Don’t Starve & Why I’d Rather Go Hungry

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.

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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.

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33 Comments

  1. I really enjoy this game and have got into a habit of saving every 2 nights. I’ve still not made it passed day 6 but I’ve had many laughs trying too.

  2. I’m loving Don’t Starve, and perma death is a brilliant game mechanic.

    Although after surviving 31 days, getting overwhelmed by a horde of spiders and murdered can be a little disheartening.

    Thank god for meat effigies.

  3. Does anyone know if you can upload (and download) your Don’t Starve save from the PS+ Cloud?

    I intend on going back to this once I’ve watched a few survival or tutorial videos on YouTube. It will probably be a game I use the Vita’s remote play function for when my wife is watching shite on telly…although I’m not sure if you can re-map the L2 and R2 triggers, as the reliability of the rear touch screen sucks?

    • R2 and L2 are automatically L and R. Don’t starve is good on remote play.

      • Thanks mate – so I don’t have to use the rear touch-screen for anything?

        Might have to fire it up sooner than I thought!

      • Not that I’m aware of anything using rear touchscreen. The only thing R1 and L1 are used for on DS4 are for changing camera angles and I find that too confusing.

      • Cool, thanks again!

      • Glad to help. No problem.

      • Christ you two… Get a room! :)

  4. I quite like this game. It’s a bit of fun when you’ve got 30 minutes or so to spare. It as I replied to Youles above it works really well on remote play. I do admit it is frustrating that you lose everything once dead b but remember to look for the touch stone for the extra life. Wiki is a very big help on this really but once you know a bit is fun.
    I got to day 14 all was going well then I jumped in a wormhole and things started to wrong. I’ll start again soon. I don’t see me getting that bored of this game any time soon, even with all the annoyance it goes me I enjoy it.

  5. Managed to build a fire once, could I work out how to add extra logs to the fire? No. Did I press EVERY BUTTON IN THE F*CKING UNIVERSE TWICE to see what worked? YES.

    Still didn’t work.

    Stupid game.

    Actually no, hateful, spiteful bit of software designed to annoy the f*ck out me.

    There are reasons why games have tutorials, admittedly 99% of them don’t need it but this one does. Dying – and therefore losing your progress – because you don’t know what button to press is NOT a game mechanic, it’s an f*cking lazy way of extending the game’s life.

    • I think it’s a D-pad button, although I found the D-pad “prompts” awkward, they looked no different from each other so I’d end up dropping something instead of using it or vice-versa.

    • I think you have to push the button 3 times.

    • You just have to stand next to a fire, highlight the object in your inventory you want to add to it and press the appropriate d-pad button as labelled on screen. It’s not that tricky.

      • Correction… Do the above then press EVERY BUTTON IN THE F*CKING UNIVERSE 3 TIMES!

    • Phew someone else that feels the same as me, I typically have a few more F-bombs dropping when discussing it though.

    • You didn’t push my button!

    • I’ve now got a weird Family Guy’esque image in my head of TC running on stage in the middle of a Cinderrela panto & pushing Buttons over… ‘Nope, that didn’t work… As you were!’

    • Technically there is a guide to show you the buttons. The game uses all of them!

    • Personally I find the lack of a tutorial quite refreshing. I’m really tired of games holding your hand for ages these days, taking two minutes to tell me the left stick moves my character. Throwing you in the deep end gives it a real retro hardcore feel, and I love it. Each time you play, you learn something new, and you use that knowledge on your next attempt.

      As you start to master the game, you feel some real pride in knowing that you learnt to survive on your own. Of course if you are confused by the controls, you can always pause it and check them under control options, that’s worth doing. Took me a while to realise that clicking the centre touch button gives you a really handy map.

  6. “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. The perma-death is the deal breaker for me. I think the game would have been better without it, or at least had some different game modes.

