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Empyrion Vrs Space Engineers: A Different Kind Of Space Race

In my quest for more compelling virtual worlds, I have been watching Empyrion: Galactic Survival a lot this bizarro weekend, mostly via the Angry Joe Show twitch stream.  What I have concluded from my observations is Empyrion is following in Space Engineers' shadow, but it is nevertheless threatening the elder game due to a greater feature set (the modding scene notwithstanding).
Empyrion: Kludgy, but a lot more to do.

Empyrion is made in Unity, whereas Space Engineers is built on a custom engine.  While this does put Empyrion at a disadvantage when it comes to conceptual flexibility, its developers nevertheless have a substantial advantage when it comes to adding features due to a savings of time spent that would have gone into developing their own engine.  Examples include:
  • Planets.  Empyrion already has planets and space to explore between them, whereas in Space Engineers planets are in the works but still awhile away (so you just have asteroid fields to scavenge).
  • Enemies.  Space Engineers' survival mode boasts only meteors and the rare ghost ship, whereas Empyrion has planets infested with whole hosts of hostile fauna and space with active hostile fighter drones.
  • Weapons.  There are a wide range of handheld weapons in Empyrion, multiple tiers, whereas Space Engineers just has an assault rifle and rocket launcher.   In this same way, there is also a wider range of ship-based weapon components to install in Empyrion, although Space Engineers has a much wider range of non-weapon based ship component functionality.
  • Survival Mechanics.  In Space Engineers, the primary survival mechanic is oxygen generation, and you may sustain damage to your health bar (usually by accident).  In Empyrion, you also need to mind your oxygen, but additionally you need find and prepare food to satisfy your hunger, and your health bar plays a larger role due to the existence of hostile forces.
Honestly, I look at these kinds of mechanics in Empyrion and wonder why Space Engineers has been progressing at such a glacial pace.  For a game released into early access in October of 2013, these things should have added in 2014!  This is why I speculate that the Unity engine has provided the Empyrion developers a significant advantage when it comes to adding major game features.
Space Engineers: Less to do, but functionally more impressive.
On the other hand, despite Empyrion apparently straight up cloning most of the ship building mechanic from Space Engineers, they are far behind the overall construction capabilities that the elder game has.  For example:
  • Space Engineers' ships have an advanced inventory system that allow you to move between different inventories on the ship without accessing those inventories directly.  Empyrion doesn't.
  • Space Engineers has the capability to remote control ships.  Empyrion doesn't.  
  • Annoyingly, in Empyrion you have to manually load up your ships fuel cells with produced fuel tanks, which could be rather a chore if you're in a ship with huge power requirements.  In Space Engineers, certain components draw their supplies through the conveyor system automatically, which means your reactors may be able to pull produced fuel fresh from the refinery as needed.
  • Space Engineers' vehicles can be fitted with parts that can help you strip down constructions or build them.  In the current state of Empyrion, your astronaut builds everything by hand but has an illogically spacious inventory to accommodate this.
  • As mentioned on Empyrion's roadmap, "the structural integrity of constructions is not yet integrated."  While the Space Engineers engine recognizes when parts of the ship have been severed off from damage, in Empyrion the blocks act like they are still attached even when they are not.
  • It does not hurt that Space Engineers' engine is a bit more stable, too.  But this is probably to be expected of a game which has been in Early Access for almost two years.  The general rule in current builds of Empyrion is to save early and often, anticipating a crash.
When I total up the pros and cons of both games, I am finding them a bit closer to a tie than I would like to admit.  I think Space Engineers probably deserves to be called the better game due to the greater attention to its technical details, but then again Empyrion has added more context to the players' actions by introducing greater conflicts and a more varied environment.

Yet, in the end, I would say both games are lacking that all-essential purpose that drives the action of a good survival game; both games' robust building mechanics are facilitating players to create elaborate constructs in a virtual world that just does not care.  Thus, I will continue to monitor both games and hope at least one of them comes through with that, as I currently find myself struggling to find much reason to make the time to play either game without an integrated greater context to the players' actions.


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