Developed by UK studio Turbulenz and published by Square Enix Collective, Boundless is a colourful voxel-based MMO that's arrived straight out of Early Access and onto the PS4 as a console exclusive. Much like Minecraft (perhaps Boundless's most notable inspiration) crafting and exploration form the core pillars of gameplay, as you venture out into the procedurally-generated planet to hack down trees, chisel rocks, and mine in caves, in turn producing more efficient tools to shape your beacon (your home base) in any way you see fit. Its portal-connected universe feels vast, and after a fleeting tutorial its completely up to the player whether they wish to build their beacon solo, team up to gather resources with friends, or take a tour of the seemingly endless world.
Some survival aspects are present here, meaning that you'll need to eat to replenish your hunger and stamina levels (cooked meat and berries found on trees are very much on the menu here). It certainly leans on the softer side of the survival genre, as there are no harsh elements to protect yourself from and most of the creatures found in the world won't harm you unless provoked. The penalty for death is also pretty low, since if you die you hold onto your full inventory and lose a certain percentage of the next few hundred XP points you earn. You can even be teleported right to your doorstep for a few coins.
Once we finally got into the swing of things we found ourselves hooked on Boundless' familiar yet addictive loop, but we did encounter a few teething problems. Due to the lack of a robust tutorial (a few hand-holding tasks wasn't enough), we found ourselves stuck working out many of the game's more subtle nuances. Useful tips such as knowing how to remove items when placed and how to stack objects within your inventory to free up space would have been great time savers, and we also found ourselves having to pull out an online guide to find out where we could find many of the most basic of crafting components as the universe we were in felt so vast.
In true RPG-like fashion, your character levels up using XP earned by completing objectives and feats that are noted in your journal. Feats are timed daily and weekly challenges that reward you for playing for an allotted amount of time and earning a set amount of XP (essentially your reward for staying loyal to the game), and objectives can be pinned up to three at a time, divided into categories such as explorer, gatherer, combat, and builder. These objectives are more focused and divided into different tiers to indicate their overall difficulty. There's a huge variety of objectives within your journal too, and for us, it always felt like we were progressing regardless of what we set out to do.
When you level up you receive two skill points which can be used within the branching RPG-esque skill tree. As mentioned, there's plenty of places to invest your hard-earned skill points, with some of the more basic including improving damage with a certain tool, efficiency in crafting, and the rate of your healing. Then there are epic skills which require five skill points to unlock (instead of just one) and these have much more potent effects, such as enabling you to chisel blocks in new ways, mass craft recipes, and substantially increase your maximum health.
Boundless supports cross-play between the PC and PS4, meaning that right from the start there's already a thriving community for console players to interact with. PvP isn't present here so don't be worried about taking a crossbow bolt in the back right after unearthing some gold. Instead, there's an emphasis on trading and cooperating with other players. You'll find no NPC controlled merchants in the world, however, so it's the players who run the stalls at the capital city of the world you find yourself in. Players can choose what they wish to sell out of their inventory and place their own price on the goods they've worked so hard to find.
Cooperative play also features in a few more interesting ways, as players can set permissions for their friends at their beacons, allowing others to operate machinery, add or remove items, and even place down blocks and build alongside you. You can also trade with any players that you're friends with, so you and your buddies can work together to find items and then share the rewards with one another. Players can focus on their own beacon too if they want, and also have permissions set on a friend's, which can be great for teaching less familiar players the basics. These implementations prevent the literally boundless world of Boundless from feeling hollow and empty.
It might not surprise you in 2018 to hear that microtransactions are present, which come in the form of an in-game currency known as cubits and its own member service, Gleam Club. The issue with some of these microtransactions is that they lock some expected features behind a paywall, such as having a second character and being able to cleanse your invested skill points. Vanity items also come at a steep price, prompting players to reach into their wallets to personalise their characters, and in our 15-hour playthrough we only purchased one skull mask, which was largely because it used the same currency required to expand our beacon's plot of land.
Stretching far beyond another Minecraft clone, Boundless gathers together RPG, survival, and crafting elements to create a sandbox experience packed with depth and freedom. We loved the strong focus on cooperative play through trading and building, and how we were rewarded for doing our own thing, whether it was exploring or crafting a more attractive beacon. We do however wish that a few aspects were explained more clearly during the early game and that features that are standard in other titles weren't locked behind a paywall. Still, Boundless is a charming experience and one that we would recommend for fans of titles like Minecraft and No Mans Sky, especially if you have a friend to bring along for the ride.
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