    I can see what they were going for with it, but for me it doesn’t work either and I very much doubt I’ll put anymore time into the game. Even the trophies are crap, because you have to play for ages, then die to even earn XP and unlock the characters… talk about a back to front system! Could have easily made it – “survive 3 days”, “catch 10 rabbits with a trap” etc… not “oh look you died again, have some XP towards unlocking a character”.

    I think its a shame, there’s real potential with Don’t Starve, but it missed it. It was free though, so can’t complain too much.

    • I’m sure I read the trophies are just deliberately taking the piss. Sony insist on trophies, but they didn’t want them. So they did the most pointless set of trophies possible. They’re all unlock a character, which only happens after you die. Oh, and one for building something pointless and another for using it some stupid number of times.

      Which sort of makes sense. When you’re just thrown into the game with the aim being simply not to die, adding pointless goals just to get trophies seems a bit wrong. That’s not the point of the game.

      Even only earning the XP to unlock characters after you die seems right. You’ve tried to survive with the first one, now here’s another character, let’s see if that works out any better for you. (It doesn’t). And see if their differences help. (They do, in some ways, but bring a whole new set of problems. The firestarter may come in handy when it gets dark, but you’ll soon have the whole world on fire and turning to ash)

      • Ah that explains it yd :)

        I can understand their reluctance on the trophy front if it wasn’t part of their “vision” for the game, but trophies can be fun and help the players experience every little bit of a game if implemented well and thought out (in my opinion of course!).

        Plenty of people seem to be enjoying the game still so it simply comes down to personal preference. The concept and art style of the game is great, but it just doesn’t hold long term interest for me. I did some reading up and there were people who’d survived like 1,000+ days! madness!

      • Agreed. The game is frustrating enough without having the distraction of perma-deaths, XP only at death and the unusual trophies being dished out for unlocking characters which will only ever be released once the main character dies.
        The game has potential but it’s spoilt by the layered game mechanics.

      • Agreed. The game is frustrating enough without having the distraction of perma-deaths, XP only at death and the unusual trophies being dished out for unlocking characters which will only ever be released once the main character dies.
        The game has potential but it’s spoilt by the layered game mechanics.

      • I didn’t quite get that. Say that again… :)

      • I very much enjoyed it but modded the perma-death out of it. I remember reaching day 59 without losing a single life and then “BOOM!”. I was gutted and that feeling of “everything? I’ve lost everything?!” kicked in. Sod that. I’m not into survivor modes in games anyway and this smacked of it. So… I modded it with the wonderful Steam Workshop community mods and it then turned into something I really enjoyed.

        Hell, I might even write an article about how I cheated for my own benefit and publish it on TSA! :-P

  7. I’m really enjoying the game. The rogue-like/perma-death mechanic is a clear design choice and part of what makes the game what it is.

    Rather than resort to wiki’s it’s better played whilst discussing with friends. So the mechanics and peculiarities are discovered and pondered rather than handed to you on a plate when you need it.

    It’s a different mindset for a game. You play to learn. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a choice the designers have made because it’s the type of game they wanted to make.

    • Fully agree – although it does mean it’s certainly not for everyone.

  8. I couldn’t help feeling that if they had included a tutorial and some background info as to the universe and it’s unique inhabitants the game would have been more accessible for many. Shame really but i can’t see myself trying it again.

  9. Its just ok for me so far. I like the day to night cycle and the changing seasons but the game doesn’t explain anything. It’s a bit like someone telling you to assemble a flat pack wardrobe without the instructions. In the dark. And then killing you for not doing it right.

    It would have been great if you could rescue other people and bring them back to your camp. Set up a small settlement with wooden huts and fences to keep the critters out. Teach rescuees how to fight so they can help you out when the attacks come at night. You could even take someone under your wing so that if/when you die, they become the new leader and you continue playing the game as your own apprentice.

  10. I’m really enjoying the game. Maybe death putting you back a few days would make it appeal to a wider audience. There’d have to be a limit on this of course. I spent a few days getting frustrated but always got that ‘one more go’ urge. Only got to day 9 so far though!

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