Don’t Starve Review: Scavenging and Ingenuity

When I was younger, growing up in the old farmlands of Delaware, my friends and I would head into the woods and pretend to be explorers. We would take food with us, build traps for enemies that would never come, and we would always be searching for some great challenge and adventure. It never really happened, but exploring and the thrill of our mock-courage for doing so, was what I would remember most from the experience.
Don’t starve has that same sense of adventure, that childlike imagination where you knew there probably weren’t mountain lions in the woods by your house, but there could be. That you could find a cave with a buried treasure under some boulders, or find dinosaur bones in your backyard, that anything could happen and you ready for the challenge. The game was released about 3 weeks ago, because of our move to the new site it was put on the back-burner but I didn’t want to leave it out.
Klei Entertainment has a very unique style in animation, from the graphic-novel pieces within the ‘Shank’ series, to the dark and quiet setting of ‘Mark of the Ninja’, the animation team is one of the most creative and talented groups working in games today. ‘Don’t Starve’ has its own animated stylings, but the details and setting that went into the game allows it to be recognized as a Klei project.
I mentioned my humble Delaware beginnings because Don’t Starve is an exploration game, not just literally in the gameplay, in the actual learning how to play the title as well. A lot of the game you pick up as you move along, many times ending in death, and death is a permanent position in the game (most of the time). The game features a lot of elements that make up a AAA survival game (crafting, creatures, a limited supply of tools, and being outnumbered) but it’s the simplicity of the game that really shines through. Crafting requires a lot of attention, but it’s not complicated, it’s lenghty. The difference is that when you want to craft in a popular MMO you almost need a book to explain how you should proceed. Then you go fetch things which is easy or monotonous and come back to your little NPC and make a leather-square. In ‘Don’t Starve’ you have to build simple, and eventually more complex materials, but the hard part is getting the material not learning how to craft or getting a 85 feathers by killing the same 3 birds a million times. It’s a welcomed change of pace.

Many things will kill you in your travels, not just starving. The woods are dark and dangerous and no place for a young man that is lost. There are many factors that you have to be aware of while playing, there is your hunger levels, your mental health and your actual health, and most importantly how many days you have survived in the woods. The UI is brilliant, it’s not bothersome and doesn’t take up a lot of real-estate on the screen. The gauges are also color-coated to make a quick-look all you need in order to know how long you have before you need to stop and eat, or when it will be dark again. You unlock exp just by surviving, and surviving is truly the hardest part of the game. You are constantly exploring new areas (assuming you make it that far) and wormholes can take you to magical places that are completely opposed to where you just were. You can gather materials that you will need in these lands, each one allowing you to gather special items that can be used later to unlock better gear to help you survive. It’s scavenging and ingenuity at its best, that’s the best part of a survival game I think, not how much you can kill, but how smart and clever you have to be to survive.
Now what I’m explaining to you is what we call “sandbox mode”, where you are exploring the woods like ‘The Goonies’ in a cave. If you can find it (and you can cheat and find it online) you can enter ‘Adventure Mode’ though Maxwell’s Door. This is what the single-player campaign theme is, and you fight through five chapters of Maxwell’s horrible creations and trials. It’s the hardest, most item-reducing, limiting, survival contest in the game. Enter when you’re good, not when you find it. It seems wonderfully possible and at times impossible (I still haven’t finished it) but it’s so well made that I don’t want to spoil the “story” of it all.
The gane is finely tuned, thanks to a beta period, and Klei entertainment seems to be always tinkering away with adjustments. It’s a terrific creation, one that really engrossed what I think a survival game should be, surviving on your own by solving practical obstacles in a surreal experience. The title is available on STEAM for PC, Mac and Linux.
more info: steam

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