If you’re a PC gamer and enjoy your indie titles as much as we do, you’ve no doubt heard of Factorio.
The game rose to popularity in early 2016 and successfully cherry-picked the best aspects of PC gaming’s satisfying and addictive formulas to bring us one of the most unique simulation games on the market. Whether you’re into resource micromanagement, building sprawling bases, or fending off against aliens tower defense style, Factorio has you covered.
Naturally, its systems are pretty deep, and it can become complicated for new players to get acquainted with the mechanics. The game will test a wide plethora of the skills you’ve acquired over the years, and having sunk an ungodly amount of hours into it myself, I’ve written this Factorio Getting Started guide to aid you in getting started.
While this article will go in-depth on Factorio’s mechanics and gameplay style, you definitely need to play the tutorial as well. The interactive tutorial does an excellent job of acclimatizing you to the game in a drip-fed fashion. Once you’ve done that, use this guide to solidify the information and learn some new tips and tricks to keep you in the right direction.
First and foremost, it helps to understand how the game starts and progresses.
The Progression System and Game Mechanics
If you’ve played Minecraft or any crafting-based game, Factorio’s systems will be mostly familiar to you. There are a few key caveats, though.
The ultimate goal in this game is to have your sprawling maze of machines do a lot of the work for you. You’ll set up vast and complicated automation networks to mine, build, and evolve in the most efficient way possible to make a rocket and escape the planet. You start with nothing, of course.
The simple story goes that you’ve crashed onto an alien planet, and due to the hostility this new place shows you, you’d better learn to survive quickly. You won’t have any machines to work for you at the start, and the focus is on manually mining the game’s ores to smelt and use to progress. From here on, technology becomes a driving force. You’ll evolve your scientific prowess over several hours, and this takes a once primitive set-up to one of the most advanced operations this foreign planet has ever seen. So, let’s first have a look at how the game’s set up!
The map: Clicking a new game on free play mode will bring you to the map specification screen. Here, you can dial in some specifics regarding what sort of map you want to explore.
You’ll find a drop-down menu detailing several map types you can choose from. I’d recommended sticking to the default for now — I think it’s the most versatile and least daunting choice for beginners. Once selected, the following screen will give you options to change certain specifications, including resources, terrain, and enemies. These three parameters will allow you to dictate aspects such as the scarcity of resources, the prevalence of enemies, and the shape and biome of the map. There’s also an advanced setting for specific modifiers.
In reality, I’d recommend just going with the default setting for each of the above parameters for your first few games. It can be difficult to know what to change if you’re not yet used to how Factorio works.
Once you launch the game, your chosen map will be visible in the top right corner of the screen, and you’ll find you can zoom in and out pretty far using the mouse wheel.
The inventory: You can access your inventory in Factorio by pressing E. This will bring up a screen segmented in two: the left side shows a grid displaying all the items you have on your person, while the right side displays crafting options. You’ll notice the crafting window is set up into four quadrants displaying the crafting categories. The quantity of each item you have in your possession is displayed as a footnote at the bottom right of each item, and you left-clicking selects and takes all of the items of that type, while right-clicking takes half.
There are more A.I. elements to learn about too, but those are beyond the scope of this article. The above is enough to get you started.
Most of the resources detailed below are found in Resource Patches —select areas of the map peppered with a given resource primed for mining. As you venture further away from your starting location, the game pushes you to explore by increasing the density of these areas the greater distance you reach from your base.
Coal: If you had to pick one essential resource from Factorio, it would be coal. Coal is the most abundant and efficient resource for fueling your fossil fuel-driven machines. While electricity-based machinery will also become a huge asset, there will still usually be something in the chain that requires coal to keep it running, so make sure you’re always stocked up! It can be identified on the map as deep black clusters of rocks.
Wood: Wood is a jack-of-all-trades resource in Factorio. You can use it to fuel any coal-based machines and vehicles in a pinch, as well as for building utility items such as electric poles. The most important use for it in the early game is making wooden chests. Once you get your first machines up and running, you’ll find that they output their finished products directly onto the floor next to them. They can also only do this once before shutting down, so it’s crucial to place a wooden crate in that same space to store all your produce and keep things running.
Wood is obtained by chopping down trees, and there is always an abundance on the map.
Iron ore: Iron ore is another main resource you’ll need to make good use of as you get started. Identified by its silvery stone appearance, Iron ore is smelted into iron plates — fresh material to make a myriad of different components and machines such as gears, concrete, and mining drills. You’ll find that virtually everything you want to build in Factorio will in some way require iron plates, so make it a priority to up your iron game early on!
