There are so many things that can kill you in Don’t Starve that it’s almost impossible to list them all. In my eight plays, I’ve died to: a ravenous dog, eating tainted meat, a bird with legs three times taller than me (twice), a frog, and a swarm of bees (twice). It can be grueling, but the ever-lurking “will this kill me?” attitude of Don’t Starve is easy to get hooked on.
- TL;DR: Survival/crafting/exploration, with a heavy lean on survival
- Platform: PS4
- Score: 7.7
- Hours Played: 6
- What I Played: Main game, eight deaths
- Recommended: If you want a challenge that forces you to figure everything out on your own, absolutely
Don’t Starve, January’s freebie for Playstation Plus members on the PS4, is all about survival. Scientist-turned-explorer Wilson wakes up in a strange world with no possessions. The only semblance of a tutorial is a mysterious man telling you to find some food before it gets dark. After that, it’s up to you to forage for food, build items, and figure out how to get out of wherever it is you are.
In my intro, I discussed some of the many things that Wilson can succumb to. There are three ways to die in Don’t Starve: starvation (duh), losing all your health, and going insane. Your hunger will increase over time, forcing you to find food. Health decreases as you are attacked, of course. Sanity is, by far, the most intriguing of the three “life bars”. The longer Wilson is in this strange world, the more crazy he becomes. If you eat some bad ‘shrooms or enter a wormhole, the process is sped up. Darkness itself even takes a toll on Wilson’s sanity. If you let it go long enough, Wilson will start to see things that aren’t really there, like shadowy creatures lurking about or trees shaking on their own.
You will die quickly and often, especially in your first few plays of Don’t Starve. Each death is a learning experience, though. For example, I quickly learned that swarms of bees are not to be messed with. The world is randomly generated each time you start a game, giving Don’t Starve a near-infinite replay factor. With zero direction, it can be tough to know where to go. I found this article from Joystiq helpful, if only to understand what the game is all about. A bar along the bottom of the screen shows you everything you have in your inventory, while a bar on the left stores all the crafting recipes you have access to. It’s sort of like Minecraft on super-hardcore-permadeath mode. As you wander around and pick up twigs and flint, you can create an axe. Axes help you cut down trees for logs, which can be used for campfires, among other things. If you survive long enough, you can build weapons, armor, or even housing.
Days in Don’t Starve are broken up into three parts: day, dusk, and night. Daytime is great for exploring and gathering raw materials. When dusk hits, Wilson conveniently notes that it will be dark soon. This is your reminder to make sure you have enough materials for a campfire, because once night hits, you better. If left out in the darkness of night long enough, Wilson will start taking damage from … something. Is it creatures in the night? Is it his own sanity? I’m not sure, but I know that once night falls, I build a campfire and wait it out.
It’s tough not to think of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas when romping around Wilson’s weird world. Most things you find will be dark and/or scary, increasing the always-present “oh shit” feeling that Don’t Starve gives off. There isn’t much in the way of music, either. The fact that Wilson is alone and scared is reinforced over and over, which is a good thing.
While randomly-generated worlds lead to a great replay factor, the only real thing to strive for is progressing farther than last time. Each death nets you some XP and level ups will unlock new characters with some funky abilities (invincible to fire, terrified of the dark, etc.). Also, since death can creep up on you quickly and means you’ve lost literally everything, it can be deflating to think of the hours of survival that are now lost.
I left out a lot of explicit detail because most of the fun in Don’t Starve figuring things out as you go along. The randomly-generated worlds can be punishing in their difficulty and nearly everything can kill you, from monsters and fire to your own sanity. If you enjoy figuring out a game’s ins and outs on you own and want an open-ended challenge with no hand holding, then Don’t Starve is for you.