First Look: Don’t Starve

Over the weekend I returned to Don’t Starve, the strange little survival game from Klei Entertainment. I’d played Don’t Starve back when it was in beta and liked it quite a bit but as with so many games it got pushed to the back of my brain and forgotten.

Now the game is launched and Klei is constantly updating it, adding new things to discover. I love that a game I paid about $10 for (beta price, it lists for $16 but is frequently on sale on Steam) gets this kind of continuous support. It probably helps that Don’t Starve is going to come out on the Playstation 4, too.

The other day I had my most successful run in a game, making it 20 days before I succumbed to the dangers of the world. I wanted to tell you about that run, but I realized I’d never talked about the game so here’s a belated First Look.

When a game of Don’t Starve begins, you find yourself empty handed and alone in an alien world. Your first order of business is to find food and the tools to make fire. If night falls and you have no light source you’re pretty much doomed. There are beasties in the dark, and the dark is pitch black.

So you start scrounging. There are emaciated bushes that you can get sticks from, tufts of dry grass to pluck and chunks of flint strewn about. You can combine these basic materials to create shovels, mining picks and axes. You can also make a torch, but torches burn out pretty quickly.

With an axe you can chop down trees to get logs (and pine cones which you can use to grow more trees). With a flint and logs you can build a campfire which should get you through your first night. Later you’ll want to gather some rocks to make a fire pit which will burn your wood more efficiently (and safely).

Now that you have light it’s time to address the grumbling in your belly. Food is a major motivator in Don’t Starve. You can scrounge for wild carrots and berry bushes at first but they offer poor sustenance. You might find seeds and you can eat those too if you get desperate. All these items can be cooked over your campfire which seems to make them slightly more filling, though that could be my imagination.

Soon enough night falls and the dark closes around you and your little fire. You munch your berries, keep feeding logs into the fire, and wait for dawn. There’s a bit of downtime here, it must be said, though later in the game you’ll have chores to do at night.

At this point you might notice you have 3 gauges. One is health, one is hunger, and the third is sanity. When your hunger gauge is empty you’ll start taking health damage, and you can also take health damage in battle. Your sanity goes down as you go more hours without sleeping.

As your sanity drops, the game starts to represent this loss by throwing various artifacts on screen. Things shake, shadows appear, harmless bunnies start to look like fierce creatures. Hands reach into your fire and steal the light. Being crazy isn’t fun, but skipping sleep for that first night won’t have too bad an impact.

When dawn breaks it’s time to get to work again. You can choose to scrounge for more food, or perhaps build traps out of grass to try to capture those bunnies I mentioned. One of your first big goals is to gather the materials (chunks of gold being the hard-to-find component) for a “Science Machine” which provides you with recipes for more craftable items. The day goes by quickly and there never seems to be enough time.

Once you get a science machine your options open a lot. You can build basic weapons and go hunting. If there’s a herd of beefalo nearby you can collect their manure and build gardens where you can grow crops. And you can craft bedrolls…those are important.

When it gets dark, you can use a bedroll to skip the night hours. This helps to ‘heal’ your sanity, but you take a big hit on your hunger meter. So there’s a constant balancing act between having enough food and getting enough sleep to stay sane.

As the days pass and you wander farther from your origin point you’ll encounter all kinds of weird things. There are different biomes like grasslands, forest, swamps, rocky plains and even graveyards. There are sentient, or at least semi-sentient, creatures living in the world. There are monsters to avoid and animals to hunt. There are more machines to build that unlock more tools to craft, as well as walls to help keep you safe.

But when you die, it’s pretty much Game Over. There are ways to prevent death but they’re pretty elaborate for beginners like me.

Don’t Starve is a game like The Sims in that it can spawn some interesting stories. I’d like to eventually tell some of my stories but I think I’ve rambled on for long enough for now.