Soulmask First Impressions: Welcome to the Jungle

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Soulmask

By: Jason Siu

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7 min read

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Soulmask is yet another crafting survival game with a twist

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Over the years, the crafting survival genre has become one of our favorites to play together as a group. Through our adventures in games like 7 Days to Die, ARK: Survival Evolved, Conan Exiles, The Forest, Green Hell, Night of the Dead, Palworld, Raft, Rust, Sons of the Forest, V Rising, Valheim, Volcanoids, and more, we’ve come to figure out what roles we enjoy playing and who likes to do what. Collectively, we’ve spent thousands of hours checking out games in the genre, and look forward to spending thousands more. While there’s been a running joke on Early Access crafting survival games, and how few of them ever become feature-complete, there’s just something oddly charming about how janky some of these games are.

Soulmask is one of the latest entries in the segment, and it doesn’t take long to experience that crafting survival jankiness I just mentioned. From clunky hitboxes while harvesting trees and rocks to combat that doesn’t have much feedback, it’s very obvious Soulmask is an Early Access game. But honestly, that doesn’t mean much when it comes to crafting survival games since many of them feel and play very similarly. Soulmask, however, looks much better and in some environments, the lighting is really nicely done. The game reminded me a lot of Conan Exiles, especially when it first launched in 2018. It may seem like it’s not a great thing for Soulmask that I’m comparing it to a game that launched six years ago, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Conan Exiles is actually one of the better crafting survival games that have been released in the last decade, and I believe many of Soulmask’s issues can be addressed.

Soulmask first impressions gallery, FullCleared

If you’ve played any crafting survival game in the last five years, the start of Soulmask will be very familiar. You’ll hit some trees, hit some rocks, and craft some beginner gear. A long list of quests in the upper-left corner will guide you on your way as you progress the tech tree and unlock new buildings, equipment, weapons, and more. What’s supposed to set Soulmask apart from the crowd is the mask mechanic in the game. While you do create a player character, the mask allows you to take control and possess the body of any NPC you encounter in the world (once you “capture” them). There are different masks to discover as you progress through the game, each unlocking unique abilities.

The use of the mask aligns with the other interesting mechanic in the game, which is recruiting tribesmen to handle your crafting and gathering tasks. Many of the NPCs you encounter and recruit will have higher proficiency caps than your player character, making them more adept at gathering and crafting. Others will be better at fighting, so you may want to assume control of them when you’re out hunting. It does make things a little weird for those who want to heavily invest in their player character, especially when it comes to gaining XP from crafting. If you’re like me and mainly care about your own character, you’ll want to craft everything yourself to level up your character. The problem is, the game is designed to have those jobs handled by an NPC—so on default server settings, it’s all painfully slow. In fact, I found a lot of aspects in the game to be slower than it needed to be. Converting an NPC, for example, can take quite a while, and if you decide to bring them back to base first, the encumbrance penalty means you’re walking very slowly.

Soulmask first impressions gallery, FullCleared

Unfortunately, these issues made the game feel much more tedious than it had to be. A lot of this can probably be fixed by customizing server settings, but that may not be an option for those who play on a public server. Throughout our initial 20 hours, we constantly felt like we were missing something because of how long it took to do certain tasks. What was more interesting is that the game has some very nice quality-of-life features, but it lacks some common ideas found in other games within the genre. For example, we loved the fact that you can assign a material type to the storage chests, and easily deposit all the items of that type into the chest. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I’ve spent at least 100 hours of my lifetime sorting materials throughout all of our playthroughs in various crafting survival games.

But while that’s great, the game doesn’t allow you to craft from chests, and with how many materials it takes for some of these items, that’s a real pain. The amount of back-and-forth running from crafting station to storage chest to grab what you need just added to the tedium. The game could really benefit from allowing you to pin a recipe so you know exactly what you need to craft something. Also, repairing items is one of the most unintuitive processes we’ve ever encountered. You have to remove the item from your toolbar and place it into the crafting station’s inventory along with all the materials needed to repair the item. Only then can you start the repair from the crafting station’s inventory. It’s very strange how some parts of the game are really convenient, while others are out-of-the-way annoying.

