While we’re definitely partial to our indies here at Click, we never did quite manage to get fully aboard the Minecraft bandwagon, the reasons for which are twofold. Firstly, as noble and all a game that lets you create just about anything you can imagine is, the lack of an ultimate goal usually saw us getting distracted within an hour or two of loading the game up. There was always something shinier or more immediately rewarding on the horizon, so we never managed to give it the time it so genuinely deserved. That’s not a flaw with Minecraft, if anything that’s a flaw with us, but we’re willing to take the blame on this front. Secondly, it was just such an incredible time sink that it made it a wholly unrealistic gameplay experience given how busy the office is. Again, not Minecraft’s fault.
So when we heard about a new indie title that had just entered a paid open-beta phase, that married some of the basics of Minecraft (foraging for relevant supplies, keeping yourself safe during the night hours, randomly generated maps and clever combining and utilization of the items you collect), but one which didn’t quite demand as much time in order to get something out of it, our interest was piqued. That game is Don’t Starve, from Klei Entertainment, and we first loaded it up about 22 hours ago… We’ve now played it for 12 hours, completely killing any arguments we had about Minecraft being too time consuming.
Described on the game’s official website as “an uncompromising wilderness survival game full of science and magic”, Klei have done a far better job of describing the basic tenets of Don’t Starve than we ever could have. With literally no help, no guidance and no hand-holding tutorials, you’re thrown into an unforgiving map and tasked with staying alive for as long as possible. It’s the complete lack of explanation here that makes the whole thing so special. It’s not often that games assume that their players aren’t complete morons, but that’s the case here and then some.
Common sense, creativity and a basic understanding of the necessary fundamentals of survival will all stand you in good stead throughout Don’t Starve, but it’s a title that’s going to take you quite a bit of time to get to grips with thanks to its rather cryptic nature.
Instinctively, you’ll have a rough idea of what’s required of you. Food is top of the list, and the map certainly provides enough natural resources for you to give this survival thing a damn good go. From berries to seeds discarded by birds, you’ll be able to sustain yourself without things getting too complicated – but sustenance isn’t quite enough here, because the environment isn’t your friend. You’re going to need to stay one step ahead of your surroundings, first by trapping small animals for their tasty, tasty meat, and then moving onto increasingly large (and dangerous) game. Mess with the wrong blighter before you’re adequately prepared and it’s lights out – all your hard work will evaporate within a matter of seconds, fading to black before your very eyes and offering you no option other than to give it another go, from the beginning.
As punishing and all as Don’t Starve might sound, it’s a ludicrously enjoyable experience. Every time you play you’ll find yourself figuring out new approaches, uncovering new tools and combinations and, hopefully, beating your previous best survival record.
The randomly generated maps are curiously basic at first glance, but you’ll quickly uncover the nuances of the various areas throughout. From the wooded forest areas, which will prove to be important for the foragers among you, to the deadly swamps, completely with nasties ready to lash out when you least expect it, to grasslands with assortments of potentially tasty critters running around.
There’s one fairly major caveat to all this though, and that’s the fact that once it gets dark you’ll need to light a fire and get in out of the darkness or you won’t be seeing the sunrise. Lurking in the pitch black of night are mysterious critters who’ll gladly end your stay in their mysterious land. This makes careful management of your limited itinerary absolutely essential. The first time you find yourself without the necessary raw materials to get a fire going you’ll learn a lesson you won’t soon forget – until you get complacent a few hours later, having survived for thirty odd days by setting up multiple camps throughout the map, each with safe storage chests for your goodies, and your carefully forged plans fall asunder, all because you forgot to carry any twigs with you. Don’t Starve giveth, and most certainly taketh away.
It’s the fine balance between success and failure, starvation and gluttony, light and darkness and life and death that makes Don’t Starve so incredibly addictive. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on everything, you’ll unlock a range of potential new tools, sending you scurrying away from the safety of your camp once again to find the necessary raw materials to enable further experimentation. With these new tools you’ll find yourself becoming braver, too, willing to tackle bigger and meaner opponents than ever before and, most of the time, it’ll end in tears.
That old flint axe that served you so well is replaced with a hardier, swankier and shinier gold axe. Your research machine is upgraded to the intriguingly titled alchemy machine, and previously invaluable items are cast aside to make room for new offerings – it’s astoundingly epic for a game that has just entered its beta phase, and with new additions coming all the time, as well as additional balancing and tweaks to what’s there already, this is definitely going to prove to be a huge success for Klei.
While we’re normally quite reticent to recommend anyone forks over their hard earned money for a game that’s far from complete, it’s impossible not to urge you to go out and pick Don’t Stave up right this instant. No matter how you approach the game, no matter how cautious or ambitious you are, you’ll your tactics are constantly changing and adapting in tandem with the dangers you face. We would love nothing more than to get into the nuts and bolts of the various tools, combinations and tactics, but that would be to ruin the surprise for the rest of you – our recommendation is you head on over to http://www.dontstarvegame.com/
and buy the thing right now… they’ll even throw in an extra copy as a thank you for your early support!