I almost hesitate to recommend this one.
For a variety of reasons.
The biggest one is that this game eats your time. I’m not sure where the weekend went.
It’s also not the cheapest it could go, at only 40% off, but it won’t hit any longer during the summer sale. (It will probably have a daily deal after the sale at 50% though.)
Miserly me has also been sitting back on this one as it’s barely reached 50% off once, and I thought I would wait until it got cheaper.
But now I regret hesitating to pick it up then, as the thought of being able to play a good modern survival game kept preying on the back of my mind like a hallucinatory spider until I decided I would just get it, at whatever price it was being offered at the summer sale.
The last reason to hold back on the purchase would be what people typically say about Don’t Starve, it’s a hard and challenging game in the survival genre and thus may not be to everyone’s taste.
But ehhh, those words don’t describe it very well at all.
Don’t Starve is part of an as yet rare breed in the PC world, a true survival style game in the vein of games like Lost in Blue (Nintendo DS) and Unreal World (PC ascii rogue-like.)
The key is the hunger meter, a ticking time bomb that steadily drops as the hours and days pass, and your goal is to strive to maintain it for long enough to accomplish other goals like exploration and crafting and possibly story progress, depending on the game.
Entropy relentlessly wears away at it. Mistakes are costly to recover from. Many game turns or days are spent running back and forth involved with repetitive action while one strives to maintain a happy medium between progress and bar maintenance.
This repetition is sometimes criticized, but really, if people can mine endless tunnels in Minecraft looking for diamonds or play farming games like Harvest Moon, there’s really no difference except whether the player has accepted it as part of the goal and gameplay.
What Don’t Starve has going for it is, first of all, a very unique aesthetic.
It’s a Tim Burton-esque style of dark, quirky, macabre and comedic and it works very very well. The game universe has a bizarre logic to it, even when you run into the strangest of oddities and are expecting an unpleasant surprise.
Your first days and first games, will, in a rogue-like vein, be mostly a learning experience as you run headlong into all manners of horrible ways to die.
Totalbiscuit, in his WTF of it, has commented that Don’t Starve is very much a wiki game, in that reading the wiki and all manners of guides are pretty much accepted and expected – the game does not handhold you.
Then again, Minecraft and Terraria are also very much wiki games after the first few discovery and exploration attempts (did anyone really try to figure out redstone circuits from scratch?) and Don’t Starve is no different. You may choose to play the first few games unknowing and enjoy the process of learning through repeated deaths, but eventually, I think most players reach a point where they reach the limit of their own resources and start to type things into google to find out how others are handling the same thing.
And from that wiki understanding, your next games will be deeper and richer and so on.
I started a new game to take screenshots, as I didn’t want to jinx my existing game. The following will describe various occurrences and mention in brief some strategies of play, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, please look away now and just buy the game already.
I took the opportunity to play a completely new to me to character, Wolfgang the Strongman, described as being “stronger with a full belly” and “is afraid of the dark and monsters,” which didn’t tell me very much.
Day 1: Wolfgang wakes and runs around.
Exploring one’s surroundings is critical to getting an idea of where all the various resources are, and where best to place one’s camp.
Totalbiscuit’s other criticism of Don’t Starve is that the starting layouts can be rather arbitrary. Some may place you in a good position, and others may stack the deck against you from the very beginning. On this, I think he’s spot on, though I think there can be some mitigation once a player understands the game well enough to hunt around for a good base camp site.
I immediately realize that this is a much better arrangement of resources than my last two games.
I find a rocks biome to the north, which will provide rocks, flint and gold. There’s even a tallbird nest or two.
I run into a cobblestone road, something I’ve never seen before prior to this, only encountering dirt paths in my previous plays. It’s an excellent speedy highway, which reveals lightly forested land to the northeast (which will have twigs and berry bushes), deepening to denser forest (more trees) and expose a spider den, which I give a wide berth for now (good silk and monster meat for later farming.)
There’s a pond that will produce frogs near my original start location, and south of that is savannah, filled with grass and rabbit holes.
This is the spot, I decide, as the day is evaporating fast. Camping out near an accessible road and near rabbits for a constant source of food, a decent amount of various resources nearby.
Having learned the hard way in the first few playthroughs, I have been grabbing every last tuft of grass and twigs to create traps as I explore the map. It isn’t until the day is nearly gone that I realize that I’ve almost forgotten to get wood to start a fire. I hastily assemble an axe and make a mad dash for a tree or two for logs.
The controls are not obvious. I’d previously ended up clicking a lot trying to find an ideal rhythm for woodcutting and stopping and starting. I’ll tell you now that one has to hold down the left mouse button or spacebar, and that seems to chop the easiest.
I’m fast enough that there’s enough light left and I decide to go for broke and race to mine some boulders for rocks and get an efficient firepit going since I’d decided on my base camp spot, rather than the dinky little temporary campfire that one normally starts off with.
