What might help understand the given criticism a bit better: I first got the demo for 0.16.51 about half a year ago and decided to buy the full version only about 5-10 mins in. I currently have a bit more than 350hrs on the game and will probably spend a multiple of this number on it still.
Overall, I needed two tries to complete it.
- The first time, I got anihilated.
I was pretty excited to finally check out the brand new campaign and didn't give myself a whole lot of time. Maybe not very smart in hindsight, but probably not far from what any person would feel like when purchasing one of steam's best rated games Also I decided I'd ignore what I had learned about factorio until then and just let things happen.
In Short: I didn't have a clue what to do with the feeder, so I inserted directly onto it from contemporarily set up chests. Which had me absolutely neglect belts and only craft what I needed for completing the goals. Which meant I barely had anything when I started the second part of the map. I then had no time to catch up on automating production, because the biters had me pinned to the iron mining site pretty much from the beginning. At the time I naturally had no idea the attack intensity was tied to science progression, so I just let it running. With next to no automation and ever increasing attacks I didn't have a single chance. When I ran to the stone patch to see if my mining site there could still be rescued, I got surrounded by about 20 biters, practically disabling my movement and mauling me to death instantly. The Intro was confusing before the evacuation and pure hell after, resulting in my most comically drastic death in all my playtime.
- The second time I succeeded rather easily, but not without a lot of thinking ahead.
After My very crushing "first steps", I watched the discussions in the forums and learned a lot about the intro, like: Biter attacks scale with pollution and science progression and at 90% science progression will consume 100% of a factory's output at any given pollution rate.SourceSo: I knew what was coming and I simply wanted to see how hard it was to win using all my factorio knowledge.
In short: I moderately over-produced on the first map, knowing from FFF#284 I was supposed to connect belts to the feeder. After evacuation I set up a properly automated production, switched to electric mining as fas as I could and had my turrets auto-feeded from belts. When I finished the last research I was kinda surprised about the now subjectively low difficulty.
As much as I love factorio, I just can't bring myself not to seriously dislike the new campaign. The first time I just got shredded alive, I honestly don't know if I would have gotten the full game if that had been my first experience. I was able to beat it rather easily in the end as I mentioned but only after researching its basic mechanics on the forums for a couple of hours, using a number of tricks to reduce bitter aggression, implementing factory layout elements I had learned from youtubers long ago and simply ignoring the almost continously red-flashing damage notifications. Which I know would have driven me mad if I was new to the game.
But what exactly is it that I personally think is "wrong" with the current state of the campaign? I'll try to be as specific as possible here:
- Introducing concepts that contradict themselves or actual free play mechanics.
First machines don't use electricity, but only a couple of minutes later they suddenly do. Electricity first comes from nowhere, then must be produced. Feeders are one of the first machines the new player interacts with and yet he'll never see them again. Machines are first repaired by belting in raw materials, then suddenly with repair packs. Science progression correlates with enemy activity, so better go easy on that on my next game? Produce n electric circuits per minute now! ...What, for no reason other than... Foreshadowing lategame production balancing? And more...
I get that all of this is part of the "creative learning" philosophy... But I honestly find it confusing and misleading as to what will actually happen in freeplay, sorry.
While I'd usually applaud that statement, it completely fails with this form of tutorial, at least for me. I discovered several playstyles to be fatal literally on my first try of the "first steps": Relaying a bit too much on spaghetti or manual transportation in early game? You won't be able to make up for that later. Not instantly dumping burner drill mining as soon as you possibly can? Prepare to be overrun because of pollution. Want to spend some time figuring out a neat little production setup? Here's a continous stream of biter attacks that will tear you apart if you don't fully focus on them. You want to look at all the new items you just unlocked? Well better pump everything you mine into Ammo production, or else...
It's honestly kind of bewildering seeing this being supposed to teach creativity, it feels so restrictive, so severely punishing.
- Perceived difficulty, or: the Balance between challenge and disappointment.
People think the campaign is too hard. I know this has been discussed a lot and might be done some more here. But If you look at the forums, there's heaps of players are seriously unhappy with the current difficulty.
Is it all just vet bias, would a true new player not intuitively do better? This has been brought up a lot even by the devs, but at least in my case, it's just plain wrong. I didn't give 100% (meaning using over 350 hours of in-game experience) and got destroyed, I decided to bring in some real strats and vet experience and did it easily. And even then: What damage would it do toning difficulty down in comparison to taking the risk of scaring away so many new players?
It's called "first steps". There's nothing wrong with them being easier than what's to come.
To keep it short: There are two big points that seem very important to me because they touch on most of what I've said above. But I'm also aware there might not be time or interest to make fundamental changes, so I'll follow them up with some rather small tweaks that would at least help improve the experience some in my eyes.
- Splitting the tutorial into distinct parts feels good, however I think 3 stages would be a better choice:
The Functional stage: GUIs, controls, Inventory, interaction... Elemental stuff.
The Creative stage: learn and play around with mining, smelting and production, introducing the concepts of upscaling, optimizing and diversification in production. Teaches (very basic) skills in factory building without much pressure and is an introduction to default settings free play, which is probably going to feel similar in the first hour or two.
The Survival stage: Putting the player to work under pressure. An ever inclining difficulty curve calls for quick reactions and new strategies, it can be seen as a foreboding to deathworld.
- About the mechanical differences between Campaign and Free Play: There's two ways to counter that.
One can either bring the Intro a lot closer to the main game in terms of mechanics and order of steps. That would mean streamlining the "creative learning" aspects of what we currently have, stripping off everything that doesn't properly translate into free play. I know this doesn't sound very appealing but would most likely do the job of getting new players ready to play.
On the other hand, making it an entirely different experience is not only plausible but also kind of exciting. That, however would require an even more deliberate depart from the main game mechanics and a play time of several hours to not feel out of proportion.
- Turn down difficulty at least a bit. I don't need to go into detail because when talking about optimizations, obviously the devs know their stuff a lot better than I do. But it's plain necessary looking at player feedback.
- Make turrets available before the biters come knocking. Having new players sit through the research while attacks start coming in in 30s intervals is killing every sense of creativity.
- I do believe that the player would profit more from making underground belts and splitters awailable rather than electric mining. With them being a core component of the game I feel like they need to be introduced early on. If they're available late enough, the player will already have played around enough with spaghetti to understand how things work. Electric mining however doesn't really add anything besides one or two steam engines.
- More Compilatron! I like the guy. If I remember correctly, he was introduced at least partly because the start of the game feels so desolate. Right now he's just soulless machine, so some kind of quirk or distinct personality would probably help build attachment and spice things up quite a bit.
- "Players should not receive help until they need it". It felt so awfully staggering waiting for compilatron giving the next hint for a dozen seconds or so at a time. He's there to help, let him do just that. If I want I can still ignore him, and of course he'll be rather silent during the later stages that allow for creativity.