Don’t Starve definitely attracts attention with its unique premise and even stranger art style. Best described as Tim Burton hand drawing Minecraft, Don’t Starve makes its mark as being one of the most peculiar games around. While being different and distinctive will certainly draw attention, it is the gameplay that will keep people playing it. That also happens to be the main issue when it comes to Don’t Starve. The gameplay is certainly fun and immersive, but the one thing that you can always count on with perma-death is frustration. Now the problem with Don’t Starve is this: does the creative gameplay out-muscle the inevitable frustration when you die and lose everything?
The story – or lack thereof – is about a scientist that creates some machine that turns out to be evil. A demon transports the scientist into some dangerous world where everything is trying to kill him. That’s about it, but the game doesn’t really need a story, and it fits the overall mysterious atmosphere this game encompasses. The music is simple, with only a couple of tunes in its playlist. They’re enjoyable at first, but can grow old after hearing them for so long.
As stated earlier, the graphics aren’t exactly what you think of with next-gen, but they are creatively done to bring a personal flare to an already unique game. The entire game is presented in 2D, but done in a way to still represent 3D, as if taken directly out of a pop-up book. The characters and creatures are masterfully done to become visually appealing even if all drawings. The style is dark, almost gothic, with grim humor that you can’t help but chuckle at. The entire game is dark and gritty, but there is charm in the cartoony way it handles itself.
The graphics can certainly throw you off when you first boot this game up. You may think it won’t be that difficult, or once you learn the ropes you’ll be fine. This game is incredible challenging in every task that you need to accomplish. Even when you think you’re safe, Don’t Starve will throw something at you that will take you by complete surprise. It only takes one mistake and then you lose everything. When the premise of a game is as simple as “don’t starve” you can’t help but think that food is your biggest worry. There are plenty of times it will be, but there are many more times something else will be troubling you.
When you first start Don’t Starve you begin in a randomly generated world so you can never memorize where the necessary materials are. You have nothing to start with and must begin the simple life of scavenging berries, grass, twigs, flowers, flint, and maybe a carrot if you’re lucky enough. You build an axe to chop trees and get wood. Then build a fire to keep you safe at night. Once you find rocks you can make a pickaxe and mine some rock or even gold. Next thing you know, you have a fort, a farm, alchemy machines, winter clothing, and even a crock-pot to make some delicious meals.
Don’t Starve really took me by surprise by how much you can do in this game. I picked berries and twigs for the first hour or so, not really expecting much else. Once you mine gold, the options really open up to such an extent the game suddenly feels very overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what to focus on. I went from picking up rocks to being able to craft almost anything, or at least see what was needed to craft something. I didn’t know if I should focus on food gathering, by making a farm or building fishing rod. Maybe I should put my effort into weapons and armor to go explore the vast world.
That’s the real beauty in Don’t Starve. The amount of options you are given is rewarding, albeit a little confusing when you first get to that point. There is no shame in dying a few times before truly grasping the game. You’ll understand that you can’t waste a day, and that every day is precious, whether doing necessary mundane tasks, or exploring the sandbox world. Everything is essential, so you need to learn to prioritize, and the importance of exploring can’t be stressed enough. That is how you find parts that open up the Adventure Mode.
The sandbox mode will certainly occupy a lot of your time and you could easily spent a dozen or more hours in it. Trying to survive is tough enough, but once you find all the parts, you can make a portal to enter Adventure Mode, which is a series of challenges against the antagonist Maxwell. They’re tough and change-up the gameplay a little bit so you aren’t focusing on just surviving for the entirety of the game, although, the challenges are still about surviving so even if it feels new, it isn’t exactly a dramatic difference in that regard. The good news is that if you die in Adventure Mode, you are transported back to your other game mode with no harm done. This is probably the one instance in the game that is forgiving, since normally you are constantly trying to fight off that ultimate end.
