Don't Starve: Beta Impressions

Phil Owen takes a close look at Klei Entertainment's survival game, Don't Starve.

by on 1st Feb, 2013

The premise of Don't Starve (now in beta on PC) seems pretty obvious. It's right there in the title. Your job is to not starve to death. Simple.

If you have the patience, Don't Starve is a compelling experience, and it's growing all the time.

In execution, it is exactly as simple as that. You are dumped out in the middle of nowhere, nd you must survive. The game provides you with no direction, though it does tell you what items you need to make certain things. 

When I first started playing, I had no idea what to to. I wandered around picking things up, like flowers and sticks and berries and grass. Yep, I collected grass, and, yep, I was glad I did.

Eventually, night fell, and that grass and those sticks came in handy. See, those are the components you need to make a torch. And I needed a torch, because if you stay in the dark too long at night you will be eaten by some kind of animal.

A single torch, however, will not last you through the night. Thankfully, I had lots of grass and sticks, and so I made more in a hurry after my first one went out. What I really needed to do, I knew, was build a campfire, but I didn't have the log required to do that. Our hero is intent, you see.

That was a joke. I actually needed a wooden log, and not that other kind. I did not know that I could use the sticks and little rocks I had collected to make an axe, which would let me cut down trees for firewood. I did not know anything!

Don't Starve, at times, feels like a lecture on survival skills. I have none, it turns out, and so I was doomed to not not starve. My collection of berries only lasted so long, and eating raw rabbit meat isn't too nutrition, and my huge flower collection didn't do much to sate my hunger when I started chowing down on it.

In order to survive in this wasteland, you have to be smart, and you have to make efficient use of what you can find. It's not a super dynamic experience, but it isn't trying to be. Survival is a grind. Living for a long time is its own reward.

After you play for a while, the experience does become more complex and more centered on exploration than mere survival. Seeing what you can see in the randomly generated world the game provides you is its own kind of fun, and reaching that stage is exciting. 

Right now, there's no real endgame in Don't Starve, and I don't know that there ever will be. As an open-ended, infinite experience, it works just fine, though of course not everybody will stick with it forever. But I can imagine folks treating this game like they do Minecraft, as they continue to adventure and explore and live a life they cannot in the real world.

If you have the patience, Don't Starve is a compelling experience, and it's growing all the time. It's still in beta now, and the developers keep on gradually adding features. But if you play it now, you will still find a fully featured experience; it's just that things may not work the same way tomorrow that they did today. That's all the more reason to keep playing, I believe.

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