Story - This game mode involves following a main story quest arc, in addition to numerous side quests, to progress through the game. The world is predefined, and the locations of monsters, flora, and minerals are fixed. The quests take you around to different destinations which can then be fast-traveled to for a cost of meat. Scripts for building items are slowly acquired/learned/purchased from NPCs along the way.
Currently, many of the quests are bugged, and can easily be broken by dying, leaving the area, or quitting the game. Others, seem to be mysteriously completed when you load a game mid-quest.
Adventure - (V1.0.6) This mode allows you to wander freely in a open world. You are able to buy templates, resources and equipment from NPCs. NPCs will offer similar quests and rewards as in Story Mode. Depending on the Map size, there will be several human "colonies" with 1 or more native tribes to contend with. Alien Diplomacy quests have been initiated, but several of the quests are still broken at this time (Devs claim to be working on it). Settlement building quests have also been initiated and have been more ironed out since the last patch which include, building a settlement, growing your population, and defending the settlement from attacks (usually in waves of aggressive creatures). Instead of Meat, there is a universal currency that has been established and can be acquired through trade. NPCs will regularly replenish their stock of sellable goods and their money cache as well.
Tip: One of the NPCs will give you a better price for buying mined ore, rocks, and other resources. Sell to this person till their credits are gone, wait 5 minutes (or when credits replenish) and sell some more!
Note: Not all templates will be available at the first "colony," you will need to explore the map and find the other colonies to further the game in order to get all of the gear.
Note: Adventure Mode is the only mode where Credits are used as a money source.
Build - This mode gives you infinite resorces, items and equipment in your inventory. You can do what ever you want and there are no animals in this mode.