Subnautica Getting Started Guide

Latest posts by Helmi Chaieb (see all)

Subnautica changed the landscape of open-world survival games. Especially, when it was fully released by Unknown Worlds Entertainment in 2018. I couldn’t muster my courage and get my hands on it at first because of Subnautica’s setting. A deep alien sea world was a bit too much for me at the time. And -mind you- I was already an expert survivalist in games like The Forest since way back then and I was always so passionate about games with desolate settings with threatening circumstances.

However, I couldn’t just keep ignoring it due to the success that this game had already amassed, and rightfully so! It got out of early access and rose above so much criticism from its early years. Its sequel, Subnautica Below Zero had also come out only a year later for early access. But let’s not delve too deeply into that one. We’re here to talk about the Subnautica that set the pace.

I’ll tell you this. Subnautica takes its genre very seriously and it also doesn’t shy from the horror aspects of it. Trust me when I tell you, this game has more than a few frights in store for you and I won’t blame you if it was tough to handle for you at first. I know that was the case for me.

But throughout my countless hours playing this game, I’ve gotten to know that if you lay some steady grounds for yourself, especially, early on, then, you won’t stray too far from having yourself a fair contest with Subnautica’s treacherous sea world. 

It’s never easy for anyone to handle a stressful game like Subnautica at first. Newcomers to the open-world survival genre and veterans alike will take a good couple of hours to even get to know the basics of what this game requires of you. But with a good guide, you’ll get the hang of what you should and shouldn’t do to not just survive but to do it with style.

So, we’ve decided to take matters into our own hands and give you a complete Subnautica Getting Started guide on how new Subnautica players can have an easy-going early experience in the game and grasp the basics; and give you non-spoiler information, which will allow you to have a good plan further down the line. This is our Subnautica – Getting Started Guide. Let’s dive right into it!

Before You Begin

Subnautica - Before You Begin

Before you even start playing Subnautica, there are a couple of tweaks that you can make to the game, which should allow you to experience the game’s a little bit more to your preference. Even if you’d rather keep things just the way they are, it should be useful for you to at least be aware of your options.

The first things that we need to clarify are your difficulty options. Subnautica has four of those. 

  • The “Survival” difficulty is the most balanced and ideal for new survival players and veterans alike. It has the hunger and thirst gauges on, which you’ll have to manage for the sake of your survival. Along with those two, you have your health and air gauges (30 seconds of oxygen). These two are equally critical, if not more important for you to keep death at bay.
  • Next, you have your “Freedom” difficulty, which has only your health and air gauges on. It should make things astronomically easier for you. But in my opinion, it isn’t much of a survival game if you don’t have to manage your nutrition and water levels. So, keep that in mind if you’re thinking about shying away from the challenge.
  • The “Hardcore” difficulty is obviously the most difficult of the bunch. Not only does it have all four gauges on, but in addition to those, there’s a little thing called “Permadeath.” It basically means that if you die, you simply die. You can’t respawn again and you’ll have to do everything again from the start. I’d strongly advise against it if you aren’t familiar with survival games as a  game like Subnautica can have you invest dozens of hours into it without even counting the narrative bits. Yup, it’s that great!
  • Last but not least, is the “Creative” difficulty. It has all of the above deactivated, including the game’s story. A lot of people have been wondering why so many survival games nowadays tend to include that mode. The best reason to go with is that it makes creating content with the game, or documenting some stuff in it much easier.

Next up are a couple of tweaks that you can make to Subnautica’s visuals.

Color Grading is a very cool feature in Subnautica’s settings because it allows you to add a visual layer -or call it a filter- to your gameplay experience.

  • “Off” means that no filter is added to your visuals. So, you’ll be viewing the game in its standard state, which doesn’t really differ that much from the “Neutral” option. 
  • The “Filmic” option, however, really changes up your experience. You’ll be astonished at how much your experience will differ just by having this option on. It makes the mood darker and more natural to the game’s setting. It will make your gameplay seem very cinematic and add up to the horror aspect of the game. Check out how mesmerizing the bioluminescence effects are in my screenshot below.
Subnautica - Neutral Color Grading
Subnautica – Neutral Color Grading
Subnautica - Filmic Color Grading
Subnautica – Filmic Color Grading

The next option that you’ll want to be aware of is Depth of Field. With the exception of your camera’s center, Having it on adds a blurry effect to everything you see in the game, especially, in the far distance.

