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The wilderness is a rough, dangerous place to live and Don’t Starve makes sure you fully grasp this idea by the time it’s done with you. Klei’s survival rogue-like is not for the faint of heart, encompassing you in a world without explanation or direction as death constantly stocks your every move. The game is built for you to fail, multiple times, but with each death brings a desire to take the knowledge you’ve learned in previous attempts to overcome the challenges that await you in future ventures.
First thing to note about Don’t Starve is the brutality it dishes out to experienced and new players alike. There is no hand-holding within the game, unless you decide to look things up in a wiki, the only direction you receive are some witty lines your character will say if you inspect a certain plant or item. While this seems a bit rough in the first few playthroughs, it quickly becomes the thing that makes Don’t Starve so compelling. Never before have I felt so curious to try out new things and think outside the box to get what I needed to make it just one more day.
The gameplay takes inspiration from other survival games like Minecraft and Terraria, starting with nothing, you need to slowly build up your shelter with things like a fire-pit and science machine. As the name implies hunger is a constant concern along with your basic health meter and sanity gauge which constantly ticks down as night approaches. There are a variety of ways to keep death at bay as it so desperately tries to take you, eating simple berries raises your hunger but what happens when you cook them into a fine jam? Perhaps you should invest the precious charcoal you risked your life for to create a crock pot which benefits all of your needs and condenses your supply of food.
Crafting is a huge part of Don’t Starve, progressing along at a brisk technologically is the only way to make it past your first week without being torn to bits by the hell hounds that constantly harass you every few days. Building up to more effective materials and even magical items such as a glow light and ice staff has a gratifying feeling to it, giving you a small sense of security in a deadly world.
The game constantly rewards your experimentation with its systems and the satisfaction you feel when you finally make your first science machine or farm is intoxicating. Things don’t stay stagnant though, seasons change as each day slowly ticks by. Just when things seem to be turning up for you, snow begins to fall on the land and the harsh winters are determined to make your life miserable. Nothing grows back in winter, forcing you to alter your playstyle and move out of your comfort zone to find the precious materials you need in the frigid cold. The core gameplay is a bit familiar in spots but everything else built around it is unique, challenging and addicting.
As you play, each day you survive adds to your xp counter which will unlock characters as you play. There is no cap to each playthrough you do, meaning if you survive long enough, you can unlock 6 of the 8 unique characters in one well played run, while the other two are unlocked via the mini campaign. Each one has their pros and cons, like the robot who isn’t penalized for eating stale foods but doesn’t fare well when it rains, or the girl who has a supernatural friend that comes to visit her every few nights. It makes playing through the game more interesting, trying out new characters to see what fits you best.
Along with the variety of characters that modify how you play, you can manipulate the world yourself before you delve into the thick of it. You can customize what spawns in your world such as rabbits or berries and how much of it is present around you. This gives you the opportunity the make the game a little less punishing for newcomers or bone crushingly hard for players who can’t get enough.
Even though each world is completely generated from scratch, there are items or tiles that remain constant in each one such as Maxwell’s door. Maxwell’s door leads you on a seven chapter mission, each one making you endure unique situations that take a lot of skill and quick thinking to make it through. This seems daunting at first considering death is the end all be all usually but Klei encourages you to try the door out by not punishing you nearly as much. Death within the doorway simply kicks you back to the main world and your only punishment is starting the campaign from the beginning.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Don’t Starve is its visual flair which largely resembles something straight out of a Tim Burton film. The gorgeous 2D art captures a playful yet sinister atmosphere from which you have been abandoned in. The witty, minimalist writing of each character creates a different personality for all the characters, making them likable in their own creepy way. Paired this with the soundtrack that captures the mood of each situation elegantly, it’s hard to find a sore spot anywhere in the games presentation.
While the brutal difficulty and lack of direction may turn some people off at first, the discovery of new tricks that keep you alive just that much longer is what makes Don’t Starve incredibly compelling. Each task feels meaningful whether it be taking out a spiders nest or simply collecting wood for the winter; the end result of your adventure is either rewarding or horribly tragic. After grinding through the tough exterior that is initially presented, there is an addictive, beautiful game to be found in Don’t Starve that can consume you to no end.