Xsyon screenshot
One year and counting. Crack open the waterskin and raise a toast to Xsyon: Today the post-apocalyptic sandbox by Notorious Games celebrates its first full year of launch. Well, the first year of the official launch of Prelude, a limited first release of the virtual world. Come to think of it, even that date seems a bit nebulous as the pre-order players in the first phase of Year Zero (basically beta) actually had their most significant change on March 11th, 2011 when the second phase launched and totems were introduced.

Semantics aside, Xsyon has come a long way from that official first day. Unlike many games where gameplay is neatly laid out, this indie title gives players only the canvas and a few tools before setting them loose to fashion their world. As the year continued, additional tools were provided and the world became more vibrant and dynamic. Initially barren without any critters (other than your surviving neighbors) to hunt, the world is now populated with large creatures that roam the land, threatening the lives of travelers and hunters alike. Even the lay of the land itself is different as players manipulate and alter the terrain, build settlements, and plant trees. Communities are forming; groups are supporting and even entertaining each other. Civilization is slowly rebuilding.

And that's only the beginning.

Xsyon screenshot
The servers actually suffered a significant roll-back on launch day that forced a number of players to lose a chunk of advancement in skills. And that's right after totemgate on the 11th, when people lost their prime plots of land when all totems had to be wiped and reset. Oh, the uproar. But things can only go up, right?

Since that time, Xsyon has undergone numerous patches, fixes, and updates. Throughout the year, players were even asked to download updated installers. In all honesty, many players would -- and did -- argue that the game shouldn't have launched at all until there were significantly more features available. Some left, but others braved on. While a bit unorthodox, this type of release had its advantages; for one, it actually fits seamlessly with the story of the game.

See, the whole point of the game is to rebuild civilization. Players who braved beta and launch had a world with very little, just resources. From that, they had to build up skills in order to even start building the world back up. From creating tools to catching food to building structures, everything had to be rediscovered and remade. This was definitely a sandbox! Those who left might not have understood that the game didn't need a plethora of features to get started.

Xsyon screenshotWhat he said

If there was ever one feature to appreciate, it's that the development team keeps players in the loop. Regardless of personal feelings about launching a game with bugs (come on, who doesn't?), the fact that the devs keep a running thread to inform players about the state of the game puts them a step ahead of others who leave their consumers hanging. Even when there isn't much to report, short updates and explanations are posted frequently to keep people in the know about both what is going on (update list) and what to expect (what features are currently getting attention).

The dev team also takes time out to answer specific player questions in another thread. Utilizing feedback, the team introduced features and items into the game throughout the year, such as item decay and the ability to rename storage containers. It also uses player feedback when optimizing combat. In all, having a game that considers its players a part of the development is refreshing.

Shaping the world

In the beginning, there was dirt. And junk piles. Materials for tools, clothing, and containers were scavenged. Soon, industrious souls were chopping logs, mixing mortar, and mining stone to build walls. Primitive structures started to dot the land. Now, there are numerous buildings; Notorious Games even hosts architecture contests to highlight these creations. New recipes and parts including ramps, platforms, corner pieces (walls and floors), roofs, and more have been introduced to make a variety of structures from homes to shops to fortresses. Locks can now be placed on buildings as well as containers.

Xsyon screenshotBesides building, features added over the year foster trade and help the economy. Helping to encourage exploration and trade, Xsyon's resources are distributed by territory. In other words, if you stay in one territory, you will keep finding the same cloth, leather, and metal types. For variety, you have to get a move on and leave your comfort zone. Buckets, barrels, and waterskins now allow players to travel away from water sources for a longer time. The recent introduction of carts also helps foster trade (not to mention makes for fun races), and the addition of item decay stimulates the economy.

Players, however, are not the only ones who grow and influence the world. One favorite feature is that creatures grow in power over time. The hit points, attack, and defense of animals significantly increase with age and number of times in combat. They can even become legendary after many victorious fights with players. Basically, those animals are skilling up on you! It isn't a matter of knowing which species you can handle and which you cannot; there is variety within each species. And the hunter has only size to really judge by. You might think you are hot stuff after breezing through a fight with a bear only to find that the next one shreds you. And that's not even getting into the mutant animals that have been altered by radiation as creatures that enter and return from the green mist can become mutants! These critters are more powerful than normal creatures, and their parts provide better craft bonuses.

Survivors, one and all

Xsyon's population may be low, but there is a loyal group toiling away in Lake Tahoe rebuilding and reshaping the world in preparation for further expansion. Some tribes have designated squatters staying on the land to keep things running while tribe-mates wait until more features are introduced before coming/returning. Those who are currently playing get to really experience shaping their world. And if the previous year is any example, citizens can look forward to more features' being introduced in regular updates. Those wanting to get in on the ground floor of building a world might want to check this game out.

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This article was originally published on Massively.