I wish I lived in Sandrock. It’s a place where a cat can be a celebrated member of the town guard and every street gets fully decked out for the holidays. It’s where newcomers are enthusiastically welcomed, contrary to other Western stories where folks “not from around these parts” are met with suspicion. It’s got plenty of Western staples though; a ranch managed by a salt-of-the-earth family (even if the husband is a little unhinged), a cute main street with a saloon and general store, plenty of lovely Western accents, and of course, a touch of danger. My Time at Sandrock is an excellent entry in an ever-growing list of cozy games, consistently fun while managing to stand apart from the crowd thanks to its theme of optimism grown out of hard times.
As a sequel to the post-apocalyptic RPG town sim My Time at Portia, the desert-based follow-up My Time at Sandrock is deeply familiar. Like its predecessor, you’ve come to this struggling town to assist in improving and growing it by building items and relationships. Learning to build an efficient workshop was a great joy, and I’m proud of how I can take on townie requests and build main story items with relative ease by the end of the 75 hours I’ve spent with it so far.
Along the way you’ll have to gather resources, use those resources to build specific items for main story quests, side quests, or optional commissions, and then use the money earned (combined with the increased prestige of your workshop) to invest in better equipment to make even more items. It can be a grind early on, but it’s just the calm kind of grind I’m looking for in these games. Progression is steady both in terms of new quests and new things to create, which meant I never lost interest.
Resource gathering starts with digging through scrap piles and kicking trees, eventually working up to diving into old world ruins that are generally safe apart from the occasional trap. Mining is once again a relaxing and quiet activity that has an added drop of excitement thanks to a special rat enemy that appears at random when breaking an object. If it’s slain, it’ll drop gold and other valuable rewards. I appreciate that this wrinkle kept me on my toes without interrupting the flow of mining much.
Getting wood poses a unique challenge; as a city nestled in a desert plagued with sandstorms, keeping any deep-rooted plants alive is a priority for the townsfolk. With that in mind, cutting down any trees in Sandrock’s city limits results in a fine for offenders and damages relationships with townsfolk. It’s one of several ways Sandrock makes excellent use of its desert setting. I may have accidentally forgotten this once, leaving me with a warning from a cheery but concerned member of the church. The stump of the tree I almost destroyed still stands just outside my workshop as a good reminder of my mistake.
Sandrock’s story has three main plotlines; one is about defending the town and general area from mutant lizards called Geeglers; another is about discovering how to reverse the desertification brought on by a “relic rush” that sucked the town dry of resources; and finally, a hunt for a bandit called Logan, a former child of the community who went bad after mysterious events. One of the three storylines is almost always active with maybe only few days of downtime between them, so they kept me busy. I was excited whenever a new thread began as it’s hard to guess what storyline is going to kick up next.
All three of these threads are enjoyable to pull, though I was most interested in Logan’s story as his turn to banditry befuddled many in the town. It got even more enticing as his actions against the town intensified. I love how almost everyone in the town has something new to say after a major story beat as well. As you’d imagine, most story objectives are completed by building new essential items and structures, like a new water tower, or occasionally going out and clearing out baddies from old world ruins.
Combat in Sadrock is similar to Portia’s in that it’s still a basic but serviceable hack-and-slash system that’s best in short encounters, which is what occurs most throughout Sandrock. Aiming down the sights of guns for an alternate third-person perspective is a nice addition, but doesn’t drastically improve a given fight. Dungeons in Sandrock are woefully straightforward and tend to err on the side of boring if you attempt to explore them in their entirety. Some enemies have interesting attack patterns and designs, including bosses, but with combat being so simple and my character being rather tanky, you’re only ever in any real danger if you go into an area where you’re drastically under-leveled.
Sandrock allegedly boasts tons of weapons, but aside from boring throwing rocks, I only saw stronger variants of five melee options and two different guns. Finding a meaningful puzzle element or a new weapon for every forced dungeon crawl could have made them more appealing. There’s an attempt to have side rooms with optional treasure chests, but exploring these dungeons to find every chest just doesn’t feel worth it. Chests in dungeons and around the world rarely have anything of significant value, ranging from a small handful of money to a new food recipe. The latter is nice, but I’d prefer to get a unique clothing item, a new weapon, or maybe even a complex component that I could put toward a new project instead.