I have not done much of anything about food, having not encountered any berries or carrots yet. Wolfgang’s gnawing stomach and plummeting meter makes itself known, and to my surprise, he physically shrinks and becomes wimpy.
The first night, with only a small supply of logs to hold back the encircling darkness.
Tomorrow, food is a big priority. I need to forage urgently. I need to find a biome and a promising direction to go in. Nighttime is a good time to decide on the next day’s goals and open the map to make plans.
In Don’t Starve, one has to constantly think ahead and plan how best to spend the few precious hours (really, minutes) of light.
Day 2: Wolfgang strips the bush of anything edible.
I hurtle southward along the road, hoping to find a more hospitable forest with berry bushes and carrots, while collecting the world’s biggest collection of twigs and grasses.
I forage it bare, as I might not have done on an earlier, more cautious game with Wilson, as Wolfgang appears to have a cavernous stomach and an enormous hunger meter to fill, and my main plan to sustain his hunger is really to set up a whole bunch of rabbit traps near my savannah base.
Except he better not starve before that gets going.
Daylight is running out again and more importantly his hunger meter needed to be filled. I rush back to “base camp” or the one lonely firepit with a handful of berries and some carrots, and cook them all, then scarf them down. It’s not much, but it’s something.
I realize to my annoyance that I can’t make beams from logs to burn yet. I forgot a Science Machine. (Or rather, hunger came first.)
Another lonely night is spent, slowly feeding in logs every 90ish seconds or so before the fire goes out. I weave some more rabbit traps in the meantime.
They will be dumped on top of the rabbit holes first thing tomorrow morning.
(Which seems to be the most efficient way to catch rabbits. My initial game wasted a lot of resources trying to bait the trap with carrots, and placing it a distance from the rabbit holes.)
Day 3: The Quest for the Science Machine
I run up to the rocky area with a pickaxe to mine for gold for the science machine. I also find a strange ring surrounded by evil flowers. (Dear gods, this is a dense layout I’ve gotten. I have no clue what it does and don’t want to wiki it up yet. I leave it well alone.)
Mining is interrupted by a tallbird, who seems to think I’ve gotten too close to its nest, and aggressively attacks. Brave Sir Wolfgang gallantly runs away.
Cowardice seems to be the better part of valour in this game. There’s a lot of kiting involved, even when one is equipped with a spear and log coat armor for combat. I haven’t as yet tech’ed up to the ranged weapons, so I don’t know how that goes. And most times, leading monsters into traps or other monsters to let them fight it out seems to be the best way to profit without being hurt.
I get back at around dusk to check on and reset my traps. Dinner is served.
Oh, that terrible squeal when you murder them. I don’t suppose cooking them alive is any better.
The brilliant blaze courtesy of the new science machine, which helped to prototype the technology of “beam” – ie. a plank from 4 logs, which according to the wiki, burns for 360 seconds and can generally last the night. It’s a lot easier than trying to feed in 4 logs without risking the fire going out.
Day 4’s map is more developed. South of my basecamp is a beehive, and a patch of swampland that has a ring of Tentacle monsters (never saw those before either) surrounding a skeleton, a beefalo hat, and some hound’s teeth. While a scary sight and a big shock when I first ran into them (runaway runaway!) these will turn out to be be my most favorite saviors later on, as hound attacks are easily dealt with by getting them to fight each other.
Day 5: Wolfgang is chased by very angry, very toothy bats.
I unplug a sinkhole (that leads into experimental caves that I have not DARED to venture in yet.) I do this for the guano they leave behind, which is apparently good fertilizer later on if I ever get around to making farms. They also burn as fuel in a pinch.
Day 6: Wolfgang lights himself on fire.
While burning up trees to make charcoal. Which we need for drying racks. I’m already worrying about winter, which I was under the mistaken impression arrives on day 15. (It’s really day 21, as I found out later.) It lasts for 15 days, which is probably where the confusion came in. This guy’s stomach is insatiable and I was already having trouble keeping up with the original Wilson.
Day 7: Wolfgang stuffs his face. He does that a lot.
This is a good place to end off the post before it gets too long. Base camp is beginning to look more set up. The first of a few drying racks are placed. I rushed an alchemy machine for lightning rods, because I lost my entire berry bush farm in my last game to a lightning strike (oh.. the flames…) Some collected saplings are laying on the ground to be put up in a twig farm once I got another lightning rod in place.
Hunger is still a constant companion that I didn’t quite begin to crack until the middle of winter and the beginnings of spring – around day 31-35. And there’s still a ways to go on that.
Don’t Starve is a great game. Full of things to discover. The next update is apparently due in nine days, which should have even more nasty surprises.
Is it worth $9? Hell, yeah.
Just make sure you don’t have anything scheduled for the next eight hours when you play it.