There's a game called Subnautica, it's been out for a few years now. It was in early access for a while, then got fully released last year. Earlier this year, a standalone expansion launched for early access. One thing Subnautica never had, over all these years and iterations, is a multiplayer function. A fan is changing that with an ambitious mod.
Subnautica is a survival/adventure game with an underwater open world. You play as the lone crew member of a damaged spaceship, and must collect resources and build to survive the alien planet you land on. It differs from other survival exploration games, however, in that it takes place entirely under the sea. The setting and gameplay come together in a Metroid/Minecraft way, emphasizing the dangers of lonesome exploration. However, many players still want to dive and pilot submarines as a crew.
That's where the mod comes in. But why are they needed? Why isn't the developer making multiplayer, a long-requested feature, a priority? Now that the game is out of early access, multiplayer seems like it would make players happier than any single-player expansion. Here's the mystery behind Subnautica's missing multiplayer, and why a mod is mandatory.
Is There An Official Subnautica Multiplayer Mode?
No, there is not. As mentioned before, the game was launched in early access first. Like many titles launched that way, Subnautica was a bit of a buggy mess at the start. The core concept was intriguing, but there was a lot of work to be done to smooth out the experience. This work took a little over three years, from late 2014 to early 2018. With all that time spent just making the game work, the developers had nothing left over for multiplayer.
The game's director, Charlie Cleveland, wrote on the game's official forums, "Back in our early prototypes we always had multiplayer in the back of our mind. But we had so much to learn about the game, multiplayer was never a priority. Eventually we hit early access and now it would take many man-years to add any kind of multiplayer to Subnautica. We don't want to spend years more working on Subnautica before v1.0, so we sadly have come to terms with the fact that we won't be adding any kind of multiplayer or coop to the game."
Essentially, adding multiplayer to the game would require either rebuilding the engine from scratch or devoting an entire team to squeezing it into its current iteration. There's no manpower for that. At least, not in the development studio. In the fan community, however...
How To Play Subnautica In Multiplayer
Since the developer will never make an official multiplayer version of Subnautica, one fan took it upon themselves to add the function via a mod. A user called Sunrunner37 created the mod and made it available on Nexus Mods. Follow this link to download the mod, called Nitrox. From there you'll have to set up your own server that caters to multiplayer. If you want a more visual guide, follow this Youtube video:
It's important to remember that, since this is not official content, there may be issues. In that case, Sunrunner37 invites users to join the Nitrox Discord channel. There, users can seek support in installing and maintaining the Nitrox mod.
What Can You Do In Subnautica Multiplayer?
Once you've downloaded the Nitrox mod, you're set to find some friends and get exploring. The mod offers most basic functionality for a few players simultaneously. The world will react to any player picking up and dropping items, and will even maintain the environment if players separate to a certain distance. Players can also build together, and the Cyclops will recognize that it has two passengers.
One really cool addition is a chat function. Since Subnautica's original form is a single-player game, it doesn't have an in-game chat. The Nitrox mod rectifies that. While the system is still in its early stages, it's a great bit of forethought to have it in the first build.
Sunrunner does stress that the mod is still in its early stages but that a "solid foundation has been laid for the community to iterate on." Nitrox has the core Subnautica gameplay ready to go for multiplayer, meaning you can expect to explore and build with a buddy.
What Doesn't Work In Subnautica Multiplayer?
As you might expect from a one-man mod of a buggy just-barely out of early access game, there are problems with Nitrox. Aside from several little bugs that randomly affect player health or make items inaccessible, there are major issues with the story progression. Many important locations might not spawn at all, making it impossible to actually advance the main campaign. The multiplayer servers also create issues with saving progression. It might be better to advance the story on your own and just use multiplayer to explore and mess around with friends.
Don't let these things deter you from trying out Nitrox, however. Subnautica is a game that fills a unique niche. We probably won't see a deep sea take on No Man's Sky again. So you might as well get every ounce of enjoyment as possible. Nitrox isn't a dangerous mod by any means, it just has lots of bugs and takes a few steps to actually install. Once you get past those annoyance, though, you'll get to experience the thrill of taking on the depths as a team.