In addition to the main story, there’s a constant stream of side quests born out of the needs of the Sandrock residents. Some seem to happen based on the time of year, but most come from relationship benchmarks. Sandrock’s residents are excellent, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface on a handful of their stories. Where Portia’s residents could be dull or too stereotypical, I found Sandrock’s residents to be vibrant. Plenty of residents have a mix of accents, including thick western ones that lend an air of authenticity to the Wild West setting. They lean on melodrama and iconic movie and TV references for humor, too, and it usually works well – yes, I did enjoy the mention of the knockoff Gundam show and reversals of iconic Star Wars quotes. But even so, the character writing is smart, both in being clever and going over my head when it came to some of the local researcher’s in-depth science talk.
My Time at Sandrock Screenshots
There’s an impressive number people to meet too, with more than 45 friendable characters in Sandrock, and even more new townsfolk moving in as the story progresses. Occasional NPCs come through town for story beats as well and aren’t necessarily available for friendship activities like gifting, but they add to the feel of Sandrock as a growing town worthy of people just passing through. Some of my favorite characters included a rancher named Cooper who has a knack for highly detailed rants that usually wind around the bend to end in an odd place. If you listen to his rants rather than choosing an option to fall asleep and skip them, you can even gain minor stat buffs, which was a funny surprise. Not every character is written to be friendly or chatty, though. Another one of my favorites, the doctor Fang, hardly talks at all and instead lets his raven X speak for him. He doesn’t even accept gifts until you’re able to convince him otherwise through persistence and eventual side quests.
The side quests in question are almost always about a character’s background or ambitions, or both, and there wasn’t a single one I felt was a waste of time. Completing some side quests is the only way to get access to new minigames and activities in Sandrock. Doing these extra tasks earns relationship points with the involved parties, which in turn leads to new dialogue lines, bonuses like the occasional gift or shop discounts, and the potential chance for romance. There are a whopping 21 romanceable characters in Sandrock and I’ll admit it was hard to choose one person to woo. Getting closer to a character isn’t only an opportunity to get an extra hand at your workshop in the future, but also leads to special relationship quests. Though it can take a bit of time to build up to friendship through gifting, daily chats, and completing quests or commissions, Sandrock does a stellar job with this system and relationship progress feels much faster than Portia’s.
Aside from the obvious difference of featuring new characters, another major change from Portia to Sandrock is how the desert setting plays into the town’s economy and other challenges. I love how water is a focal point of not only the story but also the gameplay itself. Water is essential for running your workshop – if the water tank is empty, the machines don’t work. Water can actually be crafted by gathering dew from shrubbery or using a dew collector, or barrels of water can purchased from Sandrock directly. However, if something like, say, the town bridge blows up resulting in no water being imported, water prices rise significantly.
Though I didn’t struggle too much with the water economy, I appreciated the extra challenge it brought when considering how I wanted to expand my workshop. For instance, when I was first introduced to farming, my other workshop machines were forced to a halt as I had to use all my stored water for the plants. Since then, I’ve been able to manage the water needs of plants and machines much better. Seasons impact water usage too, with the cool days of winter requiring significantly less water for your machines. There’s even the occasional sandstorm that alters the residents’ schedules, which also causes completed workshop items to blow away and a buildup of sand on machines that needs to be cleaned in order for them to work efficiently.
In addition to the new setting, Sandrock has a great number of quality-of-life improvements, including better menus, icons above creatures to indicate whether or not they’re friendly or hostile, free sprinting rather than limiting sprinting with a stamina bar, the ability to save and leave at any point rather than having to wait to go to sleep, and so much more. One of the biggest improvements is being able to build and complete item requests with items stored away in chests back at your workshop rather than needing them actively on hand. There are tons of items coming and going and getting processed into new things constantly, so not having to meticulously manage each was a huge relief.
