To call Minecraft the game that changed the world is an understatement. Its combination of a endless box of Lego and a survival game within a procgen world has created a multitude of new genres.
Factorio's foundation can be found in two areas within Minecraft's gameplay: creating items from raw materials and automating extract with minecarts or redstone. Factorio takes these elements and builds a game around them. The RTS genre inspired other aspects of the game like the top-down perspective or the elaborate tech tree.
You are the sole engineer in charge of the spaceship that crashed onto an Earth-like planet at the start of the game. You are armed with a pickaxe and begin to dig for your first resources in a Command & Conquer-style field. You build a furnace by digging up stone. To light the furnace, you dig up coal. You then smelt iron and bronze ore into ingots plates. From these plates, you can create more complex items. An automatic mining machine powered by coal is the first item you'll make.
You can place a furnace right in front of your miner and it will automatically smelt the ore as it is mined. You build a second miner at the nearest coalfield to power the furnace. The conveyor belt and grabbing arm are two of the early items in Factorio's early days. A series of conveyor belts transports coal past your furnace, miner, and two coal-powered grabbing arms deposit the fuel in each. This is your factory, which will build a rocket capable of launching a satellite into orbit.
Have you ever crashed so badly that it was necessary to reinvent spaceflight.
Before you can build a spaceship you have to invent the universe. Start with the steam engine. You build an off-shore pump using the resources you have gathered from coal-powered miners. The pump is placed on the nearest body of water. The boiler attaches to the boiler. Now you have electricity. You can power electric miners faster and grab arms by connecting your coal line to the boiler.
You can also power glass domes known as labs. This allows you to create new items. You can conduct research by consuming beakers in different colours. The production of these will give you the main impetus to expand your factory. Red is the first type of beaker. It must be made from copper plates and iron wheels, which in turn are made from iron plates. After collecting copper and iron from the furnaces, you create your first beakers manually and deposit them in a lab to begin research.
The assembler factory is likely to be your first item of research. It automates inventory-bound crafting the same way the miners automate pickaxe swinging. Your engineer may be happy to make iron plates into gear wheels for you, but automated assemblers don't allow that. To build iron plates into gear wheels, you need an assembler. The second assembler must take in the gear wheels and create red beakers. Only then can you make sure your labs have enough of the good stuff.
The more your factory looks like this, then the better.
Red beakers are easy to make, but the green beakers that you will need for advanced research require conveyor belts or grabbing arms. These require intermediate products such as circuit boards and circuit boards. Your factory will soon be a tangled mess of interconnected conveyor belts, wires, and assembly machines. You'll likely tear it down a few more times and then rebuild it. This is assuming the aliens don't beat you to it.
Factorio's survival component involves protecting your factory from attacks by giant insects. Your factory's pollution spreads over time and when it reaches their nests, they will attack anything they find. You might be able to go for long periods of time without encountering aliens depending on how your game world is generated. However, if you use normal settings, you will likely be attacked very quickly. While you can stop a few of these attacks using your starter pistol, as your factory grows, you will need to start building defenses. This can also be automated. Think assembly machines streaming ammunition to gun-turrets.
These insectoid enemies look revolting and alien to the Earth-like environment they live in. Their nests are a nuisance, causing them to suffocate in the trees and grasses around them. Cleaning them out is an aesthetic relief. Factorio acknowledges that some people might feel sympathy for these creatures, and that it is wrong to turn their habitats into scenes from Hard Times. However, this is only superficial, considering that one would have to minimize or avoid much of the core gameplay. This would have felt more conscious if the visual design harmonised the aliens and their landscapes, such as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
An alien plague on an Earth-like landscape.
Alien creatures in an alien environment.
Some players have attempted to live in peace with the alien hordes. They switched from steam engines and solar power early on. However, this slows down progress and doesn't eliminate pollution completely. It does seem possible, which speaks to the game's versatility. There's also a wealth of gameplay to make up the fact that the military aspect is not necessary.
As you create more advanced items and climb the tech tree, new areas of gameplay become available. You can drill for oil, and then process it into petroleum. This opens up a section of the game that allows you to pipe liquids around much like you move solid items on conveyor belts. You can build automated train networks to transport resources over long distances if you run out of local resource fields. You can automate the building of your factory using construction robots in the later stages.
This is a lot of optional information. Factorio has an endgame goal. However, it is up to you to decide how and what parts of the game to play. Signal processing is one of the first technologies that you can research. This opens up the possibility to create complex circuit networks with intricate logic. However, you can choose not to pursue this technology. If you don't want to build rail networks, you can still do everything with long lines of conveyor belts. As long as they are protected from the alien hordes. If you really hate conveyor belts you can tear them down and replace them with logistics robots that move resources between the chests.
Factorio's joy is in creating your own systems and slowly iterating on them as new technologies are discovered and nuances of the game's mechanics are revealed. Factorio offers many opportunities to discover small details that can make a huge difference in your factory's productivity. These include how to use each conveyor belt, what ratios of different products to craft to keep production running smoothly, how to lay out your resources lines to make your assembly lines extensible, how to automate your rails system so you avoid bottlenecks, and many other things.