It's safe to say that Atlas has had a stormy start to life on the seven seas. After being revealed at the Game Awards last month it suffered short delays during its protracted entry into early access, and even when it did launch there was controversy from the community around things ranging from the price to the assets, with similarities pointed out between itself and Ark: Survival Evolved, which came from the same creators. Even for a pirate-themed adventure like this we need to give it justice though - innocent until proven guilty, as they say - and so with an open mind, we set sail ourselves to see what this new survival title had to offer.
Truth be told it was a rough start to our time in Atlas. After being greeted with a wave of swashbuckling songs and menu options we finally committed to entering a server, choosing an official one over an unofficial one. The slowness of loading and the less-than-ideal UI can be forgiven in early access and didn't bother us too much, but then we hit real issues. In our first six tries, there was a mix of getting spawned and falling through the map and spawning at the bottom of the ocean, which either killed us or reduced us to minimal health early on. Not a good start at all.
After a few attempts, we finally got into a game to start playing without instant death, but the long paragraphs of tutorials at the top of the screen quickly passed us by as we narrowly escaped drowning and got to the shore (even if we could see them, large blocks of text aren't the best way to get to grips with the multitude of systems you have to consider in Atlas). On top of that, you'll quickly realise that spawning out in the wild is a sure fire way to get yourself killed, as we spent our first in-game hour getting mauled by crocodiles, lions, and wolves while we fumbled around trying to work out what to do.
Upon consulting a colleague who had experienced the game themselves already, we found out that the best course of action was to spawn at a Freeport when you enter a world, something it might've been nice to know from the beginning. These are little ports with some vendors and resources to get you started, and we quickly got into the swing of things. That being said, there was still a lot of things that weren't clear, like the fact that you'll need to buy your ship from a vendor positioned away from all the other traders.
Much like in Ark, we first punched some trees for wood, built a stone pick, then a stone hatchet, before crafting a spear, at which point we took down some cows for hide. We say that, but there were actually a load of deaths sprinkled in there that forced us to redo this process many times, whether that be because of getting gored by bulls or pecked to death by seagulls (they're hard to hit, okay). What's even more unhelpful is that sometimes the game drags the camera towards an animal if you're hacking away at a tree - because it thinks that's the preferred target - meaning you accidentally brush a cow with your axe and face the wrath of the entire herd like Mufasa. This can be turned off in the settings, but even then the cows still walk into your sight sometimes just so they can be hit and have a valid excuse to destroy you. What's more is that when you die in Freeports your stuff disappears entirely, which is very frustrating considering this doesn't happen out in the wild.
But we digress. Once we had got the necessary materials we set off in a boat, and this is where the pirate side of things really starts. Up until this point, it's basically an Ark DLC (an accusation that has actually been levelled online) but with the addition of sailing, however, you then get to the seafaring on your raft. By choosing various options like turning the sails and setting them at different increments, you control the direction and speed of your vessel respectively, but these menus are slow and sluggish and not in the slightest intuitive. Many players have compared this game to Sea of Thieves since it has been announced, but sailing is much easier and a lot less frustrating in Rare's game.
We won't lambast Atlas for its lack of polish too much, since it's an Early Access game, but right now in its current state it is very buggy. Server stability is something that has been widely criticised, and that we've experienced as well, but there are also crashes and plenty of bugs to go around. Movement animations as a whole look horrible right now, with birds stuck flying into walls, bulls hitting you through walls, and a whole host of other niggles.
The pirate fantasy kicks off when you start sailing and discovering land, using your compass to navigate, but the trouble is that actually putting your flag in a piece of land and claiming it as yours isn't going to happen easily, if at all. Nearly all the land we've come across in the game is owned by someone else already, probably due to the fact that the island to player ratio is way off. Your best bet then is to join a firm and team up with fellow adventurers and spare yourself the hassle of battling them, with the same result being achieved by going into a PvE rather than a PvP server too.
We should mention the UI as well, since this part of the game is rather hard to navigate, especially for new players who aren't used to Ark's quirks. For example, levelling up isn't clear at all, as it isn't done in the Skills menu when you have a point, and overall the whole thing just feels like it hasn't developed from Ark at all. It's fiddly and unintuitive, to the point where it's hard to work out how to perform basic functions.
With Early Access games you're always going to get a lack of polish, a product that's rough around the edges, but Atlas, as it stands, is a hard sell. For £23.79 (reduced from £30.00) you're getting an unfinished game with poor animations, bugs aplenty, stability issues, and countless other problems, and that's without mentioning the criticisms directed at it due to its similarities to Ark. It's unfriendly for new players with some seemingly impenetrable concepts, a lack of tutorials, and some mind-boggling menus thrown in for good measure. With that being the case we would wholeheartedly recommend steering clear of this one like the Bermuda triangle, at least until Grapeshot Games has patched up some of the holes in the stern and its course has been righted.