Despite all the monsters I’ve killed, worlds I’ve conquered and players I’ve outshot or stabbed, one of my gaming accomplishments towers above the rest. It’s a work of unparalleled effort, ingenuity, and arguably ill-advised engineering shortcuts. The totality of it spans deserts and jungles, with multi-layered pipes and drones criss-crossing over meadows and alien forests. When you hover anywhere within its beating heart, the natural world becomes subsumed into a maze of conveyer belts and hulking machines. It’s a blight on the planet, frankly, but it’s my blight on the planet, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Let me show you around my Satisfactory factory. Don’t worry about your shoes.
Before you peek at that, though, you’ll need a primer. Satisfactory is an automation game, which means it’s about making stuff that makes stuff. You begin with a pocket full of drills and dreams, which you use to set about transforming a verdant world’s resources into increasingly complicated techno-bits. Within your first hour, you’ll have a suite of miners pumping iron and copper ore into smelters, and from there into constructors that whisk up wire, cable, plates and rods. Within two hours you’ll be pumping those basic ingredients into assemblers, which then feed into more assemblers, which eventually split off to feed manufacturers, blenders, refineries and more.
Within 60 hours, you might have something like this.
A factory that big tanks my framerate, but it buoys my heart. I adore the way I can look around and know that every little bit of it is there because of me, from the most ostentatious particle accelerator right down to the lowliest screw factory. It’s all there for a reason, every component churning away at its specific task, clunking towards greatness. Other automation games let you build similar wonders, but they don’t let you wander amongst them in first-person. That’s key: Dyson Sphere Program lets you encase a star, but it still doesn’t sell the same sense of scale.
It’s remarkable how smoothly all of this can be conjured up. Your ultimate goal is to load a space elevator with high-tech equipment, and while that ultimate destination might be devilishly complex, most of the steps you take to get there are simple and straightforward. The end of every task bleeds seamlessly into the next, which is a core part of why everyone who plays Satisfactory fears and respects the way it can devour their time. “Oh, I’ll just whip up a bunch of constructors so I’ve got enough copper wire for those new stators”, you’ll think, before blearily coming to your senses at 3am having built an entirely new steel production outpost. You should go to bed. You need to go to bed. But surely it’ll only take another 20 minutes to sort that train network out, right? There’s always a significant, achievable milestone just around the corner.
It helps that building is so easy, once you’ve got your bearings. Conjuration is the right word, because every machine can be magicked into existence using your hand-held construction tool, with a minimal degree of faff. There’s a rhythm to it, as your fingers dance over multiple toolbars, plucking coal plants and power poles out of thin-air. It doesn’t take long before building becomes second nature, and you can summon entire industrial complexes like a version of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who doesn’t just sound like a wizard.
That feeling of expertise comes alongside physical familiarity with the controls, but there’s a mental layer, too. Automation games are forms of the best type of puzzle game, where the solution to every problem feels like it emerges from following your own ingenuity rather than the footsteps of a developer. There’s no obligation to set your factories up in any particular way, though you’ll probably feel compelled to avoid being wasteful. Optimal play, if you care about such a thing, is all about figuring out the chain of buildings that will most efficiently turn X into Y, which sounds terribly dull and sort of is. There are points where Satisfactory encourages you to sit down and literally solve a maths problem. The real magic is that it makes you want to.
Progress feels smoother than a greased eel. Unlocking new technologies means unlocking more complicated engineering challenges, which teeter on the edge of being overwhelming but always leave one foot grounded in principles you already understand. You’re often integrating old solutions with new materials, or slotting tried and tested configurations into factories that dwarf your old ones. It’s like having a bunch of modules in your head, ready and waiting to be implemented thanks to the way the game’s overarching structure loops out and back to incorporate expertise you’ve already gained. You’ll find yourself automatically embracing an engineering mindset, where you instinctively break tasks down into problems you’ve already solved. Nothing is more conducive to flow states.
Pleasingly, Satisfactory is much less fussy about building placement than its granddaddy, Factorio, where every conveyer belt must be placed with care and precision. Here, you can embrace three-dimensional freedom, and if you don’t care about keeping things orderly it takes mere seconds to lay down all the belts you need. Later on, when your factory spans hundreds of metres, there’s joy to be had in weaving a belt through its guts, like a shark hunting down the right input slot amidst a sea of metal. If you do care about neatness, you’re covered too – every building can be easily rotated and placed on a grid, with markings that show when everything is lined up just right. You can bask in laissez-faire spaghetti messes or meticulous right-angled paradises: the choice is yours.
If you need a break from building, you can always go exploring. Satisfactory’s map is huge, varied, and an achievement in its own right. There are jungle canyons, undulating deserts, caves, islands, forests and lakes. Everywhere has its own identity, ready for you to write over it with concrete and metal – though you’re not just exploring for larks. There are exotic resources to find, which you can use to make gadgets like super fast robo-legs or a tool that lets you grapple about on your power lines. The place is littered with slugs, too. Stick those bad boys into any machine and you can boost its output, though you’ll then need to feed it more energy and resources. Tangible rewards for exploring a hand-crafted map provides the last piece of the puzzle, grounding Satisfactory in a place that feels far more real than any algorithmically generated map.
At their core, most games are about tricking you into feeling accomplished. RPGs let you turn nobodies into heroes, strategy games let you turn nations into empires, and shooters let you master 360 no-scopes. Satisfaction always emerges from a sense of progress, and Satisfactory excels at making that progress tangible. Every drop of energy you pour in becomes reflected in your ever more industrial surroundings, reified into metal and smoke. I’ve started afresh five times now, and during each run there comes a point where I’m struck by just how much land I’ve taken over – at just how much planet is now yoked to my whim. Talk about a power fantasy.
Satisfactory is out now on PC.