I'm going to state my opinion straight out so you understand where my reviews coming from before reading it... I already love this game. I find it challenging, immersive and immensely satisfying. I can't wait for more content even though I think what's currently there makes it a worthwhile experience for the price tag, any game that can have me put 45 hours in without even realizing it is going to be worth twenty-ish dollars in my book. Also, this game is absolutely not for everyone. That can not be stressed enough, if you don't like struggling in the beginning of a game you probably won't make it very far, it can be tough as nails if you aren't careful and even if you are you'll probably end up suffering through a few coma's in the early section while you're trying to make your character not useless. There, now that that's out of the way let's talk about the actual game.
The gameplay is kind of a mix between a diablo-style dungeon crawler and an RTS. Every character has their own stats that can be levelled up through using them, every character can be as strong if not stronger than your starting character. In fact the only real difference between them and your starting character is that you didn't start with them. The movement and combat are fairly basic, there's not much in the form of tactics yet. Other than ganging up on specific units and some limited flanking ability you can't control much more than who attacks who. The path finding can sometimes trip up in the more hectic battles (more on that later) but it is early access and that stuff is being ironed out.
The RTS elements shine through a bit more in the base building aspects, you build preset layouts for houses and fill them with various different things like work benches, beds or storage for materials. So far there's farming and resource mining as well as some crafting for weapons, armour and clothing. This will be a lot more balanced when things like hunger get implemented, right now there's not much to point to a farm other than making money and there isn't much to spend the money on other than materials and blueprints for items. You can also build defensive walls with gates and mounted crossbows for defense (and you'll need them, believe me) but these things can trip up the pathfinding again (still more on that later). Considering how unbalanced the economy currently is it still took me a while to get a base I was satisfied with and I enjoyed building it. It's only getting better as well.
The world is both great and not so great all at once. I found myself heavily immersed in the world, I love the style and the sense that you're picking through the bones of an advanced civilization that's been long ruined, the atmosphere is just fantastic. The aesthetic is my kind of thing with obvious asian influences and you can really feel isolated and threatened in the early goings until you have a decent squad, then you feel like you're a match for the world and that's a really satisfying moment. However... as much as I love the feeling of the world, sometimes it can feel really empty. Yes, it's a wasteland and it's meant to feel that way, but if that's not your kind of thing it will really turn you off. I feel like the addition of small bandit camps to go along with the roaving bands and some oasis-like areas where more plants grow would really do a lot to help that. There's also some work happening on adding creatures to the world and I think that will do wonders for this particular problem. My bar for a well done isolated setting is set really high to be fair, once you play S.T.A.L.K.E.R: shadows of chernobyl it's hard to settle for anything less. The fact I'm even willing to compare the two is very telling about just how great the atmosphere is here.
Now, on to the bugs (disclaimer: I haven't played for a while so some of these may have been fixed since my last session, I'll explain in a bit). You get to hear about the pathfinding which is my main issue. It's kind of broken. It's serviceable for the most part, they can manage to traverse long distances and only rarely do they get stuck, however they still get stuck and that's pretty annoying. I use the "bodyguard" command to make sure my squad moves at the same speed (an option to just make them do that would be nice) but the pathfinding for that is far worse than the regular stuff, they match speed and stay at the same relative position to the character they're guarding and don't realize if they're about to walk into a wall, this is where they most often get stuck because for some strange reason edges like to grab hold of characters and they get stuck in the ground. Also, I've never had them defend anything while under the bodyguard command. Frequent quick-saves make this a mild irritation at worst and if you ever get really stuck and haven't saved for a while there's an option in the menu to pick up and drop all your characters on the center of your camera to unstick them, but it's still a bug and it needs to be mentioned. The other issues with it are also minor, in a big fight sometimes units can get confused about what they should do and end up standing around with their finger in their nose while their buddy is fighting three bad guys at once but they eventually get it together. The last issue I have is that closing the gates breaks the pathfinding when your units are outside, if you close the gate no matter how far away they are or where you tell them to move they will turn around about half the time and walk back to the gate to maually open it. It can be really frustrating but the only time you need the gate closed is when bandits are attacking and they give you advance warning so it can be pretty easily circumvented.
Aside from the pathfinding there's an odd (yet hilarious) bug with picking up and putting down characters, if you do it on the ground they pop up into the sky and get sent flying. They only stop if they hit a mountain or you use taht un-sticking method I previously mentioned. Again, it's just a minor annoyance and it doesn't happen if you put them in a bed or jail cell which is where you should be taking them anyway, but if you get attacked you can't put down whoever you're carrying and you run the risk of getting knocked out yourself.
This is less a bug and more of a flaw with the system itself, and it's also the main reason I haven't played in a while. There's a serious memory issue, the game runs on a 32-bit engine and it doesn't have a high enough memory limit for extended play. I'm not sure if everyone has this problem but I can only play for about ten minutes at a time now, it's progressively gotten worse the bigger my base got and the more people I had control of. It used to take a number of hours to crash on me. This could be my fault, I haven't exhausted every troubleshooting option yet, but all the same it's an issue that needs to be addressed. There's also talk of transferring to a 64-bit system which would probably eliminate the issue, but as of my last play session it wasn't implemented and I can only talk about my experience.
TL;DR, this game is an extremely rewarding and challenging experience if you're willing to stick through it and are a fan of post-apocalyptic worlds or deserts in general. If not, there's very little in it for you. The early game is pretty slow and it relies on you enjoying the world around you more than the gameplay, afterwards they both work together and that's when the game shines. If you can't handle crashes or potenitally broken AI then hold off on your purchase but definitely keep an eye on this, when all the issues are ironed out this game will be phenomenal. If you don't mind crashes or other early access problems then this game is worth the money as-is and will only get better with time.