Space Ship in the Orbit
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Lightyear Frontier Early Access Review: Starting a new life on an alien planet

Onward, to new frontiers!

The open-world “craft ‘n’ farm” genre has seen an explosion since Stardew Valley made virtual agriculture and life sims the talk of the town all those years ago. Lightyear Frontier is the latest foray into this genre, going where no other farming sim has gone before — they’ve put a big ol’ mech in it. Currently, the game has only released in early access and the experience is somewhat limited in scope, but from my time spent in this world so far, there’s a lot of promise.

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An essential element of Lightyear Frontier is that, despite its great, hulking mech, there isn’t any combat at all. The game is peaceful, cozy and a great game to switch off to with your preferred hot drink and a blanket. No evil boogieman is going to come out and level your crops and plots to the ground. And no, there’s no PvP either. What’s the main focus in Lightyear Frontier, then?

Just. Peak. Comfy. Crafting. Enjoyment.

Mech in the Field
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Futuristic Farming

In short, you’re cutting trees, digging ores, planting various plants, watering them, harvesting them, fighting the occasional alien weed invasion, building your base, organizing your storage, and progressing through the story. But you’re doing all of this in a Mech!

Mech stranded in the field
Screenshot by GameSkinny

The gameplay loop involves building your base and participating in a weed and slime-cleansing crusade around the world. Your base serves as a crafting and farming station for various plants, items, and materials that you will need to use to progress through the game. The further you progress and develop your base, the tougher the cleansing of the lands gets which, in turn, requires your Mech to be upgraded to deal with the ever-evolving threat.

Wildlife is scarce at the moment (I’d say there are no more than a dozen animals per zone), and I feel that this part of the game could be expanded upon in the future. There are very interesting (and mostly cute) animal species that the developers have made up, but the only ways to interact with them are:

  • To crash into them with your Mech while sprinting (I hope you had your seatbelt on).
  • To scare them away with the noise of your Mech or by hitting them.
  • To feed them a type of food they like and gain a random item from them in return.

No, it’s not possible to tame, befriend, or breed animals in Lightyear Frontier at this moment. Sure, you can build a fence around an animal near your base to capture it and feed it every day for the reward, but that’s about it. Given this is a futuristic farming sim of sorts, a lack of livestock is a noticeable omission.

As great as being an “exofarmer” (it’s how you are occasionally referred to) in Lightyear Frontier is — seriously, there’s nothing quite like watering your crops sat inside a giant metallic beast — there’s sadly not a lot of stuff you can do when you hop out of it. The only time I found myself needing to hop out of my exoskeleton was when the task I needed to be done was tucked away where my mech couldn’t reach… because it’s… a giant hulking mech.

What isn’t so huge is the crafting “tree.” It’s dwarved by those in other titles, but big enough to keep you busy for a while and grinding away. At this moment, I know of about a dozen different plants, half a dozen ores, and a handful of other “special” items that I can’t really categorize.

Despite this being an Early Access game, I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t spotted the “0.1.232” number in the corner of the main menu. I haven’t experienced any bugs or crashes at all during my time playing, and the visuals are crisp and clean. The game’s ran smoothly without a hitch. A big thumbs up from me here.

All in all, as someone who usually plays a variety of FPS games, I had a lot of fun playing Lightyear Frontier in its current stage of development. The gameplay is simple and easy to pick up (despite the tutorial not being 100% detailed sometimes) and the mystery around the grand scheme of things is compelling. You just want to know where the story is going! Near the end of the playthrough, I did start feeling some grind fatigue, but I have put 20 hours into the game in just a matter of days.

Example base in Lightyear Frontier
Screenshot by GameSkinny

A Colorful, Cartoonish World Filled with Character

The game has simple but beautiful cartoonish graphics, nice animations, and splendid voice acting. The gameplay is indeed fun; and there’s not too much handholding, allowing for a nice amount of challenge.