Stone: You’ll find stone very useful in the early game. You can distinguish it from other resources by its dulled beige appearance. Your first smelting furnaces will be made of stone, and you’ll need to have plenty of these up and running before moving on to larger-scale automated systems.
Copper ore: Consider copper ore the close sibling of iron ore. In the early game, you’ll find iron ore a much more important resource, but copper becomes increasingly vital as you start to delve into more complex machinery.
Like iron, copper ore can be smelted to make copper plates, which can be fashioned for several different uses. You’ll find that demand for copper increases as you progress through the game; it’s required for making electronics — a commodity you’ll rely on heavily as your base becomes more advanced. Copper is identified by its shiny bronze hue.
Uranium ore: Uranium isn’t something you’ll encounter much in the early game, but as you progress, you’ll need it to power nuclear machinery such as the nuclear reactor. Uranium ore is distinguished by its irregular triangular-shaped resource patches that glow bright green.
The raw material requires the use of a Centrifuge to be processed: this machine can refine the uranium ore into either Uranium-238 or Uranium-236 — both of which are used to create a variety of specialist weapons, with the latter being crucial for the production of atomic bombs.
Important Machines for the Early Game
There are a huge amount of different machines you’ll come to use as you progress in the game, so this section will focus on the most important ones you’ll need during the early game. Use the following to solidify your approach in the subsequent section: Your first hour.
Burner mining drill: The burner mining drill is the bread and butter of automated mining. It’s the first drill you’ll build and can mine the resources on the 2×2 area where it sits. It can be powered by either coal or wood. They require three gears, three iron plates, and a stone furnace to build.
Stone furnace: The stone furnace is a basic smelter you’ll rely on in the early game. Powered by coal or wood, the furnace can smelt iron, copper, stone, and steel into usable material. They require five stones to build.
Off-shore pump: The Off-shore pump is at the cornerstone of your electricity network. It costs two printed circuits, one pipe, and one gear to build, and must be positioned on the edge of a body of water to function. From here, pipes enable it to deliver water to other machinery.
Boiler: The boiler converts water delivered by the offshore pump into steam. It is necessary for providing power to a steam engine. They have one output for steam, but two outputs for water, meaning they can deliver water to other machinery and act as a pass-through. This function can also be used to connect more than one boiler together. A boiler costs four pipes and one stone furnace to build.
Steam Engine: Steam engines are the earliest electricity generator the player can utilize. They have an input for steam coming from a boiler, and one for a singular electricity pole which will link power to all other nearby machinery when connected. Eight gears, ten iron plates, and five pipes will net you a Steam Engine.
Electric mining drill: Electric mining drills are the same as burner mining drills, except they perform the task much faster and are electrically powered. They can mine all the rock-based ores that the player needs, and they also mine within a larger 5×5 area. You can make one by combining ten iron plates, five gears, and three circuits.
Inserters: Inserters represent a crucial aspect of any highly automated factory. They present as mechanical arms which move materials from one space to another: this can be into a machine, onto a belt, or into a storage chest. There are seven different types of inserters each topping out at different rotation speeds. To make the standard model, you’ll need one gear, one iron plate, and one circuit.
Belts: Belts make up the fundamental transport systems of your factory. They’re used to move materials and products from one place to another and can be placed to move backward or forwards and to snake around at right angles for versatility and efficiency. They come in three different varients which represent slower and faster speeds, and you’ll even be able to make underground systems and split delivery systems as you progress. To make the standard model, you only need one gear and one iron plate.
Lab: Labs are domed-shaped buildings where you’ll perform your research for new technologies. You’ll need ten gears, ten circuits, and four belts to get one up and running. Once a technology has been qued for research, Labs will take a given amount of Science Packs as a resource and get going. Only one technology can be researched at a lab at one time, but nothing is stopping you from building multiple labs to get the job done faster!
Despite a large focus of the game being simulative, Factorio also plays a lot like your favorite tower defense games. Some of the best fun I’ve had is defending my base with a whole manner of deadly robotic weaponry, so here’s what you need to know about protecting your precious factory.
Enemies: There are only a few different types of enemies in the game: Biters, Spitters, and Worms. Irrespective of species, they all evolve due to spreading pollution — pollution caused by your factories. There’s no way to prevent this: the bigger your factory gets, the more pollution it creates. Over time, this will cause the game’s enemies to get bigger and to increase in numbers and frequency of attack.
