It’s hard not to feel bad when killing innocent turkeys and bunnies and birds and humanoid pigs just for a small bit of food and an extremely slim chance of surviving for a couple more minutes. You feel even worse when watching entire forests set ablaze just to corner those potential future snacks. But that’s Don’t Starve for you, a game where it is kill or be killed. Emphasis on the be killed.
Once the game begins it becomes apparent that Don’t Starve is an experience that never holds the player’s hand. By starting out with absolutely no items and very little in the way of tutorials or explanations, it becomes apparent that scrounging the world for resources is the only way to make it. An inventory bar, crafting bar, clock, stat displays and map are the only user interface to be seen. Clicking on an object usually provides a concise description that might not always explain what exactly it does. Experimentation (or the internet) is often the only way to figure out what that strange amulet or ring might actually do.
What is obvious are things like trees and rocks and carrots. Grass and twigs must be plucked to make tools. Tools harvest resources like wood and rocks. Carrots and seeds must be consumed to beat away starvation because Wilson will inevitably get hungry. But he can also slowly lose his sanity. Oh, and his health too. A starving, insane Wilson who is near death is not a pretty sight. Less so when shadowy monsters try to kill him. And please, always make sure there is a fire burning when night comes.
All of these factors that play into merely eking out an existence for just a few days can be overwhelming, especially since there is a large learning curve in figuring out the basics. Much of this introductory period can also be a large source of frustration for some players. Gathering resources and building up enough tools for survival isn’t a quick task. It can take upwards of a half an hour or more walking across the map just to find the right materials needed to craft important items. Stumbling into an area of dangerous spiders or killer machines can lead to an unceremonious death and, even worse, all that progress lost. Most of this boils down to Don’t Starve’s randomly generated worlds. A “good” or “bad” start is usually just a luck of the draw. There will be plenty of times a player desperately needs to find gold ore to create a science machine. Because building new prototypes helps raise sanity, it’s a useful thing to have. However, it’s possible for Wilson to go insane before finding the right materials. Situations like this border on rage-inducing.
Thankfully, much of this “luck” can be curbed by creating a custom world. In fact, this would be highly advised for the first few hours of getting to understand Don’t Starve. Instead of using the default world settings, players can increase things like food and resources while decreasing harder enemies and other things. By having this option available, the player can craft a more enjoyable experience at the start and tailor the difficulty to their expanding knowledge of the game. The ability to customize the world actually causes the game to become less “stupid hard” and more of a fun challenge.
Graphics & Sound
If Don’t Starve was a movie then Tim Burton would probably be directing it and Johnny Depp would star as Wilson. That’s probably the most clichéd thing that can be said about the visual style but it really can’t be helped. The twisted, storybook style is especially reminiscent of Burton’s illustrations. Yet this is a game from Klei Entertainment whose previous efforts like Mark of the Ninja and Shank also possessed distinct visual styles. The paper-thin objects and models make Don’t Starve look like a moving pop-up book. In motion it’s stunning. Much of the game is creepy and inventive, which makes the dangerous world feel even more fully realized.
Don’t Starve has a pretty varied soundtrack to keep the ears company while trying not to die. Players will often hear the music grow in intensity whenever a fight breaks out or on the verge of death. A few additional tracks change the mood based on location or whatever is happening in the world. Animals and monsters will make noise when attacked or frightened but Wilson’s default talking, sounding a bit like a rewound cassette tape, can be a bit grating.
Due to the random nature of a game like Don’t Starve, there’s plenty of reason to come back. Plenty of people will attempt to build legitimate houses with pretty signs and lightning rods while others will want to ramp up the difficulty to the extreme. Either option or anything in between can certainly provide enough entertainment. Other playable characters can also be unlocked aside from Wilson that have their own unique abilities. It’s also good to know that Klei has stated they will continuously update Don’t Starve for a minimum of six months. These updates will add plenty of gameplay features and characters to keep the game feeling fresh.
Don’t Starve is a really tough game. That seems to be pretty obvious. A difficult learning curve can and often is a deal breaker for some gamers. But despite the many frustrations just about anyone will have with Don’t Starve, it’s an experience that grows on you. Though being good at a game like this doesn’t usually happen automatically, there could have been a better tutorial to smooth out some of the rough edges. Because Don’t Starve promises to be a game that will grow and develop over time, learning all of it’s finer points should be a fun (if not challenging) adventure.