Lightyear Frontier Preview: Old MechDonald Had a Farm

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A promo screenshot for Lightyear Frontier.

Nowadays, it seems as though for the first time since the cowboys roamed the plains of the old west, farming is finally cool again, with the likes of Stardew Valley and the Farming Simulator series both having cultivated strong cult followings by offering agricultural amusement to players.

Lightyear Frontier, an upcoming title from Swedish studio Frame Break which was shown off during Sunday’s Xbox and Bethesda Showcase and is set to arrive in Spring 2023, doesn’t exactly mimic the successful formulae of either of these games, though based on what I’ve seen, that isn’t a bad thing.

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Instead, with this title, the small Scandinavian developer purportedly seeks to break the established moulds of genre and philosophy in modern game design in order to create something truly unique. The question is, can Lightyear Frontier do that while still appealing to players?

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Thank God I’m a (Space) Country Boy

First of all, let’s begin by discussing how said players will end up in the interstellar farming business, because yes, that’s what Lightyear Frontier is all about. Sadly, the experience of being raised from birth by extraterrestrial hayseeds will have to wait for another game. Your journey in Lightyear Frontier will begin with a high-speed collision between your ship and one of the game’s many planets, depositing you on the surface with what is most likely a satisfying clank.

From here your journey to becoming an agrarian ace begins, first by finding the remains of your crashed ship, which will serve as your home base in the beginning, that is, until you can build yourself a customizable farmhouse that’s as big as a barn. Regardless of its temporary nature, this abode will allow you to start engaging with the crafting mechanics which are central to its farming experience. Whether it’s using the research station to create blueprints that’ll inform your forays into construction and mech upgrades that can be applied in the home’s garage, or just having a kip when day turns to night, having a hub right off the bat seems like it’ll be important to your Lightyear Frontier experience.

A promo screenshot for Lightyear Frontier showing an alien creature.
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Even if you don’t fancy getting deep into crafting right away, it’ll give you a place from which to venture out into the world and explore, as well as return to once you’ve had your daily fill of seeing what you can find. That said, it seems as though you won’t want to be spending too much time indoors, as exploring the planet you’ve been marooned on is key to finding the resources you’ll need to kick off a successful habitation. From plants to materials and even animals, a lot of what you encounter while out gallivanting will be usable in the establishment of your farm and the protection of it from environmental hazards. Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting lost in the more alien areas of the open-world space and being unable to find your way back to base, as a satellite AI named Piper and a drone that’ll let you get an aerial look at things will both aid you in getting home.

Take Me Home, Alien Biomes

Home is where the aspect of the game that arguably sticks out the most in the trailers, the mech, really looks to come into its own. Yup, that’s the name for the looming robotic exoskeleton which’ll serve as your primary means of doing all of the things every good farmer must in order to cultivate a healthy harvest. Whether it’s firing seeds into the soil using the seed shooter, watering with the irrigation hose, collecting yields via the very fun-looking vacuum harvester or using any of the other tools that can be attached to its arms, the mech looks to be the glue that holds together Lightyear Frontier’s gameplay. It’s also highly customisable, with upgrades changing the way it moves via new “transform modes” and plant-based paints providing the means to alter its appearance to suit your tastes.

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A promo screenshot for Lightyear Frontier showing the mech.
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The latter option links to another key tenet of Lightyear Frontier, that being its environmentally-friendly philosophy. According to its developers, the game is designed to be a “tribute to nature”, creating an atmosphere of green-fingered bliss as you traverse beautiful biomes while listening to a cosmic country soundtrack, which I assume means Johnny Cash with added synth. Now, many may see this as being similar to Stardew Valley, especially given that both games ensure that players can’t die in the traditional sense, instead dishing out setbacks that fine the unfortunate player a certain amount of a particular resource. However, there is one area that might help mute these comparisons, if it’s done right.

Stories By a Campfire in the Stars

This area is Lightyear Frontier’s narrative element, which will apparently be separate from the core farming gameplay and involves solving some kind of mystery connected to the strange alien ruins that you’ll find as you explore. Exact details on what this will entail are vague, but it’s arguably the biggest opportunity to differentiate Lightyear Frontier from the established farming crowd and attract to it the kind of hardcore fanbase that powers the most successful indie releases. If the mysterious promise of this possibly dungeon-based narrative can intrigue and convince players, especially those growing a little tired of Farming Simulator or Stardew, to give the game a try, its seemingly versatile gameplay, which can be tailored to suit solo adventures or up to four player co-op community building via shared resource pools, looks as though it might have enough to satisfy everyone.

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A promo screenshot for Lightyear Frontier showing the view from the mech.
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That’s a big if though, especially given Lightyear Frontier’s fairly broad scope compared to the pair of titles I’ve likened it to throughout this preview, both of which execute a very well-defined vision with aplomb. So, at this point, I’m still pretty on the fence about Lightyear Frontier. Will its mission to do something different and combine genres ensure that it becomes a would-be jack of all trades lacking the kind of strong niche it may need to gain strong momentum, or will players gravitate towards the chance to take their agricultural exploits to an interstellar level? I guess we’ll have to wait until spring 2023 to see.