As the name suggests, Factorio is a factory-building simulator which is all at once simple, difficult and highly addictive. It also possesses what is quite possibly the simplest objective in all of gaming: build a rocket. Easy, right? Wrong. You play as an engineer whose rocket is destroyed after crash-landing on an alien planet. To escape, you need to mine resources from the ground and the local environment. You’ll need this in order to build a new rocket. Your aim is to learn enough through research to be able to automate the construction for a rocket ship. Which you then use to blast off back into space. (You also need to fend off aliens who want to destroy both you and your factory.) Welcome to our Factorio review!
Your engineer is armed with a pickaxe at first. It is used to chip away at resources in the ground and the local environment to extract building materials. Typically iron ore, copper ore, stone, wood and coal. You then use those materials to build machinery and devices to convert them into different materials. If you were to extract some stone, iron ore and coal, you would use it to build a furnace. You can fuel it with the coal and add the iron ore to smelt into iron plates. Those iron plates could then be used to make iron gear wheels. And these wheels could then be used to make mining drills. These are then used to extract more materials in order to perform the cycle yet again in order to develop bigger and better things. Add in some feeder arms and conveyor belts and congratulations – you have achieved automation!
Despite sounding tedious, the process actually wasn’t – it was invigorating! Automation is what Factorio is all about and is what keeps it running like a well-oiled machine (pun fully intended). The ways in which you can extract and use materials are endless. You have full creative control in this open-ended simulator and the only thing stopping you is your own imagination.
Enter automation / “Getting it”
As you may be aware by now, the beauty of – and satisfaction within – Factorio lies in automation. If you are new to Factorio, then you will fail without working your way through the tutorials first. Factorio is far too complex to be able to simply “get it” through trial and error. The five tutorials prepare you for five different areas of the game. The tutorials are structured very well indeed and are not simple hand-holding tasks.
For context, the fourth tutorial took me almost two hours to complete and that wasn’t even my first attempt. My first attempt – which I’d spent over two hours on – went so badly that I decided to call it quits and start it all over again. I didn’t start again because I had to. I started again because I really wanted to and because I wanted to get it right. This is where Factorio shines. It is highly addictive. Several players have clocked up close to 10,000 hours and that’s not a typo. I really do mean ten thousand hours.
After you have spent what feels like hours mining materials with your pickaxe in order to construct machines, you then need to find materials to fuel them with. You then spend even more time mining fuel and materials to feed into those machines. At which point you will undoubtedly have had enough and ask yourself if there is a better way. There is: enter automation. You will develop assembly lines, consisting of numerous mining drills, raw materials and machines. They will convert resources into the components that you require for further development. Once set up, you can simply step back and focus on something else. Safe in the knowledge that your once-tedious task is now being taken care of automatically in the background!
But doesn’t it get boring?
Nope. If the sole process in Factorio was extract-convert-build and nothing more, then it would indeed get boring. To keep things interesting, however, Factorio makes use of the alien landscape that your engineer inhabits, specifically the locals. Please welcome your trusty foes, the aliens! Aliens come in several forms: biters, spitters and worms, the former of which are the most common.
Biters are attracted by pollution. They begin to make themselves known the more you progress with your build. They are fast-moving and wreak utter havoc on both your engineer and your factory if they aren’t dealt with efficiently. You will need to have defences in place in the form of walls, turrets, guns or all of the above. If you aren’t prepared for an attack and manage to survive, then be prepared to do a lot of rebuilding. Biters cause loads of damage to your machinery in a really short space of time!
Whilst you can kill them as and when they attack using one of several types of guns – or simply by clubbing them when you run out of bullets (which you will) – the best way to eliminate them is to take out their nest(s) as this is where they spawn from. If, however, you would rather try to keep them out and let the turrets deal with them, then you can absolutely build a wall – or several walls – around everything and strategically place some turrets near those walls to take out any foes efficiently and automatically. Walls, however, aren’t impenetrable and like absolutely everything else that you build, they do incur damage. Fear not, however, because you can simply build yourself a generic repair tool (yes, seriously) and then use it to spot-repair any damage caused.
Beauty of Automation
If seeing your hard work get torn down in a matter of seconds isn’t something you thoroughly enjoy watching, then you don’t have to. Before starting your game, you can simply generate a world with peaceful biters – or even remove them altogether – leaving you to focus purely on the beauty of automation.
At the root of everything in Factorio lies construction. Aside from the basics, the way in which you construct more complex items is to research them first, via a progress tree (known as a research tree in-game). For example, researching “Electric energy distribution 1” unlocks medium and big electric poles, but you must first have researched “Automation”, “Electronics”, “Logistic science pack” and “Steel processing” to get there.
