Off to a Rokh-y Start: Rokh Preview

Rokh is a little rough around the edges. There's potential, but right now, the game isn't taking advantage of it.

Mars -- The next frontier for humanity. We live in an age where visionaries like Elon Musk and the Mars One Team are showing the world plans for a very real future in which we colonize the red planet, and there are many who are already volunteering to take part in such an extreme voyage. In this environment, you'd think a game like Rokh would be the perfect way to visualize what kind of settlements people could build on Mars and what kind of society would be there. But if actual Mars colonies end up anything like the ones in in Rokh, I think I'll be giving a trip to Mars a pass.

For this to be a truly accurate picture, imagine all those stats in the bottom right corner at half their current value, and also that the other player is spamming obscenities in the chat.

Let's start with the basics: Rokh is a crafting/survival game, in the vein of titles like Minecraft, Terraria, and 7 Days to Die. Collect materials, food, and more, use them to help you survive in the wild. Instead of zombies and other beasties, your only enemies in Rokh are the planet's harsh environment and other players. In theory, it's a cool idea to make it feel like you're conquering the planet and not random monsters or aliens. In practice though, it makes this game's version of Mars feel so empty and barren that it gets boring quickly. You can stand atop a cliff and see literally nothing but dust and sky for miles. In actual gameplay terms though, this means rather than upping your combat prowess or defense, you're tasked with keeping on top of five different stats for your character: oxygen, hunger, thirst, suit power, and radiation exposure. The way you keep all of these topped off? Get lucky, basically.

Scattered around the Martian landscape are airdrops: rectangular canisters that contain the necessary materials for survival. Little blinking lights of different colors help you see them from a distance as well as help identify (somewhat) what's in them. There are a number of things you can get out of these drops including oxygen, food, water, and materials for the game's crafting system. You can also find crystals and mineral deposits scattered around the planet's surface, jutting out as spikes of color amongst the usual reddish-brown. 

However, if you need food, water or oxygen early on you better hope RNG rolls in your favor when you pop a crate. Although you can craft these things lategame, at first you can only get them from random airdrops, so you'd better get ready to roll the dice if you want a snack. Did an airdrop with that much needed food land on top of a roof? Too bad for you, because Rokh manages to even make jetpacks not fun to use, considering how badly the game lag-teleports you around when using one. This wasn't just my own bad connection either, as other players were making good use of the chat features to voice their displeasure, with creative word choice of course. 

 

Trust me, you won't get to this point unless you play for eons.

Suit Power is a little easier to manage, but not by much. You can recharge your suit power and any spare batteries you have at charging stations, which you can only find at the ruins of prior, failed colonies. So if you take a wrong turn and don't happen to find one, you're out of luck there too.

Even worse is the radiation counter. This just slowly ticks up over time, and unlike the other stats, the game doesn't even tell you how to deal with it. I almost died from radiation exposure before I randomly found some lego brick-looking potassium pad that shielded my character and took away some radiation. I feel like Mars is hard enough to survive on without the game withholding information like that.

Even the other players you encounter while playing don't help with Rokh's Mars being pretty inhospitable, as they're overwhelmingly hostile, moreso than I'm used to for a game like this. I tried four different servers, and on each of them the other players were very territorial. The nicest encounter I had was with a player named "NonstopTruckerss" who told me to "hurry up and skedaddle, ****er" before trying to thump me with a hammer, so that should say a lot about how well my interactions with others went. These martians are decidedly less pleasant than the ones recent films would have you believe.

For the most part, this is what Rokh looks like -- vast stretches of jack and squat, with swaths of nada throughout.

I found the best way to play Rokh was to find an isolated part of the landscape with abandoned colony ruins nearby which is difficult as many players had already holed up in most of the good spots. I did eventually find a small little area that I was able to stake out as my own. That way, I had access to a battery charger, and a good area where I could make trips to the local tin deposit.

The gameplay cycle went as follows: I'd mine tin until my pickaxe broke, toss the busted pick, use that raw tin to craft a piddly amount of tiles to try and build a shelter, build a new pickaxe with some more scraps, and then start over. With breaks, of course, to scramble around the abandoned colony to scrounge for oxygen tanks and food in airdrops.

I spent almost my entire playtime trying to fashion myself a little tin hut doing the above. But as I was making the last trip back with the needed raw materials, the door I'd spent a lot of hard-earned tin on had disappeared. Whether it was one of the game's random meteor showers that took it out, or an opportunistic player came by and swiped it, that was enough for me to call it a day.

 

I didn't get anywhere even close to this. Nor did anyone else I saw. 

I really want to like Rokh. Mars and the idea of Mars colonization is such a cool setting for a game like this, and despite my bad experience with it, I can tell that Rokh is a game with a lot of untapped potential. The tiling system is a really cool take on the genre's usual building mechanics, even though it gets visually repetitive after a while. The different necessity stats aren't a bad idea, and they honestly all make sense for the setting, it's just that the incredible speed at which they decay and their RNG-heavy nature early on makes them a pain to keep track of. I'll also fully admit that my experience with the playerbase is also probably not indicative of the entire population playing, but I played across four different servers in my search for an unoccupied spot to call home. NonstopTruckerss was still the nicest person I met across all four.

Once I figured it out, the crafting system was probably the most enjoyable part of the game, with different categories like tools and building materials assigned to different items rather than all items bundled together in one area. It helped a lot with the clutter that the survival/crafting genre tends to run into as more and more items are added. Unfortunately, I never got to enjoy it for long before I either ran out of materials or my colonists started dying from lack of oxygen/not enough dried mangoes. The game even looks quite nice graphically, but it chugged on my laptop that can run full specs Overwatch like a dream. I even tried to go into the options to lower the graphics settings to get a more stable framerate, but the options button crashed the game. 

Again, Rokh is a game I'd love to see do well. It has a lot of promise, but right now I really can't recommend it to even the most die-hard fans of the genre or setting. It's empty, it's demanding, it's unfriendly, and despite my best efforts to try and find something, it's not fun. I'm going to keep an eye on Rokh as it goes further, with the hopes that it ends up living up to some of what it promises, but for now, my honest opinion is that this is one early access game that should have stayed internal for a while longer.

Published Jul. 11th 2017

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