I’m utterly addicted to Core Keeper.
Part Stardew Valley, part Spelunky, part Terraria, Core Keeper is an adventure game about exploring, mining and taking down enemies. Thrown into a mysterious cave sealed in from all sides, you’re given no instructions or any indication of what you need to do. That’s the joy of Core Keeper. You discover by doing, and at no point does the game point you in any given direction. You’re a free cave-dweller. What you do while you’re in there is entirely up to you.
There are a few key things you’ll want to do, though. Make yourself a pick-axe, and possibly a weapon. A torch wouldn’t go amiss either. From your starting position, you really don’t have any option but to choose a direction and dig outwards, to see what awaits you through those cave walls.
I think it’s the sheer freedom that Core Keeper gives which makes it so appealing. It’s less than two weeks into its early access journey, and so this is a game that’s far from finished. But it already feels incredibly polished, with so much to do. You’ll quickly figure out that there are three bosses waiting to be taken out, but you’ll initially be a long way off being able to tackle them. And so your time with the game will be spent exploring, gathering enough materials to craft yourself better gear.
It’s a rewarding gameplay loop, frequently finding something to better your character. Maybe you’ll enter a new biome, where you’ll find a new type of ore to craft a better weapon. Or maybe you’ll stumble across a cool weapon in a chest – finding a staff that shoots fireballs was a gamechanger for me. Later, you’ll find railway lines and minecarts which you can ride, suggesting you can build your own intricate railway system if you want.
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And you can. If you’ve had enough of exploring, you can set about crafting yourself a big house, complete with painted walls, floors, and furniture. Or maybe if you explore far enough you’ll find a house all set up for you – though you might have to kill its previous cave-dwelling residents first.
Despite Core Keeper‘s refusal to give you any direction, everything is rather easy to figure out. Its controls are simple – I’ve been playing with an Xbox controller, but you can use keyboard and mouse if that’s your style – and it won’t take you very long at all to figure out the buttons. Nothing is overcomplicated, with inventories easy to navigate and items straightforward to use. By the time you’ve got enough materials to build your first crafting table, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the ground running; a suite of potential items and upgrades laid out before you like an unofficial roadmap to follow.
Performing actions gains you experience, too, with points to be spent on improving your character. Mining earns you mining points, which can be spent on various upgrades such as increasing the amount of damage your pickaxe does. Other actions have their own points and skill trees, like fishing, ranged combat, gardening and more.
There’s a reason why Core Keeper sold 250,000 copies in its first week: this is a fantastic game that somehow manages to speak to people’s creativity and sense of adventure and discovery at once. It’s only going to grow in scope, too: developer Pugstorm reckons it’ll be in early access until the end of 2022, but in that time lots of new content will be added. You can expect new biomes to explore, more items to find and craft, additional story elements, and new mechanics for cooking, farming, smithing and building. That’s a lot to look forward to.
What I haven’t yet touched on – because I’m yet to try them myself – are Core Keeper‘s multiplayer elements. I’ve been tackling the huge cave alone, and having a riot doing it. But you can team up with up to seven other players, existing together in the same world. The idea of co-operative play in this space is exciting; you could work together for a common goal, or all set out in different directions, quickly and more effectively uncovering more of the world.
If you enjoy games that give you freedom, then Core Keeper really ought to be on your radar. It’s rare I get so excited about an early access game, but Core Keeper is worth being excited about. Thanks to its excellent blend of combat, exploration, discovery, crafting and levelling up, there’s so much to love here.