It’s very ideal for a realistic approach to the game but some players prefer having this feature off because it makes deciding where you traverse a bit harder than they’d like to.

Your First Day In Subnautica

Subnautica - Your First Day
The Aurora

At the beginning of Subnautica, you find yourself in your life pod as you’re escaping the Aurora. Your first glimpse at the Aurora will be as it explodes in Planet 4546B’s atmosphere.

After getting knocked unconscious for a couple of hours, you’ll wake up to a burning life pod in the middle of the ocean. As soon as you’re allowed to, pick up that Fire Extinguisher from the ground and use it to put out the fire. 

Take out a First Aid Kit from the Med Cabinet on the wall and use it. Don’t worry about how to get them early on in the game. The Med Cabinet will spawn one for you every few minutes.

Scavenge and craft some important tools:

The next thing that you’ll have to do on your first day is craft a few important tools:

  • The Standard O2 Tank will give you extra 30secs of air. You’ll need 3 Titanium to craft it. 
  • The Fins will help you move around fast enough to catch some fish and explore quickly underwater. You’ll need 2 Silicone Rubbers to craft them.
  • The Repair tool will help you fix up your Life Pod, which is essential for you to progress in Subnautica’s narrative. You’ll need 1 Titanium, 1 Cave Sulfur, and 1 Silicone Rubber to craft it.
  • The Scanner is one of the most important tools in Subnautica. Point it at anything at first sight, from the creatures, resources, or the parts in the little storage boxes, which you’ll find on the ground in various biomes. A little scanner icon will pop up on the bottom right of your screen, thus, prompting you to scan the object. You’ll find some useful data about it in your PDA.
  • The Survival Knife will come in handy for you to harvest some other resources such as the Creepvine Samples and fend yourself from some other predators in the area such as the Stalkers.
  • The Habitat Builder is the tool for building your base in Subnautica. You’ll initially find it stacked with so many blueprints for the rooms, their decorations, and useful devices. You’ll need a Wiring Kit, a Computer Chip, and a Battery for it.

Understanding Core Mechanics

Subnautica - Understanding Core Mechanics
Building a Foundation

It’s no secret that every single game has more than a few functions, which define how its gameplay mechanics and what genre it belongs to. Sometimes, however, the game itself will redefine its genre, as with Subnautica!

It took the average core gameplay mechanics of the open-world survival genre and cranked it up to its advantage.


You have a lot of freedom with building in Subnautica. You can shape your base part by part using the Habitat Builder however you like, as long as the structure has some steady and efficient foundations. 

However, don’t be afraid to experiment. If you’ve built a structure and it quickly began to degrade, you can deconstruct and it will give you back all of the materials used to build it. It’s a cool feature that Subnautica has as opposed to most of the other survival games.

You just use Habitat Builder and its building guide will appear. If you choose for example a Scanner Room, you just position it right where you want to build it and an outline of the structure will appear. Then, you use the same tool to transfer materials from your inventory into the structure until it’s 100% finished.

Related read: Best Building Survival Games.


Subnautica - Crafting
The Fabricator

Secondly, we have the crafting system. In Subnautica, you bring raw resources, or crafted items to your Fabricator and use them to craft consumables, materials, tools, and equipment. 

You can also have as many Fabricators around as you like. I personally advise you to put at least two fabricators in every base. Definitely put one in every storage room to save yourself some time.

Scavenging and Fishing

Subnautica - Scavenging

Throughout most of the time you spend exploring the deep sea world of Subnautica, you’ll find so many useful resources to scavenge and materials to salvage. 

You can simply pick most resources from where they’re pinned. Others, you’ll find that you have to use a Survival Knife to cut them off. You can also use both techniques to either catch or kill fish. The ones that won’t eat you, of course.

Try to keep your inventory as organized as possible and keep most of the items that you’ve acquired stored back in your base.


As for Combat, it’s pretty standard in subnautica. Other survival games would offer you a variety of choices for your arsenal such as The Forest, which allows you to craft very primitive yet efficient weapons for both ranged and close combat. 

