Don’t starve. Seriously, it’s recommended to not go about starving to death. Real life offers a number of opportunities to avoid this precipitous death, but players in the game Don’t Starve don’t have the luxury of going down to the nearest fast food joint and grabbing a quick burger.
And that’s the point.
The point of the game is to survive and try to eke out an existence in the terrible world the player has been teleported to. It’s a strange place full of odd and dangerous creatures, various landscapes, and a ton of mystery. The game’s primary mode, Adventure Mode, is centered on Wilson, the Gentleman Scientist, and his battle of wits (and survival) against Maxwell, a mysterious figure that essentially dumps Wilson off in the terrifying world with only a suggestion to “try and live.” Once the short cutscene is over, the game immediately begins and it is up to the player to figure out how to keep Wilson fed, sane, and in good health while everything around him does the opposite.
Surviving in this game is almost a matter of trial and error. There are many things that seem like common sense – gathering the necessary resources to build a fire for night, for example – but there are many aspects of the game that can be difficult to master at first. My first playthrough lasted one in-game day, when I was brutally taken out by some spiders that were hiding in a dark cave. I didn’t think to bring a torch with me, so I didn’t see it coming.
But that is the beauty of Don’t Starve’s indie charm – the game was created and made in such a way that while it sucks to die and restart, players can see their progress at the end screen when they are assessed for their length of survival time and awarded experience points. The game becomes a challenge, not only in Adventure Mode, but also Survival Mode to see just how long a player can last in this hazardous world without succumbing to its deadly charms. Progressing further and further in Adventure Mode (which is done by collecting certain items to go after Maxwell) also leads players to new levels full of more danger and challenges.
For example, the initial area is somewhat tame compared to later levels. It’s got a number of biomes (different environmental areas) within it that allow players to start to learn the ins and outs of each area, giving them plenty of resources and food to learn crafting, recipes, and more. Taking the time to explore the area and gain an understanding of the game is practically required before progressing. Players will get to experience the different weather patterns and other oddities, all of which help prepare them for the future tests. Don’t Starve’s main adage is, “preparation is key.”
Initially, I found myself not prepared and due to the very steep learning curve, I failed many times. Considering death is the penalty for failure, it’s understandable that this game might be a turnoff for many. I actually had to go online and read up on parts of the game to gain a better understanding of the game mechanics. My piss poor attempt at hugging my campfire while eating leftover seeds and poorly cooked monster meat didn’t lend any credence to actually surviving. Taking the time to learn the different aspects of the game and items available for crafting actually gave me a fighting chance. Being able to play appropriately and craft the necessary items (the game’s key piece to survival) is the only way players can expect to progress in Adventure Mode or Survival Mode.
Speaking of Survival Mode, the game also rewards players for accomplishing certain feats or progressing as far time-wise as possible. The experience points mentioned earlier unlock new characters to choose from, each of them with their own unique talents, skills, and abilities. There are even some of these characters out there to find for the daring adventurer. Some are able to withstand fire damage or maintain their sanity in the pitch black of night, while others like Wilson, can grow a magnificent beard to maintain his body heat (and ruggedness) against the terrible cold of winter.
One of my favorite aspects of Don’t Starve is that Klei Entertainment is constantly updating the game. From the start it has essentially been a work-in-progress, but gamers are the ones reaping the benefits as the developers insert new and exciting additions to the game. When I entered my first cave, the game warned me they were still being fully added to the game. It struck me as odd since the cave felt fleshed out (and full of monsters), and upon additional explorations I began to see more and more. If caves aren’t a completed component however, it makes me wonder what they could still be adding to make them even more fun (also dangerous) to explore.
Don’t Starve will be a fun game to attempt over and over for many. For others, it will be an incredible source of frustration and anger as players watch basilisks continually mutilate Wilson at night. However, for every mutilation will bring a new realization – maybe it’ll be a way to defend yourself; maybe it’ll be an item to craft and fight back with. Who knows? That’s the best thing about Don’t Starveultimately – there is never one right way to succeed in the game. Every playthrough is slightly different and with the continual additions from Klei, the game will keep expanding and growing in size. For those up to the challenge, I highly recommend trying this one out.Note: Don't Starve was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.