Worrying about hunger isn’t the only hindrance in the game. There is also your health, which drops quickly and doesn’t recover automatically. On top of that, there is also your sanity to worry about. When you aren’t happy enough, your sanity goes down and you start seeing things. Eventually, those “things” will become real enough and kill you. So, you have to always eat, to not starve of course, while making sure not to take too much damage, because healing takes a lot of work and time. Lastly, you need to keep your character happy, or you will be lost to the shadow creatures.
There is always something to worry about in this game, and that’s not an understatement. You won’t always be hungry, but you character may be going insane. Pick some flowers, build some equipment, and stay near a campfire to make him happy. Then it starts raining, but that’s unimportant so you ignore it. Lightning strikes a tree nearby your base and sets it on fire. It catches other trees on fire, it spreads quickly, now your farm is on fire, and there goes your food. Maybe next time you’ll build a lightning rod to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Don’t Starve’s unforgiving gameplay is partly why it’s so addicting. There is never a free ride, and you never think that you can breathe easy. The second you do, something will go wrong. Here’s another example. I was doing great. I had so much food it was spoiling before I could eat it all. I had a nice fort built, farms, a drying rack, a crock-pot, spears, armors, hats, and even the ever important ice-box. I was set, so I was getting ready for winter. A season where food is scarce and being cold can also be deadly. Even more things to worry about, but I was ready. I happened to have my fort against the water. I figured it was a natural protection and nothing would harm me. On the first day of winter, penguins jumped out of the sea and attacked me. They completely ambushed me and murdered me instantly. I lost everything. How was I supposed to account of vicious blood-thirsty penguins?
I let out a frustrated growl, said how much I hated this game, and then started a new one to go back to picking twigs and rocks. I love Don’t Starve for how rewarding it is when you’re doing well, but I hate it for how utterly devastating it is when you die. I understand that’s the point, and that’s why Don’t Starve can be so much fun. In fact, it’s a little unfair to attack a game’s perma-death when that’s really the main draw. The real problem in Don’t Starve isn’t so much the perma-death, but how long it takes to getting to that “fun” point.
Don’t Starve is fun once you make a home base, get your machines going, and start building things. Getting to that point can take days and days of doing tedious work. Days of picking twigs, finding carrots, and making hats out of flowers. You need to explore until you find the rocks and then you need to find a good spot to set up camp. This can all take days of traveling and navigating the enormous world. You can’t rush this, because then you won’t be set up well enough and never survive in the long run, so you need to take your time in the beginning. Sometimes the world will be generous and fruitful, but other times the randomly generated level will screw you over. There were times I killed myself to spawn a new world rather than waste my time trying to make the unfairly difficult one work. One time all the gold I needed was scattered throughout a giant labyrinth of spider nests. I couldn’t build any necessary equipment to fight them, because I needed the gold they had. So before I got any further along, I killed myself to start again in a better world.
This doesn’t sound game breaking, but it actually can be. Dying is so tragic, that I don’t even feel like playing Don’t Starve anymore. There are times you may even argue the ways you die, like when you have problems targeting an enemy to attack. There are many battles when one swing more swing would’ve killed the creature, but aiming was too difficult or the hit wasn’t registering. Dying wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to spend about an hour doing boring work to set up every time. Sometimes it takes so long to get ready that winter grows close and you may not be ready, which really means it’s only a matter of time until you die and go back to picking up rocks.
Don’t Starve is a wonderful game to experience, but there is no true longevity to be found. The adventure mode breaks up standard gameplay by giving you some tough challenges, but it isn’t going to make you play this game endlessly. Unless you are able to survive forever, or maybe come back to Don’t Starve after not playing it for months, Don’t Starve’s inevitable death will drive you from the game. Losing everything wouldn’t be as horrible if it didn’t take days of tedious work before getting to the real challenge or fun part. Maybe if you enjoy all that preparatory work in the early stages, then you won’t find dying so frustrating, but to those who like all the crafting and challenges in winter, losing everything is devastating. I had a lot of fun playing Don’t Starve, and I know I’ll play it again down the line, but after only being out for two weeks, I’ve already lost my appetite.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 4 version of Don’t Starve developed and distributed by Klei Entertainment.
- Solid Crafting System
- Tedious Work
- Some Cheap Deaths