Preview: Don’t Starve [Beta]

Don't Starve

  • Developer: Klei Entertainment
  • Genre: Survival
  • Platforms: Steam; Chrome

Since time immemorial, Terraria has often been lauded as a 2D Minecraft of sorts. Granted, there is some merit to that claim and so I’ll agree to some extent. What I don’t approve of however is the popular trend of misappropriating every new indie game to Minecraft in some form another. That being the case, and just because both Minecraft and Don’t Starve contain survival elements does not mean Don’t Starve is a top down Minecraft of sorts. The fact that I’ve already seen this posted all over the net gets me somewhat irked. Let me get this straight right here and now, Minecraft is not the first of its kind, the original hipsters of survival games are roguelike games. Moreover, Minecraft is based off of Infiniminer so please, for the love of Gordon Freeman, stop calling it a 2D Minecraft. Now that I’ve got that off of my chest, let’s get down to Don’t Starve.

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Weirdly enough, and because Minecraft does contain some element of survival, it is useful to make use of a widely known game in order to explain Don’t Starve’s mechanics. For example, they both contain day/night cycles, day being the safe (more productive) time of the day with night being the time you take shelter from all the nasty’s that may roam. More importantly, Don’t Starve makes use of a similar but much more in-depth set of hunger and cooking mechanics than Minecraft. The differences come down to the depth of mechanics present within each game. While Minecraft’s survival elements can be likened to that of a wafer thin focaccia, tasty in their own right, but hardly enough satisfy one’s craving and so served as more a starter to the rest of the game’s mechanics. Don’t Starve’s survival elements are its deep dish base, its crust and all the extras on top. They offer up far more variety, depth and are more than sufficient to keep you entertained and coming back for more. Make sense, I hope I didn’t lose you there. I thought it pretty clever using a food analogy in describing a game about well… not starving.

So how exactly does Don’t Starve separate itself from other survival games? What’s its premise? The point is quite simple really. You’re placed on a randomly generated map that consists of either a set varying interconnected biome themed islands or a single island containing a unique scramble of all the biomes in one. As you’d expect with differing biomes, each contains differing fauna and flora that the player needs to make use of in order to survive. It’s not that simple though and the game expects you to quite quickly become accustomed to melding and creating tools and more advanced foods from the basic resources found. And despite being in beta status, Don’t Starve already contains a pretty large set of tools and foods to create. From farms that make use of seeds to grow vegetables and fruit to suits of armour and even different hats with unique abilities. So what’s the catch, well apart from the rarity of some resources over others, you’re going to have to research the more advanced gizmos available to you via a science machine. All that’s required to gain said research points is plop things into the science machine, be it food, rarer discoveries or just junk you find lying around and depending on the rarity or difficulty of obtaining said items, well you’re given an appropriate amount of research points accordingly.

On the food side of things, all basic foods whether meat, fruit or vegetable can be cooked in order to increase their effectiveness. Foods can also be combined together to create whole new recipes, each restoring more health and hunger than their uncooked counterparts. As you might imagine then, there is a hunger meter which will slowly drain as your character goes without food. Starving, as you’d suspect, causes the player to expire and die, though there are plenty creatures and hazards just waiting to get a crack at killing you themselves.

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Alone that’d be more than enough for quite a meaty game but there’s a lot more Don’t Starve serves up… see what I did there. Recent updates have allowed for the movement of terrain tiles via the shovel, though for now it’s purely aesthetic though I can imagine a far ranging set of features that can be developed from this. And I know what you want to say, look, that’s a Minecraft feature. Well it’s only the tilesets that can be moved and so you can’t create new terrain. Another feature recently added to the game is that food, despite being relatively easy to obtain, can now spoil and so hording food is nowhere near as effective as it used to be. Instead, the trick is to create a base of operations that can reliably supply you with food that you haven’t technically picked yet and so hasn’t started to spoil. This is a welcome addition as it provides all sorts of required tactics in the quest to have food at the ready but without it actually going rotten. It’s Don’t Starve’s attempt to provide challenge and variety without letting the survival mechanics become tired and underutilised. So far it seems to be working well and I’m thoroughly enjoying the mechanics of the game.

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As far as how the game looks and feels, Don’t Starve has a rather fetching Tim Burton aesthetic which is well suited to the game’s twisted sense of humour. This is especially true in the case of the playable characters, who are not only concerned with surviving but seem to relish in the destruction of nature in order to do so. That said, each character extends beyond simply being a different skin with each maintaining their own unique abilities and strengths for survival. Wilson, for example, the starting character and mascot for Don’t Starve has the ability to.. wait for it… grow a beard. And while that on its own is worthy of praise, shaving off your beard at various lengths provides you with beard hair, a vital component in creating a meat effigy. That’s right, you can build meat effigies, a magical statue that allows your character to be reborn should he be slain by nature. A nature, I should point out, that is only too happy to end your life as you attempt to end its.

With varying character abilities, though none as stupendous as the ability to grow a beard, comes the need to unlock said characters. In order to unlock the other characters you gain XP for each day you follow the game’s creed and well… not starve. At the end of your life, cruel though it may be, you’re rewarded with that XP and hopefully enough to unlock a new character. You’re then free to restart the same world with the same or a different character or regenerate a new world for a different challenge. That said, and in order to make things a trifle easier, you keep the research points and unlocks you’ve accumulated through all other playthroughs. Whether this is a function of the beta, allowing us to try everything without it being too difficult and so able to report back on the game, or a permanent feature is yet unknown to me.

Given that Don’t Starve is currently in beta status, a lot of Don’t Starve’s mechanics, while seemingly cemented, are subject to change. That said, purchasing the game as a beta, apart from the welcome discout, gives you the opportunity to give feedback and even suggest features you’d like to see in the game and from what I’ve seen so far, the developers are only too happy to consider any constructive advice or criticism. All-in-all, Don’t Starve is a great little game with a price that matches. If you’re into survival styled games or are just interested in what you’ve read about, then give it a try. Best of all, and if you buy it off of Steam, you’ll get two copies for the price of one and so can share and split the cost with a friend. And for a little over $5 that’s a bargain in my books.

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4 thoughts on “Preview: Don’t Starve [Beta]

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