By far the best thing that Grounded has going for is its setting and the atmosphere that it helps to create. As a shrunken child, you are no bigger than an ant, and the back garden feels massive with several different biomes to explore. Stems of grass tower all around you and everyday creatures like ladybirds even manage to feel towering and intimidating. Spiders and stink beetles though are just the worse, and I remember being completely freaked out when being trailed through the darkness by a giant spider with piercing red eyes.
There's certainly a novelty in how cute everything feels here, with you grabbing miniature items, such as pebbles, chunks of grass, and clover leaves to build yourself shelter and tools. The setting just feels so unique and is relatable, as I'm sure we all imagined as a child what our garden would be like if we were an ant. Due to this, I found myself lost within Grounded's open-world and found it to be refreshingly different from other survival titles.
At present, story content for Grounded is pretty light. Once you have made your way through a few basic tutorial objectives and one main event, then you're pretty much off on your own to work on your base and craft higher tier armor and tools. What is there presently does support you in getting to grips with the core gameplay loop, but it would have been nice to have more of a glimpse into some of the antics that are going on within the backyard.
An engaging story may not have been there to hold my attention, but what did keep me occupied was working to unlock more crafting recipes. You can scan resources at several points of the map to unlock more recipes for armour sets, base building items, helpful utilities, and much more. Doing this also earns you science, which can be spent within the lab to provide you with even further unlocks and items to assemble with your resources. I find this to be an addictive loop, as it always provided me with something to work towards.
As far as survival games go, Grounded is accessible and accommodating for players that are new to the genre. Sure, you'll need to manage your hunger and thirst levels, but once these have been depleted, you cannot die and your health is instead reduced. There isn't too much of a punishment for dying either, as you won't lose any of your resources and your inventory is displayed as a marker on the map, so you can collect it once you respawn. You can die multiple times and your inventory won't disappear too, which encourages you to be riskier in your approach to exploring and taking on large foes.
I did encounter several technical issues, however. When dashing around the garden the framerate often nosedived, and my game unexpectedly crashed on a few occasions which caused me to have to go back and repeat objectives. These issues weren't anything game-breaking, but they were still persistent enough to show the title is in need of a bit more polish before release. I will give the developers a pass with the title being at the start of its early access run, but fingers crossed these issues don't last long.
Grounded obviously has a long way to go before release, and the devs have already teased a few additions that will likely be coming before launch. Listed under the "coming soon" section of the roadmap are a few notable implementations, including ziplines, several new environments, and new creatures. Obsidian has already started rolling out updates for the game as the August update added character perks, a bird to the backyard, and a new creature: a water flea. The future then looks bright and the ball has already started rolling when it comes to improvements.
It may be in a bit of a hollow state at present but the strength of Grounded's concept managed to hold my attention until I explored everything that had to offer. Its miniature world holds a lot of charm and it very accessible for those who have yet to pick up a survival game. Technical issues are, however, prevalent and there is very little narrative content. That said, it is only at the start of its journey in early access and we'd urge you to check it out especially if you are an Xbox Game Pass subscriber and can pick it up for free.
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