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I have played about 5 or 6 different times in the sandbox in both worlds. The first 3 or 4 times I loved it. Such a cool atmosphere. Annoyed that I was constantly hungry or thirsty despite pounding a ton of granola, but I was OK with it because it was new and interesting. Now, after a total of about an hour and a half I find myself pretty bored at this point. Adding to my lack of desire to keep playing is a complete lack of explanation of game mechanics. Why doesn't my condition improve from 25% after 10 hours of sleep? Why does my hunger go up at double speed (2 arrows) at all times instead of one like my other status bars? Why can't I sleep for longer than a few hours without just about dying from starvation or thirst?

Seems to me the game right now is "learn the map, memorize where the good stuff is, rinse repeat". I was hoping for more fun exploration balanced with survival rather than purely babysitting status bars. Am I missing something?

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Well obviously you are falling into the same traps every new player does. And you're paying the price for it (death), much like everyone else. The mechanics aren't really explained, although for me they were pretty much intuitive.

The reason your condition didn't improve is because you went to sleep when hungry or thirsty, maybe even cold. Your condition only improves during sleep when your status bars are low, or at least not at their max. Your hunger goes up at double speed when you are either running a lot or carrying a lot of stuff, which is pretty common for new players or players of games like Fallout, where you basically run everywhere at all times and you take 5 ashtrys along simply because they are sitting there. This will not work here, you will need to take along only the barest minimum of stuff, otherwise you will be encumbered. Which in turn will raise your hunger and fatigue bars fairly quickly.

You are dying from starvation and thirst because your condition is already low and you go to sleep for many hours when your thirst or hunger are already almost maxxed. THirst will do you in fairly quickly, as will hunger if you don't tend to it. So before you go to sleep, eat something, drink a liter of water and you should do just fine. Also: don't sleep for more than 8h at a time,it won't do you any good.

At the time, there will be good stuff in similar locations, but there's always different loot in the containers, so there's always a random element. But what you are looking at is the first public alpha sandbox of this game. Not the finished story mode. So while there may not be as much things to do or discover as you'd like, you have to see that this is not nearly the finished game. And if you expected that from an early access game, then you are clearly mistaken.

I do hope though that you keep on playing and see that this game is not simply about babysitting your status bar, but gives you plenty of opportunities to explore and hunt. It may just take a while to get into it. :)

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