Being released in the early part of 2013, Don’t Starve contends with bigger titles – but it holds its ground. It boasts a sketchy, niche art style and easy to understand mechanics, both being attributes that have helped Klei make their name. It isn’t the graphics, gameplay or even the dialogue in Don’t Starve that impresses me most though, it’s the intricacies in how you go about not starving – they’re simply clever. Klei have taken survival horror, mixed it with a reinvention of point-‐and-‐click, base defence and real time strategy to create something engaging and difficult to put down.
Klei gives a nod to the Sims by greeting the player with a very familiar loading screen. Wilson, your main character, is thrown into an unfamiliar world but it feels similar to others you might have experienced in the past, as you notice it’s split up into biomes. It feels comforting. Weather affects all biomes the same, though, so make sure not to get caught out getting too comfortable. Dialogue is stylised, gothic-‐like text on the screen and character’s voices are replaced with musical notes. It doesn’t feel as strange as everything around you, and you’ll soon find yourself clicking on things just to hear your character sing – I mean, play.
Don’t Starve’s controls are the same deal as your regular point and click – hover over something and you’re told what it might be, except it hits you in the face with some tongue-in-cheek humour. I found something that looked like some type of ring on the floor and to no surprise, it’s called a “Ring Thing.” You get used to the game making fun of you though. If you start paying attention to what’s being said to you, there might even be a few clues in what some items do.
You’ll soon find out that it’s a particular season, which means something very crucial – Winter is coming. On your journey in Don’t Starve, you’ll probably pick the fruits of the land to help get you by the first day or so. Be warned that not only the ground but your own health is affected by the elements you’re exposed to. If you’re a hoarder, this might be a chance to prove your worth as you’ll need an array of things to help your survival.
Glancing at the game’s heads up display (HUD), I noticed a clock in the top right also telling me how many days I had been surviving, with some basic needs underneath. There’s a stomach showing hunger, a heart showing physical state, and a brain. I found out that the brain actually depicts sanity, once I had lost mine and turned Wilson into a crazy scientist. Be very careful, if you don’t take note of the time you might find yourself out in the darkness – and we all know what type of creeps come out then.
At the bottom of your HUD you’ve got some slots for what you can carry as well as for what you can actually equip – a basic weapon, some type of garment and headgear. The game is heavily focused on resources and crafting through science, which is how you extend your knowledge and start to build grander and more complex things. I say things because it covers a broad range of items, from ways to get the most out of your food, everything you might want in a fight or just a pretty garland on your head. There’s not only a hardy pickaxe resource – collecting path, but a dark and magical path that has an aura of mystery surrounding it. Discovering more items you can craft is just half the fun, finding these items makes up a great deal more of it. Especially who or what might be protecting those items. If you haven’t met the ghosts in the cemetery or the massive Beefalo, you’ll soon be hunted down by some wolves or a devil-looking-kleptomaniac.
Wilson interacts with everything and everyone around him differently, and you’ll want to pay attention to that. There might be spiders trying to attack him, or some pig men wanting you to get out of their space. I cannot express anymore just how intricate the game is. Click on things, make them interact – if you’re well versed in point-‐and-‐click you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s all about the scientific spirit of discovery.
So now comes the introduction of the base or tower defence aspect of the game. See all the pretty gold and that ring thing you found? You want to make sure it isn’t blown up or taken away from you. You can find the resources to build up some basic defences, and as you start to become more advanced in your scientific and alchemic research, you’ll be having fun with traps and weapons. Your base is very simple, some walls and flooring but there are no roofs in the game.
“Surely, this all leads to something?” I hear you wondering. The game’s current update means that an Adventure Mode has been integrated into the survival mode of the game. Finding relics are just hints, there’s something so much more waiting for you. Adventure Mode is a choice you can make in game, and it’s up to you to find it. You get to discover different worlds all with specific challenges in mind. One might be having to survive the winter, but without having enough items to keep yourself fed or warm. There are various ways of granting yourself extra lives, it’s up to you to find these though.
Dying isn’t the worst thing in the world. Don’t Starve introduces a very important aspect to the game. It’s like playing hardcore mode, until you discover you get rewarded for your hard work. You earn experience points, because hey, you’ve gone through four winters and just lost a massive Empire of dirt. You also start to unlock many characters, all with their own special talents which you might find useful in surviving.
Being incredibly stylised gives this game an edge over a typical survival game. Its sketchy, exaggerated lines give way to the quirkiness of each aspect of the game. Everything looks interesting and it gives meaning to each thing placed in the world – because everything has a reason for being there. It makes you pay attention, almost like a spot the difference. Observing your surroundings is done pleasantly. You might get tired of being in the same biome for long periods of time, but Don’t Starve lets you change that. Flat attributes are placed on top of a 3D world, allowing you to move the camera as you wish. Colours are muted and things become even hazier as you start to lose your mind.
Each nuance in what you can hear gives you a clue about what might be around. There might be an attack on the way, or you might be getting close to the edge of the island so you can hear the water. Some music is introduced around midday to pick up your spirits, but when you’re dark you are completely alone. You can hear each tree growing which at times can be confused for a wolf, the animals sleeping or the birds fluttering off. The sound helps complete the mood and as stated above if you ever get bored, you can get your character to play their music for you.
- High replay value due to randomly-generated worlds (including the locations of their inhabitants).
- Cleverly designed and appropriately named monsters, which give an insight into Klei’s developer’s imaginations.
- The game lacks detailed base building and advanced defence.
- Lack of multiplayer feels like a missed opportunity.
Being a game in its early stages, its expected that there are still things that need to be updated as well as added. Dying and starting again feels less like a punishment and more like an epiphany. Don’t Starve has quickly become my most bragged about game. Its niche style and incredible complexities packaged up into something that comes across so effortless is something that should be commended. To be able to blend so many gaming styles so cleverly and to do each of these so well, gives you such great value for the price. Change your world, discover it, chase rabbits and don’t forget, Winter is coming.
Written By Yianna Paris