Survival of the wittiest
You are going to die.
Once you have accepted that fact, you won’t get so frustrated as you play Don’t Starve. At least that is what I liked to tell myself as I played Klei Entertainment’s new survival game. One that just plopped me down in the middle of a wilderness where the sole objective was to survive for as long as I could.
As Wilson, the starting character dropped in the wilderness by Maxwell the demon, I realized that there was no manual or any other kind of help. Quickly I discovered that I had to follow the three “E’s” in order to survive for as long as possible: Eat, Experiment, and Explore.
In the game food is essential. It was vital that I had a steady supply of sustenance otherwise my character would starve to death ( as indicated by the stomach meter). From collecting berries to killing rabbits and eventually growing my own crops I had to do all this in order to keep my belly full and prevent myself from dying. But it isn’t easy as it sounds. Why? Because everything isn’t safe to eat.
That’s where the experimentation comes in. While there were some items I came across that would fill my belly, they would also decrease my health (a second meter). There were times where I was so desperate that I would eat things that I knew would hurt me but, having no other options, I would have to eat them anyways.
But various and potential foodstuffs weren’t the only things I had to experiment with. Collecting all kinds of materials and running into various creatures are also part of the game and that is where exploration comes in. Each map I played on was randomly generated so that exploring the area was crucial in order to determine the kind of resources I had at my disposal.
Some resources, like rocks, are limited and I had to plan ahead on how I would use them while other assets like gold nuggets, wood, and food sources could be unlimited (you’ll have to figure out how to get an inexhaustible supply of gold nuggets by yourself).
To increase my chances of staying alive the game has a crafting system with three tiers. Each one unlocked by a special machine I could construct so that I was able to, in turn, build useful things such as gardens, beehives (death by bee stings happened quite a bit), animal traps, a drying rack for making jerky, a lightning rod, weapons, and even various hats.
Collecting and exploring is easy enough but I had to watch out for various hostile mobs and nighttime. Especially nighttime. I discovered to my horror that I must not travel anywhere at night without a source of light. There were things in the dark that would attack and kill me. And if that wasn’t enough my character’s sanity would lower when it was nighttime.
Oh… did I forget to mention that your character could become insane?
In addition to the two indicators that showed my health and food level there is a third that showed my sanity level. Whether it was nighttime, I would encounter certain mobs or areas, or even digging up graves my sanity would drop. And when it got to a certain point I would start to see things. Then I found out that if my sanity dropped very low some of those hallucinations could then attack and even kill me.
So not only did I have to worry about keeping my stomach full but also make sure that my sanity didn’t drop too low.
With huge emphasis on the multiple facets of survival, the game is hard – especially if the map you play on is lacking in certain resources or mobs (manure and stone are very important to me). I found it difficult, at times, to survive in the Summer season.
That is, until I experienced my first Winter. Food became scarce, the nights were longer, and even the cold would kill me if I couldn’t find a way to stay warm which made the game even more difficult!
While Don’t Starve is tough and punishing it is also a lot of fun. While I raged at my many deaths I was also rewarded for my failures. Every time I died and would have to start a brand new game, I received experience points to increase my level. Gaining such XP unlocked other characters that I could play aside from the starting one; each with their own unique abilities, traits, and challenges. And dying also taught the things I should or shouldn’t do.
Like underestimate bees…
The game’s graphics have a gothic, Tim Burton-esque look to it that matches perfectly with the tone of the game. Even the soundtrack is fantastic and a great companion to when I was exploring and dealing with all kinds of situations.
Featuring a point-and-click control scheme the gameplay is very simple. However, when building walls and structures I found myself becoming a little frustrated. If I wanted to plant a straight line of trees, bushes, grass, saplings, or chests it wouldn’t work so well. It became difficult, or impossible, to do so.
While the game is fun and very challenging, I did find myself becoming bored at times. While experimenting, exploring, and learning from my failures kept me entertained it just wasn’t enough sometimes. Since there is no interaction of any kind, let alone a story aside from a demon dropping me off in the middle of the wilderness, it started to feel a little pointless.
I enjoy a challenge as much as the next person but there is something missing in Don’t Starve. It would be nice if there was a cohesive story or mystery involved. Or even a multiplayer mode where I and someone else could try and survive together.
However, Don’t Starve is a game I would recommend to anyone interested in a survival game that is tough and punishing.
Review copy supplied
Tested on PC