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Don't Starve

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By BloodyFanGirl26-04-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
Bobfish (editor)
Don't Starve

The Defence

Developer:
Klei Entertainment
Publisher:
Klei Entertainment
Genre:
Adventure, Indie
Release Date:
23-04-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel 1.7 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia equivalent
AMD Radeon HD 5450
RAM:
1 GB
HDD:
500 MB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

 

Don’t Starve is an open world, Roguelike survival game, and the latest project from developer Klei Entertainment. The game sets down Wilson, the gentleman scientist, in the middle of the wilderness and the player must keep him fed, safe and sane. To do so, he needs to collect resources that will aid him in these endeavours whilst also avoiding the various dangers that lurk across the map. But can this game survive the wrath of the Judges?

The Trial

 

If there’s one word that applies to Don’t Starve it’s clearly ‘quirky’. From the sketchy but still very polished animation to the gameplay and the numerous games it takes inspiration from, Don’t Starve is definitely different.

Some people just want to watch the world burn.

Some people just want to watch the world burn.

Don’t Starve borrows gameplay elements most prominently from the 1980 dungeon crawler Rogue, but it does so with a twist. Most obvious of these is that death is not cheap. Unless you activate a touchstone, of which there is only usually one per randomly generated map, once you die that’s it, you’re dead. However death is not merely a frustrating occurrence but an integral part of the progression system. Depending on how many days your character survives, the player is awarded experience points allowing you to level up and unlock new characters to play as. There are eight characters in total and each one has their own personality and special abilities. For example, you can unlock Wolfgang who has more health and packs a wallop. Willow on the other hand, is a bit of a pyromaniac and as such is resistant to fire damage. Wilson on the other hand can grow a great big bushy beard. Don’t Starve’s use of perma-death certainly makes for a challenging but generally rewarding experience but its presence may put off more casual players.

That said, dying isn’t always the end for your character. If, before dying, you have activated the aforementioned touchstone, you can, similar to the Diablo series, go back to where you met your untimely end and retrieve your stuff. However the randomly generated maps are huge so you may be in for a bit of a trek between the touchstone and where your character met a sticky end. The place you died isn’t marked on the map either, making going back sometimes more trouble than it’s worth.

One of the main focuses here, as with any roguelike, is exploration. It’s the only way you’re going to find the touchstone in the first place. By exploring you can find ancient ruins, a village of pig people with a shrine to their king and the remains of ill-fated explorers who ventured out before you. You can also find worm holes that act a bit like a shortcut to other, sometimes unexplored, areas of the map. The further out you travel, the more likely you are to find unusual resources that can be used to craft weapons, armour and science machines to aid your endeavours. Exploration in is hugely rewarding, whether you’re simply picking up flint and flowers or discovering new landmarks. Because each new game puts you down on a randomly generated map and because each map is so big you’re bound to find something new each time, preventing gameplay from becoming dull.

I just wanted to be friends!

I just wanted to be friends!

Each in-game day lasts about six to seven minutes in real time but each new day presents its own challenges (word of advice, don’t attack the buffalo early on. They will chase you for three quarters of the next day, wasting time you could’ve spent much more wisely). During the day it’s a good idea to collect things that can be made into a torch or fire as at night everything goes pitch black without these. When your character is alone in the dark for too long, monsters attack and more often than not that’s when the player character is most likely to kick the bucket. Your fire will eventually go out so it’s a good idea to keep several torches on hand just in case. Although rare, rain obviously puts out fire very quickly so there is a significant difficulty spike during rainy nights.

During each day the three key challenges the player must face are monitoring their character’s hunger, health and sanity. If either one of these meters empties completely your character will die. Thankfully these meters don’t deplete rapidly on their own. Nevertheless one must be careful not to aggravate the amount they decrease by, for example, eating the wrong thing; some flowers increase both your character’s satiation and your health, other flowers cause a large decrease in your character’s health. Furthermore it’s not always immediately obvious what will cause your character ill health until they’ve eaten it.

In addition to all of this the food you collect will eventually go bad, not unlike the mechanic found in Metal Gear Solid 3. Moreover you only have a finite amount of item slots in your inventory. Your character can carry a lot, but the player needs to be selective as there is a lot in the world of Don’t Starve that can be picked up. This necessity for careful item management presents the player with the task of balancing need with what you can actually carry. Do you hang onto that extra torch just in case or do you keep those flower petals instead? Dropping either one could be the player’s salvation or damnation later on, so this makes for an exciting dynamic within gameplay.

No one seemed to appreciate Wilson's first forays into fine art.

No one seemed to appreciate Wilson's first forays into fine art.

