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Starbound Early Access Review

My God, it's full of stars!

GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

Starbound is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. With a universe at your beck and call, where do you begin? Thankfully, Starbound starts off by tethering you to a single world as soon as you've named your character.

You're born into this 2D world with virtually nothing, bar a matter manipulator that lets you slowly chip away at pretty much anything, and in time this high-tech gadget is replaced by rustic farming equipment that allows you to chip faster. Fashioned out of the exploratory spirit of Minecraft and Terraria, Starbound's premise is to take you (be you boy, girl, robot, weird flower thing, or any of the other races) away from a single procedurally generated world and into an entire universe of planets whose earth you can swing your pickaxe into. There's a lot of opportunity and excitement here, even in the game's earliest days.

A human's home is his castle. As is a Glitch's home. And an Avian's home. And a Floran's.

A thin progression system--that developer Chucklefish says is temporary--helps you get your bearings and weaves together many of Starbound's mechanical elements, with tiers of quests throwing up boss monsters and slowly unlocking deeper, more dangerous expanses of this broad universe to explore. We're promised epic player-versus-player space wars to fight for dominance in the mysterious Sector X, but right now Starbound is a game where you make your own fun.

There are two main ways you can play at the moment: exploring and crafting. The two go hand in hand, really. Bits and bobs gained from rummaging around the cavernous innards of these planets become the ingredients for weapons and armour. In turn, that equipment allows you to explore more dangerous terrain for more valuable items to create even better weapons, and so on.

There's something amazing out there, and it's up to you to find it.

Right now it's a game of stories and experiences. And believe me, I've experienced things: trees made of brains, barren worlds with little to offer but storms of acid rain, and one world with a nice, normal soil crust but a disturbingly squelchy, fleshy core. I've spent many hours exploring galaxies, and I am still light-years away from forging a set of valuable impervium armor. I've only just assembled enough brains to create the robot boss (don't ask), but shooting down a fleet of evil penguins and their nefarious UFO (again, don't ask) feels like an age away. Even in its current state, this is a vast, daunting universe that I've barely even scratched the surface of, but it's also one that should be fun to keep exploring in the months to come.

If there's one unifying rule in Starbound, it's that most things want to kill you. Worlds are quite small, especially if you're used to Minecraft and Terraria, and many of the game's noncombat mechanics, such as farming, are still underdeveloped. This means you're forced to spend a lot of your time fighting, which is a shame because fighting isn't all that fun. Combat is a routine charge of sword flailing and bullets, and death carries the harsh penalty of losing a sizeable chunk of income, forcing you into grinding through even more foes, since fighting is also one of the main ways to make money.

But that annoyance is offset by the delightful experience of venturing once more into the unknown. The very first time you spool up your ship's engines is a particularly special moment, as you warp through the galaxy and look to conquer the first blip on a star map that you can't help but think you will, one day, rule.

Sometimes things don't work out as expected. My first real destination in the universe was awful, a molten rock of fissures and furnaces. A lack of preparation was my error, and I became stranded on a limp planet of sad greys and fatal reds. I was quickly thrown into the air by what looked like an adorable rabbit thing that turned out to be evil and have telekinetic powers, and I then landed in a pit of lava and died horribly. And then, days later, I flew to a moon and died almost immediately because, duh, there is no oxygen on a moon. And this moon was also populated by what looked like a fleet of killer robots.

Dolphins. In. Spaaaaaaaaace.

I'm not sure how you'll fare, but most of my Starbound experience involves dying. I've starved to death on numerous occasions and fallen foul of extreme cold twice, and one time I decided to see how far down I could dig into one world, ended up landing in a terrifying, demonic sanctum of bones and screams, and then realised you can't warp back up to your spaceship when underground. I ran out of light sources, so I couldn't tell you what ate me.

That's the beauty of Starbound: you come out of it with all sorts of anecdotes you'll want to share with people. This might be a bare-bones version of the game to come, but boy, check out those bones. The game's minutiae will be mapped out across various wikis for years to come, and many mechanics will be added and refined, but even now, Starbound is an enticing journey of discovery that reminds you just how exciting it can be to stare at a sky full of stars.