In order to actually carry out the research, you must build labs and fuel them with science packs, which are flasks of different-colored liquid, with each color representing a different discipline. Labs consume science packs at different rates, depending on both the science pack and what is being researched. The best way to go about creating these packs is by automating their production. You do this by using a combination of conveyor belts to carry components to an assembler where inserters (feeder arms) then put the components into the assemblers. Once creation is automated, the science packs can then be fed into the labs automatically by way of more conveyor belts and inserters. In addition to that, the more labs you create and supply with science packs, the quicker your research topics will be completed.
Building Things / Complexity
Constructing items is beautifully easy – you select an item from your inventory, decide where to place it, rotate it to face the desired output direction (if applicable) and place it down. So long as you have the required components, then you can build things. If you don’t have the required components, then you are required to source them either from the environment or via manufacturing them yourself from other components.
To make things easier, if you make a mistake then you can simply right-click on the item to pick it up again. What’s important to highlight here is that this doesn’t delete the item – it is simply put back into your inventory for later, which means that you don’t have to build it again from scratch. If you had to rebuild items anew every time, especially complex ones, then it would quickly become tedious. This method does the opposite – it enables you to make mistakes without punishment and it is through making mistakes that you learn how to play Factorio better than if you were to merely read and/or watch tutorials.
There is also a plethora of mods available for Factorio that do all manner of weird and wonderful things – such as Quality of Life (QOL) improvements – and all with highly active communities behind them. For the purpose of this review, however, I played the vanilla version (no mods).
Meant to be played more than once
Factorio isn’t a game that was developed to be played only once. Rather, it is a game that worms its way into your mind so thoroughly that you find yourself playing it almost every time you decide to sit down and play a game. I found that when I wasn’t playing Factorio, I was actually thinking of Factorio and at one point, I even admit that I actually even dreamt about it! The reason it is so alluring is that people who play Factorio aren’t technically playing a game – they are working on projects.
There is always something that can be improved or something that appears to be fine at first which then succumbs to an unexpected failure after a thousand iterations that you would have never known about until it happens. There is always research to carry out, always better ways to transport your resources and always ways to make things more efficient overall. It’s the freedom to perform trial and error to see what method works best that is so enticing.
Puffs of steam
If you were to close your eyes and just listen to the background sounds of Factorio, you would genuinely believe that you were listening to a living, breathing factory. Everything sounds as it should, from puffs of steam from a steam engine to the pounding of a steel drill into the ground, to bullets blasting out of your turrets and thwacking into biters.
Visually, Factorio achieves something quite rare: pixelated top-down 2D graphics which are simultaneously simple yet incredibly detailed. If you zoom in closely and really look at any of the machines that you have built, then you will see individual components within those machines all working together. It really is this simple-yet-detailed theme that makes Factorio utterly fascinating to observe because it is applied everywhere throughout the world.
Attention to detail
The attention to detail doesn’t stop merely in the aesthetics of your environment – it spreads into the way in which the environment acts and behaves. The best example of this lies in the local forest surrounding your factory. After a time, the trees surrounding your factory begin to wither and die due to the vast amounts of pollution they are exposed to from the output of your factory.
The user interface is simultaneously vast and complex yet clear. Almost everything is represented as a button with an informative icon. The number of buttons and keyboard shortcuts to remember is simply daunting and certainly takes some getting used to. However, there is a convenient “quickbar” at the bottom of your screen that allows you to add rows upon rows of items to it for quick access. This saves you from entering the inventory and then looking for recipes for items across several pages. Instead, you can simply click the one you want on the quickbar, and assuming that you have the required components to build it, you are good to go.
Having played Factorio for around 30 hours, I have barely scratched the surface as there is so much more to learn and do. Factorio is highly addictive. Never have I played a game that has gripped me so quickly. From the moment I built (then automated) my first furnace to manufacture iron plates, I was keen – perhaps even desperate – to immediately build more things. Factorio isn’t a puzzler as such, but rather a tool which allows you to develop your own puzzles without even realizing it.
A common problem I encountered was running out of room for conveyor belts to carry materials to various areas of my factory, but this wasn’t a bad thing. It merely highlighted that the problem arose from my own lack of forward planning and this is what makes Factorio so addictive and engrossing. It forces you to step back and think about things because if something does go wrong, it will be your fault and nobody else’s. The possibilities are endless in this truly mesmerizing title and despite the steep learning curve, it truly is a masterpiece. That was it for our Factorio review.
- “Getting it” feels sublime
- Automating your first process is immensely rewarding
- Utterly engrossing
- High level of customisable game settings
- It takes over your life
- Very steep learning curve
- It takes over your life
Grade: 9 out of 10
Factorio is currently available through Boosteroid and GeForce Now. This review was made by Mus from PapaBear Gaming. You can check out his channel right here. You can follow him on Twitter by going here. That was it for our Factorio review.