OPINION | GAME ON: Dig into ‘Core Keeper’ with friends, but watch out for Glurch

(Courtesy of Pugstorm/Fireshine Games)
(Courtesy of Pugstorm/Fireshine Games)

Described frequently as a top-down "Terraria," "Core Keeper" has a lot of DNA from great games running through its veins. There are influences in here from not just "Terraria," but also "Minecraft," "Valheim" and "Stardew Valley."

Warning for the extremely claustrophobic, "Core Keeper" takes place entirely underground.

A brief opening sequence shows you are part of an exploration team in a jungle that finds an artifact that transports you underground. Immediately before you is some kind of ancient, alien core that needs to be powered up. Around you is an endless, procedurally generated world. So dig well, and live.

Also, feel free to bring friends to help you dig. While "Core Keeper" can certainly be enjoyed and played solo, it also offers up to eight-player cooperative fun, with worlds and characters saved separately, similar to the Viking exploration/crafting game "Valheim."

"Core Keeper" just entered Early Access on March 8 but had 100,000 downloads in its first two days and recently passed half a million. Despite the promise of many future upgrades and enhancements (more content is coming soon), it's already quite a polished game.

As anyone who has played such games knows, the first step is to dig, chop, collect and explore. Multiple underground biomes surround the core area, each with different resources and enemies. Early steps include making some wood tools, finding copper ore and crafting better armor and weapons, then finding tin ore and upgrading to bronze.

The underground is not just dirt, however. There are many cave systems filled with various enemies, such as slimes, and even remnants of previous inhabitants, as caves will be found filled with wooden crates and furniture.

Unexplored, unmined areas are an inky black on the screen, but sometimes sparkles can be seen that indicate an ore deposit. Once lots of resources have been acquired, it's time to head back to home base to build, craft and grow. Crafting workbenches allow access to better gear, which allows the mining of better resources, which leads to better crafting tools and so on.

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Your explorer can also garden, using a hoe to prepare the ground and a watering can filled from underground lakes to grow plants, which can be used in recipes. There is a health and hunger bar, and in addition to filling the stomach, foods offer buffs such as an increased healing rate or movement speed. There are also fish to catch and cook, and fun to be had with base-building, too.

Not all is idyllic underground, however. At some point players will hear a thumping that grows louder and louder, and find the first of several subterranean horrors — a giant slime called Glurch the Abominous Mass. Defeating it spawns rare loot and helps unlock further progress in the game.

There are currently half a dozen bosses in the game, with more coming. The next likely boss faced is Ghorm the Devourer, which rather than being found in a large room like Glurch, has actually been tunneling around your base in a giant circle in an unstoppable loop.

Eventually the crafting mechanics get fairly advanced — there's a rail system and rail cars to create; and electricity, automated drills and on-off switches will likely lead to some "Minecraft"-style automation. There are even some nonplayer character merchants that can be summoned by creating bedrooms for them in your base.

With its infinite, procedurally generated world and co-op capability, there's a lot of potential for "Core Keeper," especially if it can keep adding new content to the world the way "Minecraft" has incrementally evolved over the years. That will keep new players buying in and old players coming back.

And the $12.99 price point is pretty great, too.

"Core Keeper" currently lacks real end-game content, and after a few dozen hours there's not much new to find — other than more and more places to dig — but a new biome and new mechanics are planned, so if this kind of game is your cup of tea, it's definitely worth checking out.

‘Core Keeper’

Platform: Windows (Steam)

Cost: $12.99

Rating: 10+ for mild violence

Score: 8 out of 10

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