What's There?

Too many planets, monsters, and items to possibly count, along with a basic set of quests that unlocks progression in both the game's universe and its crafting system. There's also a fledgling multiplayer mode.

What's to Come?

Developer Chucklefish has promised a new progression system, a refined economy with more options to earn money, and a new PvP-focused sector for players to compete over.

What Does it Cost?

$14.99 on Steam, or straight from the developer.

When Will it Be Finished?

Starbound has no promised release date, although it the game is extremely playable even in its current form.

What's the Verdict?

Starbound is a promising journey in a vast, varied universe. But it is hindered right now by a lack of things to do, though eager explorers should not hesitate to get involved with the beta.

Written By

Hi! I'm Martin, for some reason or another I have managed to convince the people who run GameSpot that I am actually wor

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Discussion

83 comments
dogbert88
dogbert88

So, whats the diference between this and terraria?

JDFS
JDFS

I have around 130 hours on this game so far, I really recommend it to those who enjoy games like Terraria and Minecraft, like Martin said it's playable in its current state even though it's early access it's quite beta version to me comparing with many indie games on Steam right now.

nicecall
nicecall

whats with the crap graphics? its 2014

LittleMac19
LittleMac19

I like terraria so will keep an eye out for this.

electroban
electroban

Starbound is essentially Terraria with a hugely tiered and procedurally generated system.


The falling flat point in terreria was the point where you had the most maxed out armor and wep.  This won't happen in Starbound because as soon as you hit that ceiling, you are presented with a boss which will be your next gateway to get that item ceiling re-made, and thus the terraria proccess begins again.

DoogyDonDoogy
DoogyDonDoogy

This game looks awesome, I could never grow tired of games like Minecraft or Terraria,  I will be picking this up, thanks for the review.

Supabul
Supabul

This is what Mass Effect was suppose to be like

Reuwsaat
Reuwsaat

Can't tell how great this game is, and how much value there is to it. Very frequent updates, developers interested in their community opinions, fast fixes, major improvements in short time. The planets are a joy to explore in this game that never feels the same; You can play it in whatever way you want and always have a lot of fun regardless. I can't recomend a game more than this, and specially as it is an early access game, with already so much content and there shall be so much more to come. Best $15 spent last year for sure.

Pierce_Sparrow
Pierce_Sparrow

Incredibly fun. I've clocked almost 200 hours into it and it rarely gets old or boring. Exploring and multiplayer are incredibly fun and worthwhile. Probably the best sandbox game like this I've played.


Fartman7998
Fartman7998

I was going to give this a skip, but this review has alleviated some of my skepticism.  

kik4444
kik4444

One of my complaints so far is that every single planet is filled with life. In the future I expect planets with no atmosphere to have zero life and occasional bases/labs which are remains of other space-faring species that have been on this planet at some point and you should feel warm and be able to breathe in those bases/labs.

ziproy
ziproy

Awesome. Finally a game that has that Star Trek vibe of every planet brings something completely different from the last. You'd think Mass Effect would have blown us away but you could only explore planets in 1 and they were nothing more than massive empty environments with the same generic monkey alieans

Finwey
Finwey

You can't review early access games, silly Gamestop -_-

hitomo
hitomo

do we need a nother minecraft to polute our taste and minds with?

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

I have played about 50 hours so far, and 20 of those were spent in a giant interconnected underground cavern system. I say giant because there are some caverns so large you can't see the bottom. Although the actual exploration became tedious after a while, it was only one planet, finding the cavern for the first time is what attracts me to Starbound.

Gandalf: "Behold: the great realm and Dwarf city of Dwarrowdelf."

I am no builder. I dig a hole into the side of a hill and put some essential furnitures in them. I till a small parcel of land so I can have sweet corn and wheat buns with my cooked alien meat. I don't play games because I want to create, I play because of game's uncanny ability to inspire wonder. Many, many procedurally generated words certainly sound great, but they are still the product of a few creative minds. Imagine when thousands of creative players have had their time making everything from a hollowed out planet-palace to a playbunny-inspired techno castle filled with traps, and uploaded those worlds, a feature I hope is in the near future. I don't even notice the 2D-scrolling, dinosaur graphic and Famicom level combat.