Irrespective of their stage, they’ll attack your base periodically in groups and destroy your equipment. At worst, they’ll go for you. The enemies will spawn from nearby nests, so it’s up to you whether it’s worth venturing out to dispose of them once and for all.
The big guns: Most of your attention so far as weaponry is going to be on base defense. There’s a wide variety of powerful armaments that you can set up in endless ways, and fortifying your base with heavy gear and watching it decimate hordes of enemies is super satisfying. These automated weapons will become crucial as you enter the mid and late stages of the game, but it always pays to have a couple of turrets in the early game, too.
Your First Hour
The hour of any Factorio game is going to be mostly made up of resource gathering, and the resources you’re going to be focusing on the most are Coal and Iron — Iron for building each bit of machinery you need in your factory, and coal for getting the whole thing powered and up and running. At the end of the hour, you should be ready to start putting your energies into technology upgrades.
First Things First
Before you do anything else, I’d like you to make yourself familiar with the Technology Tree.
Pressing T brings you here — a comprehensive list of everything you can research and upgrade in the game split across several different categories. The screen is segmented into three. The bottom left window enables you to browse all technologies at a glance, and each tech is color-coded in either red, yellow, or green.
Green denotes the technology as already being researched, yellow means the technology is available to be researched, and red means a technology is currently unavailable.
Selecting a tech displays more information about it in the top left section (how many sciences packs it requires and what the technology does). Once selected, you’ll see the tree for that tech displayed on the largest section on the right. The tree shows everything you need to research to upgrade that technology; researching one thing opens up more upgrades, and so the whole thing works similarly to a flow chart.
Selecting a technology and then Start Researching will begin the process, but nothing will happen at first. The actual research is done in the labs, and you’ll need to create and utilize a certain amount of specific Science Packs to actually do the research. There are seven color-coded science packs representing each Technology category; you must synthesize the correct amount for the research you want to conduct, and then give them to the lab to start the process.
Your first hour with the game will take you up to a point where you hit a technology wall — the point where you’ll need to begin building labs and using science packs to start upgrading to the more complicated stuff. That’s beyond the scope of a getting started guide, but now that you’re familiar with it, you’ll have a good head start.
The Initial Mining Job
Because you start out with nothing, you’ll need to spend a small amount of time manually mining the available resources patches nearby. There are two machines you’ll need to make use of, to begin with: the burner mining drill and the stone furnace. Thankfully, you’ll have one of each of these in your inventory when you start the game. Locate the first plot of iron ore you see and place the burner mining drill on the edge, and the stone furnace directly in front of it: this will ensure all products the machine mines will be deposited directly into the furnace.
To power both of these machines, you’ll need to manually mine some coal and insert some into each. For the next few minutes, focus on building more burner minor drills and furnaces set up in sequence — several on the patch of iron ore, several on a patch of coal. Before you know it, you’ll have plenty of coal and a stockpile of iron.
Quick note: Pressing the R key while hovering over a structure will allow you to rotate it.
Once you’ve gathered sufficient resources, your next priority is going to be setting up the infrastructure for powering your base and factory, and this is going to require electricity.
You’ll first want to locate a nearby water source. Electricity is ultimately generated by steam, so you’ll need a steam engine that takes heated water through pipes and uses it to provide electrical power.
First, create an Off-shore pump and place it at the water’s edge. Next, make yourself some Pipes and a Boiler, and connect the Off-shore pump to the Boiler with those pipes. The inputs and outputs of machines are indicated by small blue arrows.
That’s the heating of the water sorted, but now you’ll need to connect a steam engine to the boiler to make power. You can build this engine directly in front of the boiler as indicated by the blue connecting arrows. Now that we have these machines connected, you’ll notice that they have symbols on them flashing which indicate there is no fuel or power. The boiler takes coal or wood as a fuel source, so that’s simple enough, but you’ll need to connect the engine up with electricity poles.
Electricity poles like together to power your base from one source, starting with a steam engine. Place the initial electric pole next to your steam engine — you’ll notice a blue square surrounds it. This dictates the range that the pole will supply electricity. As such, you need to bare this in mind as you continue to link up more and more machines: machines placed within this square field of a given electricity pole will be powered, and those outside of it will not.
This setup forms the basis of electrical power, and you can build as many boilers and steam engines as you want.
Quick note: An important ratio to know is 1x20x40. One Off-shore pump can connect 20 boilers to 40 steam engines in the most optimal fashion.
Let’s Get Automating
Now that we’ve got a basic system for gathering resources and have a suitable power infrastructure, you’re going to get started with the fun stuff: automation.
