After spending a few hours with Don’t Starve, I can safely say that it’s really not my cup of tea. Next to Resogun, Klei Entertainment’s roguelike has been touted as a poster child for Sony’s indie initiative. Also, much like Housemarque’s frantic arcade hit, Don’t Starve is completely free to play through PlayStation Network.
So, you’ve probably seen a few screenshots or video clips while surfing the web but what sort of game is it? What do you actually do?
Well, as the name suggests, your sole objective is to stay alive. It sounds kind of simple but within minutes of being dropped into the game, things start to get a little overwhelming.
You see, despite its cartoon aesthetic and whimsy, Don’t Starve can be a brutal experience. Instead of offering a helping hand, the game delivers a kidney punch and chinese burn before flipping you off and vanishing into the boundless hinterlands. In less drawn-out terms, you’re left to fend for yourself and there are no tutorials to guide you.
Your first few moments will be spent getting familiar with the controls. Navigation, camera movement, and basic actions come easy enough, though the inventory system can take a while to get used to. It’s always visible on-screen, keeping track of the items, equipment and resources needed to stay alive. The combination of trigger buttons, d-pad and the Dualshock 4’s right stick will prove finicky but ultimately works well.
You’ll start off small, collecting twigs, grass cuttings, and stones as well as flint, berries, flower petals and other readily-available resources strewn about the place. Together these can be combine to form a variety of tools and other stuff needed for survival. Though you are free to approach the game however you wish, you’ll likely find yourself crafting axes and picks which are needed to fell trees and split heavy boulders.
The more items you gather, the more combinations become available until, after a number of days, you’re surrounded by advanced gizmos, structures, and other contraptions.
However, while tinkering away, day will gradually turn to night and this is where things change around slightly. Once the sun sets there will be no visibility whatsoever and you’ll be attacked out of nowhere by a sinister, invisible predator. Neglecting your campfire or failing to build one in the first place is one of the many schoolboy errors players can make in Don’t Starve.
It’s not just the foul creatures of the night you need to be wary of either. Going without food will lead to starvation while wandering the night alone will take its toll on your sanity. Furthermore, the randomly generated map is peppered with all kinds of NPCs, most of which will attack on sight.
So, you’re probably thinking, why don’t you just find a nice cozy spot and wait for things to blow over?
If only it were that simple. Trees, boulders, bushes and other nodes regenerate slowly meaning that you constantly need to move around looking for more resources. Building some sort of headquarters is a solid strategy though you’ll need farm plots and defensive walls to make it viable.
One last thing worth mentioning is that upon death, you lose all progress. That’s right, every invention built or item scavenged simply disappears unless you find ways of bringing yourself back from the dead.
This was probably my biggest sticking point with Don’t Starve. I’d invest a solid amount of time to keeping myself alive, gradually building a settlement before having it stomped out by a random tree man who just happened to come strolling through my camp. Then again, permadeath is the core pillar of the roguelike genre.
Will I go back to Don’t Starve? Most likely, yes. I’m not particularly keen on the sorts of games which require trawling user wikis and guides yet at the same time there’s an almost tangible sense of reward that comes from gaining knowledge whether first hand or from other players. For now I’m still not sold on the premise but at the same time I’d still advise people to at least try it.