Soulmask first impressions gallery, FullCleared

The one aspect I enjoy the most with crafting survival games is base building. Soulmask is in the better half of the games we’ve played, with foundations allowing you to really set up a nice, flat base anywhere you want. The biggest gripe I have is the building restriction area, which is set by the bonfire that you need to place down and maintain; otherwise, your base will degrade. The space is decent, but limitations like this never feel great. I know the mechanic is in place for public servers to limit the amount of space someone can occupy, and for now, it’s probably the best option developers have. There’s a good amount of variety in building, and you can just replace panels with upgraded versions instead of having to tear everything down. You also have the ability to relocate anything you place, but there is a limit to how far you can relocate it. Overall, the base building in Soulmask is fine; it just doesn’t really offer anything unique to the genre. You can, however, create almost a little town that comes to life with all the NPCs bustling about farming and crafting.

If it weren’t for Palworld, Soulmask’s take on recruiting NPCs and putting them to work would be a great selling point. The AI is surprisingly competent, and the system to set up rules on what NPCs do is quite robust. It reminds me a lot of the gambit system in Final Fantasy XII, although things can get confusing if you don’t go through and rename every NPC and structure you place. This is even worse if you’re playing with friends and each of you is managing your own clan of tribesmen and structures.

Soulmask first impressions gallery, FullCleared

In terms of progression, Soulmask borrows a lot from Valheim. You’ll have to gather materials to summon a boss, and upon defeating the boss, you’ll unlock new abilities. The map is sizable, and you will spend a lot of time traversing the environment, which can get a bit annoying with all the various terrains. Fortunately, the game does have mounts, which not only speeds up travel but also serves as additional storage. Again, it takes more time than it should to watch a baby alpaca grow into an adult so you can use it as a mount. At least it humorously poops from time to time, and you can use it as fertilizer for your farms.

Combat as a whole is clunky and janky. There is very little feedback when attacking, and I found using a bow almost pointless beyond the first shot because the enemy AI accurately dodges when you fire. Each weapon has unique skills, similar to V Rising’s system, so it caters to a variety of playstyles. The game even tries to invoke a bit of Soulslike by emphasizing dodging mechanics in boss fights. Like the building system, combat isn’t so detrimental that it ruins the game, but it’s also not engaging enough to be worthy of praise.

Soulmask first impressions gallery, FullCleared

Overall, Soulmask has a lot of promise, but it needs to streamline many of the tedious chores in the game. There’s no reason to have to wait more than 30 seconds to convert an NPC to your tribe. While I like the idea of switching to various NPCs, the game needs to put more weight into building your player character. At a certain point, it feels like your player character is worthless, and you’re better off jumping from NPC to NPC based on the task at hand. Maybe that’s the point of the game’s design, but then psychologically, we shouldn’t be customizing or naming a player character. When players are given the ability to create a character, they automatically assume that will eventually be the most powerful character in the game. Sure, you can rename any of the NPCs you find in the wild and assume control of them, but it’s just not the same as the character you created. There’s also the worry that you’ll lose them permanently until a certain point in the game when you unlock technology to respawn them.

I hope developer CampFire Studio continues to support Soulmask in the coming months and years. The community of players within the crafting survival genre is very passionate and has a lot of good feedback to provide, which is more than I can say about other genres. The foundation is there for a great game, but as it is, it can feel boring and tedious. Some of the interesting concepts that are poorly executed can be fixed. I have little hope for the janky combat, though; for whatever reason, these games just can’t get that working right.

Soulmask entered Early Access on May 30, 2024 on PC. These first impressions are based on a retail code provided by Renaissance PR on PC. While FullCleared does have affiliate partnerships, they do not influence our editorial content. We may, however, earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.

Soulmask First Impressions Gallery

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With over 20 years of online publishing experience, Jason Siu is currently the Content Director at VerticalScope and used to spend most of his time writing about cars. His work can be seen on websites such as AutoGuide, EV Pulse, FlatSixes, Tire Authority, and more. As the former co-founder of Tunerzine.com and West Coast Editor of Modified Magazine, he has also authored two books for CarTech Books. In his spare time, he founded FullCleared to indulge in his passion for writing about games. Although Jason is a variety gamer, he generally prefers RPGs.

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