And in addition to crafting items, farming, taking care of animals, relationship building, sandfishing (fish live in sandpools here), cooking, decorating my house, and mining, there’s even more to do with minigames. Some of these pop up during special holiday events, but there are also one-off games to play at almost any time at the local game center. My favorite was a simple whack-a-mole with various difficulty settings that could be played with NPCs or solo. Another great one requires you to find constellations in a star-filled night sky based on NPC requests. One of the unlockable sand racing minigames could use some tweaking to make the steering better, but I appreciate it as an option for multiplayer competitions. Sandrock is truly jampacked with choices, and like with Portia, they’re almost all fun in short bursts as you jump between them.
There’s even more to do on top of all that; there are tons of upgrades, including ones that I still don’t have for my horse, for my mining jetpack and sensor goggles, and for various machines throughout my workshop. There are still romances I have to pursue (of people not even in the town yet too!), and many more side quests. Even with as many hours as I have played and all the quests I’ve done, I still don’t have my four skill trees completed (gathering, workshop, combat, and social). That said, I do wish some of the skills were geared toward the endgame rather than the first dozen hours or so. In the gathering tree, one is specifically for digging in piles of junk for resources, which is something you only need to do in the opening few hours. I put my early points toward skills that got me more in the long run instead, so that dirt pile skill still sits unlearned.
Sandrock suffers from some wavering polish on the technical front, too. On PC, assets and textures pop-in noticeably unless you manually go in and bump the settings to the highest options, which isn’t ideal for a game with relatively low recommended PC specs. Xbox had similar issues as well, though the performance or quality mode didn’t help with the asset loading much. While that is more of a minor annoyance and is easy to get used to, I’ve seen other persistent visual bugs. I’ve watched conversations happen through my character’s skull, shrubs fly oddly in the sky, and other weird interactions. There hasn’t been anything game breaking as far as I’ve seen, but I hope we see the sheer number of weird visual bugs get patched out over time.
PC Co-Op Multiplayer
Where the campaign asks for your help in saving Sandrock from economic collapse, Sandrock’s multiplayer asks for your help in building up Sandrock from its basics. While currently exclusive to the PC version, I was shocked at first to see places like the general store, scrap yard, and even the train station and train tracks were missing from Sandrock entirely. There are rockslides and junk blocking shortcuts through town, too. Up to four players can work together to clean up the town and determine what new facilities get built. Town planner progression is paced first by the group’s workshop level and then by resources required to build the facility and its potential upgrades. So, like the campaign, building prestige for yourself as a builder allows you to access more. It’s still a solid system and a neat spin on the campaign. New facilities also mean new people in town. I can see myself trying to convince friends to help prioritize unlocking the buildings for characters I like most from the campaign.
Other key differences include removing the need for sleeping by a certain time. In the campaign, you pass out immediately if the clock hits 3:00 AM, but players can keep at it in multiplayer for as long as they want. It rocks. Better yet, there’s an added nap function that can be used once per in-game day that quickly refills stamina and health. The skill trees are completely different as well, and there’s an excellent daily task system and achievements not present in the campaign that can earn you extra money and experience. The three daily challenges reset after an in-game day, too, and are the same (but not shared) across all players. Players also have to share a plot of land and money and can share resources and contribute parts to build items.
One of the best things about Sandrock’s co-op is that anyone can hop into the multiplayer town even if the person who hosted it is offline, which isn’t the case for one of my favorites, Stardew Valley. There’s even a board where you can leave messages to friends. I was also impressed by how difficulty in dungeons scale based on the number of people going in, and they did seem more challenging than in the campaign as a result. The chests in dungeons and around the world even have good loot, with fully built machinery and items that award stat bonuses to all when they’re used as decor on workshop grounds.
While I was only able to play a few hours of co-op multiplayer before this review, after my brief stint I’m determined to get lots more in. There’s enough that’s changed between multiplayer and the campaign to justify digging deep into both – besides, it’s the perfect opportunity to choose a different person to romance, too.