Sandbox survival games have exploded in popularity in recent years. The concept is so basic and yet so addictive: players are thrust into a hostile world and must survive. One starts off by gathering resources, building tools and then goes on to make a shelter and fend off hostile creatures. A myriad of games have taken a different approach on the genre. Minecraft focuses more on the building aspect and less on combat. Terraria however, focuses more on adventuring and combat while feeling like an RPG. The list of examples goes on and on. Don’t Starve serves as a welcome addition to this style of games. With a large focus on surviving, without sacrificing depth, and an unforgiving difficulty, Don’t Starve will draw you into its lively world and keep you busy for many hours to come.
Players assume the role of Wilson, a scientist pulled into a different dimension. There they are greeted by the enigmatic Maxwell. This apparent nemesis informs you that you should better find food before night comes and promptly disappears. And so your adventure begins. As Wilson, you wander through this strange land striving for survival while trying to retain your sanity. Add in a myriad of monsters and the looming threat of winter and players are in for a great challenge. Contrary to the game’s title, not starving will turn out to be the least of the your worries.
Of course I do not look good. You kidnapped me for Pete’s sake!
The first few minutes of the adventure will be spent exploring and gathering crucial resources like flints, branches, bushes, and food. All for the purpose of setting up a simple camp for the night. Those menial tasks, while important for your survival, start getting old as the game goes on. The crafting system itself is simple but deep, however the difficulty of acquiring some materials leaves something to be desired. The fact that death is irreversible in most cases leads to many infuriating moments and extra hours backtracking your progress. In addition, managing the hunger and sanity meters can be quite a chore at times. Combined with the fact that your only reward for playing is unlocking new characters, this can lead to decreased replay value for some players. Don’t Starve is unforgivable in terms of difficulty.
However for all its quirks, Don’t Starve makes up in depth and a beautiful world to explore. Be it the underground caves or the surface world, players are bound to encounter a lot of surprises, and probably deaths, while exploring. From the lovely pig villages to the deadly spider dens, exploring always turns up something new, whether that is a natural hazard or just a buffalo habitat. Beware though. While traps are rare, they can be quite deadly. Also you might want to avoid wandering in the dark. Getting mauled to death by an unseen monster can be quite unpleasant.
A pretty staff surrounded by 5 hounds. What could possibly go wrong?
Speaking of monsters, this game has an abundance of them. These range from feeble spiders to terrifying spider queens to hellish hounds and anthropomorphic walrus hunting parties! While the monster roster is pretty interesting, combat itself is quite dull, consisting of swinging at each other until someone dies. However, the clunkiness of combat serves to further outline the fact that your survival is no joking matter.
Players aspiring to survive for a long time in Don’t Starve better do a lot of planning in advance. Whether it’s saving food supplies for winter or setting up a safe base or stealing an egg from the local giant bird nest, caution is advised. As mentioned above, the game doesn’t make light of mistakes and should the winter season find you unprepared, you are in for a slow freezing death. The season system adds extra difficulty to an already difficult game while also making some significant gameplay changes on the map. Local wildlife during winter and spring/summer differs greatly. Also some food sources are rather scarce. This kind of difficulty spike may probably turn off quite a number of players.
I have to admit it. Stealing its egg wasn’t the best idea.
For all those that are bored by the challenges above, in the wild lies a gate. It leads to adventure mode which is pretty much treasure hunting among 5 different worlds of varying themes. This is also the only way of beating the game. Each world, remaining true to the Don’t Starve spirit, ramps up in difficulty. If there’s one thing that’s persistent about this game, that is how difficult it can be at times. Be warned.
Putting difficulty aside, this game’s design has a unique charm to it. The environment and the characters are lively and have a Tim Burtonesque style to them. Add in the appropriate soundtrack that plays here and there and you have a pretty engaging game. Combine all this with deliberate and careful gameplay and you have a small indie gem.
Don’t Starve is an interesting experimentation on the sandbox survival genre. It has a simple yet addictive and deep gameplay. If there’s one thing that’s holding it back, that’s its unforgiving difficulty. However, whether you are up for the challenge or not, surviving in Don’t Starve is a fun experience and it will keep you coming back for more. Even after you ragequit because of your last death. That’s a feat few of games can boast about.
Have fun and remember… Don’t Starve!
Don’t Starve score: 4/5