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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.

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