Astroneer, the System Era Softworks simulation experience set in space, would be best explained as a space exploration game without the hardcore survival aspects (although there are some) that we sometimes see in the genre. Astroneer offers a delightful experience to lose oneself in, paired with wonderful visuals, and reviewing it was truly a pleasure.
There's something about comic/art inspired visuals in games, and Astroneer - which has qualities of both - really is beautiful. With vivid colours, delightfully adorable looking characters, skins and items, and fantastic, cartoon-style animations, Astroneer is a joy to experience or even just watch other people play. It's as much a game as it is a visual experience and with the gameplay being as laid-back as it is, you never feel like you're playing a game. Now, that may sound odd, as of course we were aware of the fact that we were using our keyboard and our mouse, looking at a screen, but there's little to no pressure to do anything at all while in the game. We found ourselves being completely immersed in the game world, just taking in all of the corners of space at our own pace. Sure, there are vague objectives, more so later in the game than early on (there's a tutorial-type introduction, which is most definitely needed), but the joy in playing Astroneer is in creating your own adventure by setting out towards the horizon, seeing what lies beyond, and building your own sweet base of space operations.
When dropping into the game's tutorial (which we highly recommend that everyone plays through), the player takes the shape of a chubby little astronaut, traversing space in a small shuttle escape pod and crashing to the surface of a small planet. When exiting the pod they're told to pick up some supplies and connect missing pieces of a pipeline running with oxygen to keep the player from suffocating while exploring the wastes. The tutorial goes through the basics of the game, so you'll learn how to forage, manage your inventory, dig, build, scan, and explore the planets in the best way a player can. If skipping the tutorial, however, the player spawns inside a small base. The game then blesses the player with a care package that will help out in getting started on solo-colonising your recently discovered homeworld.
So essentially, what Astroneer is all about is base building and exploring, as previously stated. There are survival elements, however, the survival element isn't too harshly implemented. Sure, you need to put the tethers (that are crafted using a compound that you simply dig for by pressing E and going to town on the ground) onto your line of oxygen tubes to be able to survive in the vacuum side of things. The tethers are easily crafted with common material and as you build your network of tethers you can explore more of the planet you're stranded on. That being said, there are few other things to keep track of to survive and you get into the habit of putting tethers down pretty quickly. Apart from the lack of oxygen, there are some environmental hazards to keep in mind such as poisonous clouds appearing after you dig for resources. As mentioned though, there's very little consequence here. If a player dies, in solo mode or in co-op mode, they're simply re-spawned at the base location.