Picture this: a universe of connected worlds, each one its own unique sandbox shaped by the player population and their combined imaginations. Everything, from the ownership of land, down to the game’s economy is governed by you, whether riding solo or part of a bigger citizen collective.
It’s an exciting premise, offering a level of agency you simply don’t get in most games. Boundless gives players the opportunity to have a lasting impact on the world they inhabit. With time, dedication, and through communicating with others, you can effectively build a virtual empire, a legacy.
Developer Wonderstruck manages to tap into this burgeoning desire many gamers now have, to not only live an online world but have an active hand in shaping it. That was once the initial draw of MMOs such as Everquest and World of Warcraft, but Minecraft would end up being the catalyst, birthing a second wave of online sandboxes in which players could interact through building and creating together instead of being limited to prefab PvP/PvE activities.
The comparisons to Minecraft run deep throughout Boundless. Needless to say, if you’re not a fan of Mojang’s mega hit, then this isn’t a game for you.
After creating your bizarre humanoid avatar, you enter a dimly lit chamber, a huge globe suspended in mid-air. This is one of the many game worlds in Boundless, all of which are shared between PC and PS4 players, and you are free to choose anywhere as your starting point. Within seconds you are beamed down to the surface, a totem in-hand and an entire sandbox stretching before you. Then begins the busywork fans of the genre will be intimately familiar with.
The game’s tutorial does a decent job of breaking you in, teaching you how to collect resources and craft them into the various tools and building blocks needed to construct a campfire. This is essentially your base of operations: a tiny plot of land that remains under your control as long as you can fuel that central beacon.
The busywork continues. Boundless will have you stockpiling stone, wood, metal, and other resources that can be funnelled into crafting more advanced recipes. As in most open-world survival games, it’s incredibly time intensive and those with a short attention span will struggle to stay engaged. Boundless relies on you wanting to work through its seemingly endless list of chores which, for some, simply isn’t fun.
It didn’t take long before I abandoned my makeshift freehold, setting out across the world in search of others. On my way to one of the largest settlements I was able to see what my fellow inhabitants had been able to build in the short time since Boundless launched, from small comely homes to huge, fortress-like constructs. Of course, there were vast swathes of unclaimed land, though this had also been impacted by players in some way. Constructing these miniature kingdoms meant felling entire forests and digging massive tunnels beneath the surface. Thankfully, any part of the world not within a beacon gradually regenerates over time, ensuring that there are resources for everyone.
I soon came across a walled town where what was once an impossible to traverse valley had been bridged by the owner of this land. This impressive, decorated construct lead to a plaza surrounded by smaller buildings, but as cool and inventive as this all was, it was completely empty.
That’s the big rub with Boundless or any game promising player-run worlds. Those players aren’t always going to be online and even if they are, they aren’t going to being roleplaying as NPCs as you explore their curated corner of this world. That player-driven economy the game touts also wears pretty thin. It amounts to someone building a shop within their beacon, tossing in some items, then setting a price, hoping someone will make the effort to travel all the way over just to peruse their goods.
To that effect, Boundless isn’t a game built for solo players. Unless you absolutely love gathering/crafting cycle in isolation, the only way you can wring some true enjoyment from Boundless is to be part of a pre-existing community. Otherwise you’ll feel as though you’re aimlessly wandering. While there are some end goals, such as fighting huge boss-like monsters, reaching these activities requires a level of organisation and zeal I just wasn’t willing to commit.
It’s an interesting experiment and one that is sure to draw a niche of gamers who’ll no doubt go on to create wonders within their own shared worlds. However, for those who aren’t willing to put in the labour and treat Boundless like a second job, it’s clear that there’s little pay-off. There’s also that lingering thought that, if left unattended, your beacon will one day expire and that empire you spent so much time building will be stripped down by other players about to embark on that same journey. The cycle begins anew.