The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Using a mix of random world generation, permadeath,
and robust crafting options, Don't Starve offers players the thrill of
open-world exploration with a grim, survival-oriented twist. While the first
few hours of every game are filled with exciting opportunity, the
resource-heavy maintenance of your character and deadly threats inhabiting the
world make Don't Starve a long, slow grind to nowhere.
Don't Starve makes a great first impression. You get
virtually no story setup – survival is the name of the game. The cartoony art
style makes exploring your massive, randomized world a joy, and happening upon
new animals like the mighty beefalo and creepy tallbirds provides a steady
stream of surprises. The beginning is relatively carefree; because you haven't
invested any time in the world, you don't have anything to lose from diving in and
Things gradually become more serious as certain
realities set in. Survival requires constant resource gathering, as you collect
food, build tools, and slowly cobble together the semblance of a camp out of
the items you can create from the extensive crafting system. The gameplay is
difficult but rewarding, and offers a variety of avenues to explore for staving
Unfortunately, it feels like Klei spent more time
dreaming up ways to make the game hard than ways to make it fun. Just finding
the resources to create basic tools can be a challenge depending on the random
layout of your continent, and heading down the crafting chains required for valuable
items conflicts with the day-to-day grind for survival. At night, you huddle
around a campfire hoping the myriad dangerous creatures in the world don't find
you. Daytime isn't much better, as most animals can kill you in a few hits if
you're not wearing armor. A large part of your day is spent gathering the
resources needed to keep your hunger, health, and sanity in check, and ensuring
you have enough fuel for when nighttime rolls around again.
I'm a fan of permadeath in games, but Don't Starve
pushes my appreciation for the concept beyond its limits. XCOM alleviates the
sting of losing beloved soldiers because their deaths are part of a larger,
persistent war. Games like Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac are designed to be
short experiences – dying is easier to swallow when a game only lasts a few
minutes. Don't Starve fits neither template; most of my games lasted hours
before coming to grim ends that I had little control over. Just when I had
built myself a few farm plots for growing food, a birdcage for holding and
producing seeds, and a crockpot for cooking better food in one game, I was
mercilessly slaughtered by a roaming pack of hounds. While harvesting wood to
build some makeshift walls in another game, a monstrous treeguard came to life
and exacted revenge for me chopping down his coniferous brethren.
Once you're dead, the world is lost forever, along
with everything you created in it. A few one-time use methods exist to
resurrect your character, but enabling them takes as much effort as every other
demand vying for your attention. It also leaves your reanimated body in an even
more perilous situation, as you respawn without any items or equipment.
Don't Starve's saving grace is that it allows you to
customize your world before starting. After being slaughtered by a pack of
hounds in one game, I immediately turned down their frequency for the next
match. Boosting objects like trees, rocks, and berry bushes makes it easier to
survive and speeds up the crafting significantly.
Tweaking the world's variables made my subsequent
playthroughs easier and more entertaining, but even when death was less of an
immediate (yet still omnipresent) threat, I found myself wondering what it was
all for. Minecraft is popular because it allows you to build virtually whatever
you can imagine. Don't Starve has no such creative options. Your goal is simply
to survive for as long as possible. Adventure mode (accessed by a door in hidden
somewhere on your island) simply tasks you with surviving and piecing together
teleporters in six increasingly difficult worlds, with very little in the way
of a narrative or payoff. Each game earns you XP that unlocks new characters to
play as in subsequent playthroughs, but the differences between them are minor.
All of this means that while there is plenty of content to explore, surviving
for the sake of surviving is the only reason to continue playing.
A small group of hardcore gamers will revel in Don't
Starve's punishing difficulty, but without a better sense of overarching
progression or purpose, there are more entertaining and rewarding gaming
experiences to spend your time on. I'm interested to see what Klei introduces
in promised future updates of the game, but even when playing in a world that's
customized to your liking, the thrill of Don't Starve is fleeting.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.