ByBrittany Vincent, writer at
Brittany has been covering video games, anime and tech for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake, then fire walk with her.
Brittany Vincent

Survival sandbox games are all the rage right now, and two of the best with a sci-fi setting are and . Both games are still in Steam Early Access, but even in their incomplete state they offer hours worth of exploration, building and crafting.

However, even though Astroneer and Space Engineer are in the same genre with similar settings, they're two very different games that appeal to different individuals.

Although it's easy for someone to love both games, depending on what style of gameplay you like, you'll probably prefer one over the other. This article will help you find whether Space Engineers or Astroneer is the right sci-fi sandbox survival game for you.


System Era Softworks' Astroneer just hit Steam Early Access in December 2016, and the title concentrates on survival more than building. You play as an astronaut who has jettisoned from a damaged space station onto a lonely, foreboding and randomly generated planet.

You begin Astroneer equipped only with your escape pod, which will be the nexus of your first base, your save point, and a crucial point where you can refill your oxygen.

You must seek out the resources necessary to expand your capabilities, so you can increase your exploration range so you can get more resources and so on. Astroneer has a unique gameplay style where you explore to survive, and survive to explore, and eventually, you'll gain the tools necessary to engage in long-range expeditions.

© Lord_Red/Steam
© Lord_Red/Steam

Your primary tool in Astroneer is the ability to terraform the planet at will. You can dig deep down in subterranean caves, or build a mountain. However, this ability takes power, which you'll need to either find in the form of yellow crystals, or generate and store via solar power, wind power, or fossil fuels.

Eventually, you'll gather enough resources to build a rover, which is crucial for long-term, long-range expeditions, and a shuttle. The shuttle can take you to new landing sites, or other planets if you have the fuel. As of right now, when you gain the ability to use the shuttle, the game sort of stalls out, but since Astroneer is still in Steam Early Access, there are new things being added to the game regularly.

Space Engineers

Space Engineers by Keen Software House has been around quite a while longer than Astroneer, and after three years in alpha finally made it into beta on Steam Early Access in December. While a survival mode is an option in Space Engineers, and a robust one at that, the emphasis here is on building bases, spacecraft, and space stations.

Your imagination is the limit here, and Steam Workshop support allows you to access wonderful creations from other people. There are also a plethora of mods that add improved or new functionality to the game that are available in Steam Workshop.

In Space Engineers, you can either start with pre-built settings or an undeveloped area of space. You can choose from either survival mode, where you must generate power, oxygen, and refine raw materials to finish blocks or the creative mode where you have no resource limitations and can spawn new blocks at will.

© A SP Ian/Steam
© A SP Ian/Steam

The nuances of the building system are extraordinary, and each ship must be built in a logical and realistic way. You can't just slap thrusters and weapons on anywhere you want and expect them to work. Instead, you must route fuel to the engines from fuel tanks, route power to systems that require it and provide ammo storage for weapons.

All these aspects add up to make one of the best sci-fi sandbox experiences on the market right now. It's easy to lose hours building new spacecraft, trying out ships you've downloaded from Steam Workshop, or just trying to drill through a massive asteroid.

Which one is right for me?

Space Engineers and Astroneer are both fantastic games, but if you have to pick one of them, it really comes down to what you're looking for in a game. If you're more into survival aspects of a sandbox game Astroneer is for you. The resource limitations are much more stringent in Astroneer, and your concentration for much of the game is simply getting the things you need to survive.

If you're more into building spacecraft and bases and want a survival element to it, Space Engineers is the game for you. The myriad of systems, mods, and available fan content make Space Engineers a wonderland for anyone who just wants to build and try a ton of awesome spacecraft.

There is also the question of polish. Space Engineers has around a three-year head start on Astroneer, and much of its content is already implemented. Astroneer is very much a pre-alpha, and unfortunately, some of that shows through a little too hard. However, there are still hours of fun to be had in Astroneer, even if it does need some polish.


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