a truly unique and amazing world
Many times I have just stood still and admired the world in Grounded. The perspective of being so small in a familiar world is truly something special. When you think of the backyard you usually don’t picture is a huge open world with diverse biomes and plenty of locations to explore. Well Obsidian Entertainment have done just that and succeeded superbly.
From the grass stalk forest to the sandhills of the sandbox. The depths of the pond and heights of the garden bench. They are all so diverse in look and life that each of the zones is a new set of discoveries. Not only does this give a breath of freshness but it’s the incentive to find out what’s around the next corner.
Visually and audibly stunning
Grounded has an eye for detail in this huge world. From the way light shines through materials to the sounds of your axe hitting grass stalks. You can take it quite literal that they took the world beneath our feet in detail and portrayed it as accurately as possible. While some of the insects look a bit more comically for the sake of fitting in the whole eighties style. The detail on things like soda cans, spades, berries falling from a height and art of the weapons and armour is amazing.
The whole aesthetic and time frame Grounded is built upon is based on the 1980’s. You will find hints of dungeons and dragons, the clothing the teenagers wear and icons all feel like a blast from the past. This fits perfectly with Honey I Shrunk The Kids that came out in 1989 and is a clear inspiration for Grounded.
Grounded is full of bugs – Performance – Grounded review
Grounded is so full of bugs it’s unplayable. Having to fight your way through an ant-hill because you want their eggs to make bombs is a tougher chore than you would expect. The bugs I encountered during my Grounded review are mostly a feature of the game. Those that weren’t are either hilarious or annoying.
Most of the bugs are due to pathing and broken attack patterns that clip through objects. Pathing can be abused to get easy kills during farming, like a wolf spider stuck in your base is an easy achievement and high tier materials. Or standing on a high leaf and shooting 159 arrows without ever getting hit is also a good way to farm. The AI really struggles with that scenario.
The attacks clipping through walls you are using for cover and healing time, well those are annoying. Having to run back to pick up your dropped items can be quite a run as you are also fighting what killed you previously.
Overall we had a few crashes over many hours and if you get stuck there is an unstuck option. Not being able to build on a certain place was inconsistent and resolved itself most of the time. The state of performance on both PC and Xbox is not bad but also not perfect. Nothing got in the way of progressing but sometimes some bullshit thing made me sigh pretty hard.
Grounded review – Conclusion
While Grounded doesn’t shake up the core of survival with its gameplay, it does so with its unique setting. While playing Grounded and working on this Grounded review I thought of The Forest a lot. Where the combination of survival and horror made for a better and more worthwhile experience in comparison to some of the copy paste survival games out there.
This is exactly what Grounded does, taking what is true to survival and putting its own unique jacket over it. You will pick up certain mechanics naturally while enjoying how they are brought.
I’m happy to see the successful release of an early access game that I got into at the very start. We quickly realized that there was a lot more to come and got together to dive into the finished product. I returned a few times during bigger updates but quickly left as I wanted to experience the full game as fresh as possible. Now it’s here and it’s good, the lackluster combat and sometimes grindy periods reside in the shadow of the amazingly constructed open world and joy of exploration.
A month of Game Pass Ultimate is definitely worth it if you plan on checking grounded out. It’s a AAA title with a lot of polish, lots of intentional bugs and fully playable on the subscription service. Want to get Game Pass Ultimate dirt cheap? This method still works.