Talavaj
Talavaj

So what exactly is this game apart from being a terraria clone in space with inferior combat ?

lindallison
lindallison

@nicecall  

You're right dude, try a more contemporary looking space exploration game.  I suggest X Rebirth.  Let us know how that turns out.

Screwbacca
Screwbacca

@nicecall They're not crap. In fact, they're pretty awesome. The amount of detail  they were able to create using a retro style of visuals adds personality to the game. If all you care about it graphics, then you're gaming wrong.

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

@nicecall  graphics were better in 1993. Doom has better graphics than this. Besides good graphics you need tons of cash and not everyone has tons of cash to spend 5 years creating awesome graphics and if the game is awesome, you dont need awesome graphics.

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

@Supabul  lol whatever. Mass Effect trilogy was amazing. one of the best game series ever created. It actually HAD a beginning, middle and an ending. Ive never seen that in a game series before. Do you see an Elder scrolls total ending? Maybe the witcher 3 might actually round up the whole series. but theres not many game series i can think of, that have an entire novel book almost throughout 3 games.

WolfGrey
WolfGrey

@kik4444  

I once found a desert planet with almost no animal life at all. The only thing with life in it was a abandoned prison. Safe to say i executed everyone. And took their stuff.

DoogyDonDoogy
DoogyDonDoogy

@kik4444  Oh good point, but I'm glad the life is there, maybe a little less of it would do the trick huh?

Auriken
Auriken

@ziproy Uhuh...and let's completely forget the fact that intelligent life in the galaxy is obliterated every fifty thousand years, and considering how many Reapers were present in the final battle it has likely been going on for upwards of ten million years at the very least. Even if you take into account the non-intelligent life that never had the chance to evolve, I'm sure they were also caught in the crossfire.


It's kind of stunning how many people forget that little detail, considering that it was the main plot of the trilogy.

Poison-tooth
Poison-tooth

@Finwey  «GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.»

Screwbacca
Screwbacca

@hitomo Sounds like another ignorant statement. While they both have mining and creation with the materials you've gathered, they're vastly different in terms of looks and other mechanics. Why are there so many new age gaming tools in comment sections?

SolidSnakeJT
SolidSnakeJT

@hitomo Yes, because it is exactly like minecraft...i never played nor bothered with minecraft, but Starbound is awesome and full of charm and personality.

ziproy
ziproy

@hitomo  Since when is their space-exploration in minecraft??

SolidSnakeJT
SolidSnakeJT

@Talavaj combat is inferior because it is still in beta stage 1!
It is made by some of the staff that worked on terraria...so of course it's gonna be similar.

Colekern
Colekern

@Talavaj  It's a lot of exploration. It's really close to terraria. But it's different because there are millions of worlds, and every world is unique.

Screwbacca
Screwbacca

@nyran125tk There are many game series that have endings, lmao. Are you new to gaming? Elder Scrolls is a fantasy universe where different events happen in Tameriel spanning different eras in time. Mass Effect was suppose to be a RPG shooter with in-depth galactic exploration, but ended up being butchered by EA into a generic cover based shooter. You're one of the reasons gaming is going down the drain.

lindallison
lindallison

@Auriken @ziproy 

What, that sounds like an excuse more than a story element.  

Mass Effect had a few text-based encounters for discoverable interplanetary objects, if they'd had the balls to expand those to planetary exploration, with paragraphs of branching text describing the places and events there I bet exploration would've had a lot more character.

StarsiderSajun
StarsiderSajun

@Auriken @ziproy  A story element does not change the truth or validate it just because you say so. The fact is that they are right. Exploration in ME 1 was pretty fun, but ultimately you were just exploring empty planets.

ewjiml
ewjiml

@Screwbacca @nyran125tk 

Wah Wah Wah.  Still whining about Mass Effect?  Still saying that Mass Effect 1 was better even though the gameplay was extremely clunky, the FPS was atrocious, and the supposed "RPG" elements were generic interchangeable gun parts and powers?  Still being a sheep and saying the ending ruined your life?