Cute Bird in Lightyear  Frontier
Screenshot by GameSkinny

What did add to the aforementioned fatigue was the lack of a fast travel or teleport option. This is fine at first when you are starting out, but the more you need to go to the more distant regions of the map, the more tedious the resource hauls become. When I went on big farm runs for various ores, I over-encumbered my Mech and decided to just walk to the base once because making two (or three) smaller runs with sprint available takes even more time. When over-encumbered, you cannot sprint or jump, but you can walk normally. This started grating on me near the end of my playthrough, and I certainly hope that, at least, a late-game teleport structure becomes available to take you from point A to point B, wherever you want to place them (similar to Valheim’s Portals).

That grind was amplified when I realized I’d have to have a big garden and multiple copies of certain production buildings to produce all of the necessary materials for late-game upgrades and buildings without waiting multiple in-game days for everything to process. Managing all of that in your base alone may feel like a huge chore, and I found myself spending 2-3 in-game days in my base just to grow and craft items necessary to upgrade my Mech because it’s vital to make progress.

Watering huge plots of land every day, even with all of the upgrades your Mech can get (and mind you, you can’t just get these upgrades that early and easily), with no automation option in sight, is indeed something that becomes a problem once you expand your operation to maintaining 100 plants at the same time as I did. I’ve got my mech-y fingers crossed for these sorts of process-automating items to come as part of a future update.

If you pick up this game (or any similar game, for that matter), take my sound advice: organize your stuff immediately by resource/item type and mark the crates with signposts; it will be worth your time.

Sub-par Storytelling

While the game is only in early access, I found the narrative for Lightyear Frontier to be lacking. There’s not a whole lot of explanation as to why you’re doing what you’re doing. Sure, we need to save the planet by removing the Noxious Slime that’s plagued the various regions, but there’s no deeper or more personal motive pushing my character forward in their farming frenzy. This is something that may always change as the game moves out of early access and into its 1.0 release sometime in the future.

Sunset in Lightyear Frontier
Screenshot by GameSkinny

Honestly, I felt like a space traveler who hit their head during a crash landing and contracted amnesia. I had no idea why I was there where I was, what happened to my old home, what my life goals were, or where I should pay taxes on this planet. (Sidebar: Do you even need to pay taxes in the space agriculture sector? Food for thought for you). I just knew that I needed to grind, farm, and craft. Hard. The story seems like an average “oh no, Earth is over, we need to go somewhere else” type of story, but with Mechs. I’m sure some players may be looking for a bit more given the type of character-building and narrative you see in other entries in the genre. However, if you have some serious base-building enthusiasts among your friends, you’ll be able to enjoy the game in its current form regardless.

All of this being said, there are many ways to expand on Lightyear Frontier’s story and keep the player more engaged throughout gameplay, and I am sure that the developers will have something more fleshed-out ready for the full release of the game.

If the lack of story is a sticking point for you, you can always opt to play with friends. There is a co-op mode with a maximum of 4 players, and a crossplay option was announced to come with the release of the game as well. After the full release, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be pitching this to my friends as a weekend activity.

Lightyear Frontier Early Access Impressions

a mech in a base in Lightyear Frontier
Image via Amplifier Studios

Pros

  • A compelling farming gameplay loop.
  • A peaceful and stress-free experience that the entire family can enjoy.
  • Polished visuals and audio, especially for a game in early access.

Cons

  • Early access version could do with a little more content to keep exofarmers toiling away.
  • Story is lacking.
  • Things can start to feel a bit grindy towards the end of this early access section.

Lightyear Frontier is a promising, early access foray into farming with mechs. While the content currently available doesn’t quite have the longevity of other games in the genre, the gameplay loop is just as compelling and the visuals are polished, making for a relaxing open-world farming experience.


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Author
Nikola L
Nikola's been a member of GameSkinny since March 2024. He enjoys various game genres, but you'll most likely see him chasing quotas in Lethal Company with friends and grinding roguelike/roguelite games such as Vampire Survivors, Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor and Brotato. Loves 90s, driving, video making, and music.