The way to get started here is to automate your resources, and a priority should be first to replace/add to your array of burner mining drills with electric mining drills. Electric drills get the job done much faster, and because they’re powered by the electrical framework you just set up, you don’t need to continuously supply them with coal.
Place an electric drill on a desired patch of resources, and make sure it’s hooked up to the main system with electricity poles. You’ll see that when placing an electric drill it has a field around it similar to the electricity poles: this dictates the range of the patch it will be able to mine.
Now we can start our first small-scale automated rig. Note where the drill outputs its materials, and instead of placing a wooden crate, place several transport belts in a line. At the end of the line, place an Inserter and a wooden chest next to it (you can change the orientation of the inserter by hovering over it and pressing R).
This forms the basis of automation in Factorio, and even with just these three components, you can create a large network of automated systems to highly organize your mining. I suggest you spend time perfecting these systems for the remainder of your first hour; you’ll run into problems, but you’ll undoubtedly be able to come up with clever solutions by manipulating belts and inserters.
Dos and Don’ts
In this section, I’ll cover a few of my personal Do’s and Dont’s — some extra ideas for what you should both embrace and avoid as you start your Factorio journey.
Regularly check pollution levels: Pollution gradually increases as your factory does, and while it doesn’t affect your base directly, it is the catalyst for enemies evolving to be bigger and more dangerous. Regularly monitoring the levels can be achieved by pressing ALT to view an infographic of how pollution is spreading across the map. If it’s beginning to spread some distance, it may be time to start spending some money on better defenses — being vigilant about pollution can save you from a chaotic endgame.
Consider using Peaceful Mode for a bit: Within the Enemies tab of the map generator I went through at the start of this article, you can check Peaceful Mode for an easier time with the game’s enemies. With this option checked, enemies will only attack when you attack them, giving you some breathing room as you figure stuff out.
Keep your resource stream high: No matter what you’re working towards, always make sure to take time out and link up another drill or two to a resource patch. While you might think you have a steady enough stream coming in, it’ll only last so long. Always keep expanding a never stop — there’s nothing worse than wanting to get on with a big project and having to wait around until you have enough iron.
Don’t forget to multitask: It’s easy to get sucked in and focused on one specific task in Factorio, but you must ensure you don’t forget about the bigger picture. A myriad of different processes are happening all at once, so you need to practice flitting between areas of the map to micromanage. Keep this sentiment in your conscience at all times.
Don’t forget to use both sides of a belt: As a beginner, you might not realize that you can use both sides of a belt. While you’ll likely only be familiar with using belts to shuttle one type of item, half the belt can carry one resource while the other half delivers something different. This allows you to split your resource transport systems in innumerable different ways, so don’t forget the feature exists!
Don’t use the internet for your problems: At least, as much as you can avoid it. It’s the common consensus that Factorio is best played by figuring stuff out on your own, as discovering your own solutions is a huge part of the satisfaction of playing. You can use a guide like this to get you up and running, but for the more complex architectural aspects of the game, do your best to work things out by yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Will Factorio come to consoles?
Answer: For a while, the game was only available on PC, but out of nowhere late last year, the game was released for the Nintendo Switch. There’s currently no information on whether or not the game will come to PlayStation or Xbox platforms, but the Switch release certainly adds hope. The game is also available for Steam Deck.
Question: From what I’ve played already and read here, the game seems pretty complicated. How much time will I have to invest?
Answer: If you’re wanting an instantly gratifying game, Factorio likely isn’t your choice. Like any strategy or simulation game, Factorio is a slow burn with a big, satisfying payoff. It can be complicated at first, but if you follow these tips along with the tutorial, you’ll be building a sprawling, automated base in no time. You’ll have to invest a little more time during the beginning to learn the ropes, but after that, you can dip in and out as you choose thanks to the quick save features.
Question: I find the constant clicking in this game a bit tedious. Is there a way to speed things up?
Answer: Yes! and I highly recommend you do. I recommend you read this page on keyboard shortcuts. What we’ve gone through so far isn’t too tedious, but when you’re dealing with a lot of resources across dozens of machines, you’ll want to memorize some of the quickest ways of collecting, depositing, and copying and pasting.
I hope this getting started guide was useful to you. There’s a lot of information, so be sure to have the article up on your phone as you begin so the notes are readily available. If you have any specific questions or want to see what others are up to, the Factorio board on Reddit is a great space to frequent. Also, if Factorio peaked your interest, be sure to check out our other articles Other Games Like Factorio and Top 14 Best Indie Simulation Games. Have fun!