Fortnite may feel like it’s on course for world domination right now, but never underestimate the entrenched cultural cache of Minecraft. Even with battle royale mania at its most fervent, the survival crafting sandbox has steadily held its position as the most popular game on YouTube this year, and let’s not forget that it was responsible for singlehandedly establishing a new genre in the medium, the voxel game, following its original 2009 release.
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While most of these voxel titles can be tossed into the bargain bin, Boundless is one which refuses to merely follow the trail left by Mojang’s formative masterpiece. Instead, developer Wonderstruck Games has asked where the genre can go from a starting point as ambitious as Minecraft’s procedurally generated infinity, and its answer is to more powerfully manifest that sense of limitless freedom by stealing liberally from the playbooks of No Man’s Sky, Everquest, and even Portal.
To summarise it as simply (and reductively) as possible, Boundless lets players transport across its solar system of procedural planets seamlessly via mystical portals; surviving, crafting, and building on each one, or joining up with other players to collaborate, colonise, and trade together.
It’s as simple or as grandiose a game as you’d like it to be. If you want to live off the land as a humble, lonesome nomad without ever leaving your first planet, you can do that. Alternatively, if you want to become an intergalactic diplomat of the online community, there’s equally viable options to achieve that goal too. Boundless can be a sequestered, serene survival crafting experience, or a bustling, operatic MMORPG, and the way the game respects your decision to play however you want is integral to its charm.
And charm, Boundless has in abundance. Aside from the impressive lighting, fanciful character models, and detailed voxel design, the game’s intergalactic scope endows its visuals with a strong sense of contextual magnificence. When the night sky’s array of planets and stars reflect across the water of a nearby lake, or the local fauna bristles against your character’s legs, you’ll discover that there is still room for beauty in this 3D pixel aesthetic after all, despite years of cheap Minecraft knock offs suggesting the contrary.
Better yet, since its official release on PS4 and PC in September (following several years in Early Access on the latter), Boundless now accommodates full cross-play between players on both platforms, which can only be good news for the sustainability of its community-run governments, economies, and biomes. Launch is just a starting point for Wonderstruck, however. The studio has plans to implement a number of transformative features into Boundless over the next few years, including Guilds, raid-like Titan boss fights, and even the ability to rent your own private planet.
It’s good that Wonderstruck is committed to a post-launch plan, too, as Boundless could definitely use some work on the technical side of things. Combat, like the biodiversity of your prey, is pleasantly varied, with the ability to dual wield different weapons a particular highlight, but it’s also wildly inconsistent depending on who you’re fighting, and what you’re fighting with.
I also experienced weird audio cut-out issues and texture pop-in delays when playing on PS4, though these problems appear to be less pervasive on the PC version. And while I personally never felt like my character’s progression was ever impeded by the forces that be, it’s hard to ignore the community’s expressed grievances with Boundless’ microtransactions, which offer instant access to valuable in-game resources that otherwise take some time to accrue.
At least there’s no subscription fee, because, make no mistake, Boundless is as wide, high, and deep an experience as you’d expect from an MMO-Voxel cross-breed, though its child-friendly design leaves it thankfully free of the estorica found in more intrepid titles of both genres.
Indeed, for a game that semi-successfully tries to cram so much into one experience, Boundless can be a strangely comforting and therapeutic source of escapism, delivering the triple satisfactions of building, community, and intergalactic tourism in one package. That ambitious, imperfect miscellany won’t be for everyone, but it does permit giving Boundless a chance, even during this busiest of busy seasons in the gaming calendar.