After getting my initial set of quests out of the way and recruiting an NPC partner (some quest-givers can be recruited into a posse and equipped as you see fit), I wanted to head out and see what I could accomplish on my own, so I picked a random direction as being good as any to start in. As I walked along I also noticed another of those small furry things (called Lepus Hares by the survivors I spoke to) actively chasing one of the cowardly dinosaur-bugs I'd killed earlier -- which made me wonder how deep the ecology simulation is, and if you can farm plants or animals (and after checking the Planet Explorers FB page posts, it seems farming IS a thing). In the distance under one of the cliffs I also spotted a pair of giant black spider-crabs, which I avoided (only temporarily, as it turns out).
Apparently the scary things come out at night on Maria -- after walking around aimlessly a bit and being chased down by a giant bird (and then saved by some poison-spitting animals that ganged up on it when I accidentally led it into their herd) a black spider crab eventually ran up and 2-shot me (I didn't manage to get a picture before it murdered both my sidekick and myself). Fighting is kind of a pain because targeting is based on physically lining yourself up (in the case of the bow or gun) so if you're not straight on you will miss since hitboxes are pretty small for objects and there is no targeting lock or other indication that your crosshair is aimed at the proper place. The game's physics are also floaty in general, and the camera is not locked to your character so you have to aim it separately if you want to turn. I assume most of these nuisances are Alpha issues, and I really hope the steering/targeting stuff is improved for release because there is definitely some potential here. But instead of continuing to deal with story mode survival I decided to move on and check out the game's free-build options.
When starting a free-build map you can type in a seed (any combination of letters or numbers) to generate a map, as well as select the climate and biome. Although map generation is still obviously unfinished at this stage, there is a nice variety of terrain and flora in the different environments from red rock cliffs to forests and plains. You get unlimited numbers of every material and object and you can freely import user-created objects as well. Since vehicles and weapons are the only things you can create right now and the world generation is incomplete, there is only limited appeal to exploring very far.
Players can design weapons and flying/ground vehicles (the option to create buildings was in an earlier alpha build so I assume that is planned for the future as well). There is also the ability to import custom textures and decals as decoration. Every material you choose affects the various statistics of the object you're making -- for example, building a helicopter with a light-weight wood frame via a heavy metal one affects lift and other aspects of handling. The creation tools seem very robust, but perhaps not the most user-friendly -- steering vehicles also feels floaty and unresponsive, and it's hard to tell how much of it is from crafting flaws vs just the game's own control issues.
Parking an aircraft is tricky
There are various gameplay features in Planet Explorers that need more fleshing out in order to be more enjoyable, but as the projected release date is late-2014 there is time for things to be polished up. As a Minecraft player whose main draw to that game is the unlimited exploration and building, what is available so far in Planet Explorers is not really enough for me. I may check it out again in a few months if/when a beta version is released -- however, there is also the specter of EQNext likely giving this game some stiff competition.
Planet Explorers will be available via Steam Early Access at the end of February, with a full release by the end of the year.