Eco (Early Access) Review: An instrument of torture

I went into Eco with anticipation. It promised an open voxel world where in 30 real time days a meteor would strike your world, and it was up to you to progress through the tech tree high enough to stop its impact from happening. What made it more interesting though is the fact your impact on the world would be seen and actually effect it.

Run off would contaminate the seas and rives, waste would sink into the ground and damage the soil, and the low-quality air would drive out plant growth and animal life.

On top of even this, Eco promised enforceable law systems, property ownership, elections, etc.

What I saw in the trailers was an ambitious game full of great ideas, all taking place on a spherical world too, and I was excited to try it.

So, a few friends and I picked up the game together and created a custom server for us to play on privately.

Just to be clear, we knew the game had some systems that required multiple people to progress, and to remedy our only 5-person player count we bumped up the server settings to 2.5x progression rate on everything.

We logged on and the game was pretty. The sun lit the world extremely vibrantly (almost too vibrantly to the point where it would often be difficult to see). The asteroid coming down towards the planet was looming in orbit above us.

At first it was fun. It was slow, but it was still relaxing and enjoyable.

We mined rocks, chopped down trees, built cabins, and slowly progressed our way through the tech tree; all while doing everything we could to make sure the environment was destroyed in the process. After playing for a few hours we started noticing a small problem. None of our tree saplings were growing.

Soon after this realization we noticed that we couldn’t plant the seeds we harvested from the crops we were eating. We decided to do some research on the game mechanics and found out that it took 3 full days for trees to grow.

Of course, we thought this to be a bullshit amount of time and we really didn’t want to wait that long.

So, we waited 3 days.

No trees.

We did more research and found out that you had to have the trees in good enough soil for them to grow at all. After doing even more digging we found out there was a tool to test the soil quality, but that was locked behind a certain skill tree.

And on the surface that may not seem like too bad, but unlocking skill trees in this game is a nightmarish undertaking.

You are only allowed to choose 3 skill trees at the beginning for your character. The skill trees allow you to do certain tasks (i.e. smelting, construction, etc.) faster, more efficient, or at all. When you pick those 3 skill trees, the price of unlocking another skill tree goes from 10 points to 50. The next skill tree unlock then costs 100 and so on. It begins to feel like a waiting game for skill points, because the only way to get skill points is waiting.

Skill points are tied to your nutrition and housing score. Your housing score increases based on how many specialized equipment items and furniture is inside your owned house, and nutrition is based off of how well you eat. Are you eating enough carbs, protein, fats, and vitamins?

The problem with this system is it makes you eat every god damn minute of the game. You could be in perfect nutrition, go out and mine, and have to stop mining to eat (the game doesn’t let you do any job while you are low on calories) in as low as 10 minutes. And for a game that bases so much on real time, you eat more that Fat Bastard with the pace of intake you have to keep up to do anything in the game.

The game eventually feels exceedingly like a chore as you are forced to log in and eat food to continue gaining skill points to have the ability to do something. Already have a few skill trees maxed out? Want to learn engineering? Well for only 250 skill points you could do just that! Calories drain even when you’re logged out so even when you are just waiting you have to log on, eat, and log off.

Eco just feels like a punishment to play. It doesn’t want you to have fun and it doesn’t want you to keep playing. Eco wants you to “learn” about the

environment. And since this game is partially funded by the US Department of Education it makes a little more sense now on why it can’t do what its sole purpose is.

This game, more like waiting simulator, is hardly worth even pulling up the steam page for, and it’s so disappointing to see it fall so flat.

Maybe sometime in the future I’ll come back around for the games full release to review it again, but as of now you would have more fun just burning $30 in a fire.