Subnautica does the exact opposite of that. It strips you of those options by only allowing you a few very basic weapons, only three of which are made to affect your enemies. These are the Survival Knife, the Thermoblade, and the Stasis Rifle. The lack of weapons in Subnautica adds some edge to it and gives you a sense of vulnerability. 

Even though I’m not used to getting stripped of weapons in video games, some games -like Subnautica- execute this with such perfection that it’s one of the reasons why they stand out. I love it!

It does, however, compensate for that by giving you a variety of vehicle options, each with its own traversal mechanics and cool features and limitations (I’m talking about you, Prawn Suit!).


Subnautica - Death

Finally, Death in Subnautica is very straightforward. You die by losing oxygen, getting killed, falling, and burning. Then, you spawn back in your life pod.

Although, if you lose oxygen, you don’t lose consciousness straight away. Your screen will slowly start to fade to black and you won’t die until a couple of seconds after that. So, don’t give up straight away. I was always a split second away from drowning in Subnautica before I saved it.

One more thing that you need to know about dying in Subnautica is that when you die, you drop a few items from your inventory. So, don’t take any unnecessary risks whilst carrying your full of special, or rare resources and save your game at any convenient moment.

Things we Wish we Knew Before Playing Subnautica

Almost every game -especially, survival and open-world games alike- have their cool little-known features or mechanics, which every player wishes that they knew before they even started the game. Subnautica has loads of those and I’m going to give you a brief guide for every useful one of them. 

Upgrade Your Vehicles For More Depth

Subnautica - Upgrade Your Vehicles
The Seamoth

Subnautica is set in a massively open alien sea world. You’ll be astonished at how deeply you can explore it. Every now and then I stumble upon a path for another seabed or a new cavern system. The underwater caverns are actually very essential to find important stuff to finish the game. 

However, your vehicles will not be able to dive deeply enough for those areas at first. Don’t worry, though, you’ll eventually be able to explore those deep areas by modifying your vehicles using Depth Modules. 

Make sure to also add some other modifications to defend yourself and be more aware of your surroundings.


Subnautica - Beacons

Every now and then, you’ll find an interesting new area. You’ll naturally get the urge to explore those areas and see if there’s anything that could be useful there. If you’re running out of air, energy, or space in your inventory, drop a Beacon there to mark the area. 

Beacons are deployable devices in Subnautica, which broadcast their position to you no matter how far you end up from them. You can even change the name and the color of the broadcast. Try to craft at least one Beacon every time you go on an expedition in Subnautica. They’ll always guide you back.

Use Empty Batteries For Power Cells

There are more than a couple of devices and tools in Subnautica that you’ll need a battery to craft. That’s why you should never throw away your drained batteries, as you can them for crafting instead.

Pay Attention to Everything You Hear in Subnautica

The sound design in Subnautica is very immersive and sets the mood perfectly for every area by changing the soundtrack for each new biome you’re in. The game’s score is actually on Spotify and I encourage you to listen to it in your spare time. 

Also, I would suggest that you focus your ears on the surrounding sounds underwater. Especially, in deep waters. If something were to attack you, or if a dangerous creature were near you, you’ll mostly be able to hear them before you can see them. Their sounds should serve to guide you if you were in danger and unaware.

Cool Ways to Get Food in Subnautica

You’ll find that your cooked fish will spoil faster than you’d like them to in Subnautica. That’s why it’s better for you to salt them. However, Salted fish eventually spoil as well. 

My advice is that you deploy a little device called the “Grav Trap” near your base. I’ve found that it’s easily ignored by so many players and I don’t know why. The Grav Trap will entrap any small fish near it for as long as it’s deployed. Thus, allowing you to have your own little buffet outside your home.

As for when you’re exploring, keep a Thermoblade in your inventory. Put a Survival Knive and a Battery in a Modification Station to craft it. Once you have it, you can use the Thermoblade to attack any edible fish in the game and cook it instantly. 

Things to Avoid

You’re going to make many mistakes in Subnautica. That’s just how things work in both the world and video games. I’ve learned so much about games like Subnautica through trial and error. But if I can sum up the most important stuff I’ve learned briefly for you, these two would be the most helpful.