In terms of art direction, Don’t Starve clearly owes a debt to Tim Burton with much of the character designs as well as the monster designs being reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. The game’s colour palette is also quite muted but not to the point that it makes the game boring to look at. Many of the characters’ personalities, which is conveyed through the things they say when they examine something, makes none of them look like they’d be out of place in a Burton film. Indeed, the things your character says is where much of the game’s charm and humour comes from. Each character has unique utterances and no two characters will react the same way to something they find. For instance, if Willow examines a skeleton she’ll morbidly say she hopes that the deceased went out in a blaze of glory, but if you get Wolfgang to examine the same thing he’ll simply say ‘not enough muscle’. I found myself being endeared to these characters through these tidbits of their thought process that were shared with me, making me want to help them survive all the more.

Tonally, Don’t Starve feels Burton-esque as well and this is thanks to the sparse soundtrack which adds to an eerie sense of isolation within the game. But occasionally the sound design is sparse to the point that the game world feels empty. These moments are not very frequent and don’t last long before a monster starts trying to head-butt the player character to death.

The Verdict

 

Don’t Starve is a roguelike that hardly frustrates making it very appealing for players new to the genre. Full of charm and variety it is in fact a game that is very rewarding to play. The next update will land sometime next month and I personally can’t wait to see what it adds to an already good game.

Case Review

  • Never Dull: Each in-game day as well as the large randomly generated maps bring a continuous stream of new challenges and new things to find.
  • The Art Direction: The art is beautiful and wonderfully gothic.
  • Continuous Updates: These updates will continue to add new content to an already solid gaming experience.
  • Roguelike: Perma-death and the lack of instruction may put off casual players but the game isn’t as difficult as some others within its genre.
  • Sound Design: Very sparse and occasionally leaves the game world feeling empty.
  • If at First You Don’t Succeed...: Player character death and losing all of that progress is never fun.
4
Score: 4/5
Charming, challenging and rewarding

Appeal

Don’t Starve is a game with an interesting starting premise. You are Wilson, the gentleman scientist, and are stuck in a strange world with giant animals, pigmen and, in some areas, a disturbing amount of graves with really random objects in them. Your task is to survive long enough to find a way to escape. To do so you’ll need tools. Much like Minecraft, you start by gathering materials by hand, and quickly need to move up to axes and picks in order to gather the materials you’ll need to build a fire and gather enough food to get you through the night, and ward off the monsters lurking in the dark. Depending on how long you survive, you’ll probably end up gathering enough stuff to advance the tech tree, for which you need to build a series of machines that will allow you to prototype new designs for tools, housing, clothing, etc. I really like this aspect of the game, since it makes sense that a scientist would seek to conquer the world around him through invention and sheer intellectual tenacity. There are other playable characters that you unlock as you survive the wilderness, which all have their own unique abilities and playstyles - making each procedurally generated playthrough as fresh as possible.

All this is packaged inside a gorgeously crafted aesthetic, the hand drawn art style is a perfect match for the game, and you can tell that there was a lot of love that went into the art direction. The music helps reinforce the sense of wonder and slight fear caused by the world you find yourself in, and the use of musical instruments to form the character’s voices is an inspired way to reflect that character’s personality without another voice ruining the feeling of being alone in the wilderness. The one problem with the game is how completely unforgiving it is to new players, but it kind of comes with the territory of both roguelikes and survival games, so it’s hard to fault Don’t Starve for that - and anyway, looking back, every time I died it was completely my own stupid fault, and I’ve learned from those mistakes. I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who is looking for more than their average game.

4.5
Score: 4.5/5

Appeal

Don’t Starve, the game that has been starving gamers for the full version for ages. Though playable for a long time, Don’t Starve has finally grown from a little sprout to a fully consumable game. Though it’s dubbed a full version, it still has some raw spots up and down its trunk. The main issue that is starving Don’t Starve is the lack of a proper tutorial. Understandably, this is a rogue-like game, those are never hand-holders, but I don’t like to have to restart my game before I have a clue what to do. Plus, those hints and tips don’t help you much when you’re a freshly backed Wilson. Another issue is the combat. It lacks intuition and in general is not that fun. Being a survival game it requires you to, you know, fight for your life, and it’s lackluster.

Now, besides these two issues, the game is great. It might be called a cousin to Minecraft but that wouldn’t be that accurate (well maybe a very distant cousin). It has that building element but the goal here is to survive and get out through the help of - SCIENCE! Lots of things to explore and lots of things to die from (as this is a rogue-like sort of experience). So if you aren’t ready to get out of your dippers and get into the big bad world, better stay home and away. And for the big boys – welcome to Don’t Starve.

4
Score: 4/5
Comments (4)
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Posts: 241

Looks like a fun game, the frequent deaths and restarts actually appeal to me.

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Posts: 351

I absolutely love this game, it is very fun and funny.

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Posts: 207

Congrats on your first review!!

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Posts: 1317

Pop the champagne, she wrote a review!