Don’t Attack the Giant Sea Monsters

Subnautica -Leviathan
Leviathan Attack

After a good few hours in the game, you might be itching to try your luck against the sea monsters you’ll encounter in Subnautica. Well, if so, don’t. One bad maneuver and they’ll ruin your day. Especially, those big Leviathans. There are many types of Leviathans in Subnaautica. The first time you encounter one will probably be near the Aurora. In any case, always steer clear of them.

Don’t Be Too Ambitious With Building Early On

With all the freedom that Subnautica gives you with structures, you’ll be able to build yourself some great bases down the line. But don’t be too ambitious with building at the beginning of your playthrough. The structures in Subnautica consume resources so fast. Resources, which you’ll also need for crafting.

Therefore, I would suggest building yourself a modest base at first and storing your resources in Lockers. You can use them later once you’ve better established yourself in the game. There will be time for you to expand later on. You can even build yourself a massive base, or two, or three. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different structures. but in the meantime, keep it cozy.

Long Term Goals to Consider

The scope and freedom that open-world exploration games provide for us nowadays are very impressive. You can invest tons of hours in a game and not even come close to even finishing it.

But if a game wants to best execute such an idea, it has to frequently reinvent itself mid-playthrough. I know -first hand- how easy it can be to get carried away in games like Subnautica and waste so much time doing nonsense. So, I wanted to give you guys a few long-term goals that you should commit to.

Get the Cyclops

There’s a vast and deep ocean out there for you to explore. You’re going to take so many risks and see so much crazy stuff. The deeper you get, the crazier it gets. But you’ll need speed and reach if you’re gonna do that.

There is a set of some really fascinating vehicles that are going to help you move around in Subnautica. None better than the Cyclops, however. The cyclops gives you space to haul massive amounts of resources. 

You can also use it to dive as deep as 1700 meters below the surface once you’ve upgraded it with its third Depth Module.

In addition to that, you can store both the Seamoth and the Prawn Suit in it.

Check out the following guide to learn more about the Prawn Suit in Subnautica or Cyclops in Subnautica.

Explore Everything

There’s an endless ocean out there for you to explore and uncover its secrets. If you can muster your courage to go to its deepest and darkest ends, you’ll find it so rewarding, as it will acquaint you with so many beautiful and dangerous creatures; and spectacular scenery. Once you get the tools, equipment, and vehicles to do so, don’t be afraid to go out there and take risks.

Find the Rest of the Aurora’s Crew

Subnautica - Missing Life Pod

You also must not forget that eventually, you’re going to have to crack the case of what happened to the rest of the Aurora’s crew. Fortunately, a lot of things that I’ve suggested in this article will be crucial for you to progress through the game’s narrative and vice-versa.  So, sometimes you’ll be solving mysteries without even intending to do it.

Always remember that in open-world survival games, having a narrative can give you a bigger purpose than survival, as is the case with Subnautica. You’ll almost always find clues in their Life Pods and each time you go after a missing crew member, you’ll be also discovering a new area. So, it should serve well for also exploring new biomes.

FAQ Section

Question: How Long Does It Take To Finish Subnautica?

Answer: Subnautica can take a long stretch of hours to beat. It takes you up to 30 hours to beat the game. If you’re looking to 100% it, you’re looking at a lengthy 60-hour playthrough. You may also want to expect to spend more time with Subnautica if you’re going to play it on “Hardcore” difficulty.

Question: Can We Tame Predators In Subnautica?

Answer:  You can’t technically tame predator fish in Subnautica but You can hatch a few predators’ eggs in the Alien Containment, which you can build inside your base. Some of the coolest predators, which you can hatch in Subnautica are the Lava Lizard, the Sand Shark, and the Stalker.

Question: What Is Unknown World’s Next Project?

Answer: Ever since its acquisition by Krafton in 2021, Unknown Worlds have been working on an entirely new “wholly unique turn-based strategy game set in a sci-fi world”. Their new game is currently code-named “Project M” and is slated for an early-access release sometime this year.

Uncover the Secrets of the Deep Alien Ocean

Subnautica is a very grueling and time-consuming game at worst but very rewarding when you’ve taken it as seriously as it takes itself.

However tough your journey might be, this should serve as an appropriate guide to smooth your experience with Subnautica.

Have fun playing it and take care not to get snatched by some nasty Leviathan along the way.

Continue reading related Subnautica guides and walkthroughs:

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