Don't Starve Review

Survival and crafting take a turn for the brutal in this fascinating adventure.

by

Like in any extreme survival situation, the early moments of Don't Starve's grueling-yet-fascinating struggle to stay alive are electric. Suddenly the clock is ticking. Confidence is high as you first explore a vast open-world wilderness teeming with danger. From trapping a rabbit for the first time to crafting an axe to chop precious firewood before nightfall, every minor accomplishment that keeps you ticking is immediately gratifying. But as the days draw on and dodging death's icy grip gets harder, the rigors of this unflinchingly brutal roguelike adventure chip away at your patience.

Behold, the portal to adventure…and doom.

Don't Starve casts you in the unfortunate role of Wilson, a scientist who has been mysteriously transported to a strange and deadly world by a demon-gentleman. With little more than a quick greeting, your adversary vanishes, and you're left alone to figure out how to stay alive. Story and dialogue are pretty minimal, aside from a few encounters in the super tough adventure mode, which is accessed by first locating a portal hidden in the randomly generated survival mode world. The hands-off nature of the story is a strength, allowing the heavy atmosphere and outstanding visual design of this grim land draw you in. There's little time for dalliances anyway. A great many things in the game's eerie world are out to kill you from the get-go.

Survival doesn't come easy, but there's an undeniable thrill to the challenge. Your first few minutes of exploration hinge on harvesting whatever basic resources you stumble upon: a few twigs, some flint, rocks, a handful of grass. Collect enough of these raw materials, and you can make an axe, a torch, rope, a spear, and other crucial tools that increase your chances of survival. Don't Starve's deep resource harvesting and crafting system brings previous open-world games like Minecraft and Terraria to mind, and it's one of the game's strongest hooks. Figuring out how to put each item you collect to good use is a fun process of experimentation. Basic items are relatively easy to cobble together with minimal materials, though creating science and alchemy stations also pushes you further down the crafting rabbit hole by unlocking tons of more elaborate item recipes to pursue. Of course, staying alive long enough to build everything is another story.

A helping hand would be much more appreciated than demoralizing lecturing.

Dangers are frequently stacked against you in inventive and sometimes frustrating ways. Exploring, scavenging, harvesting resources, and building are best done in the day. Without a torch or a campfire to provide illumination when night falls, you will be torn to pieces by the demonic creatures that roam the darkness within seconds. Building a fire isn't enough either. You have to have enough wood or other fuel sources to keep it lit throughout the night, which creates a constant state of near panic every time the twilight phase of the day/night cycle arrives. Getting caught without the necessary ingredients for a fire or ample burnable materials to last the night spells instant doom.

Changing seasons also usher in new problems to tackle. Live long enough, and winter rears its frosty head, bringing subzero temperatures that cause you bodily harm if you venture too far from a heat source. Admittedly, these interesting wrinkles add depth and additional difficulty to the already challenging survival mechanics at play. They sometimes tip the scale too far, however, particularly given the plentiful supply of other potentially life-ending obstacles thrown in your path.

Managing your hunger, sanity, and health meters is a meticulous juggling act that demands a lot of your attention too. Food sources are often scarce, leaving you to scavenge berries, pull up wild carrots, and trap small animals early on to keep your belly full. While it's possible to build gardens and cook the meat of large beasts you slay to provide more-sustainable and gut-filling meal options, death by starvation is an omnipresent concern. When your stomach is completely empty, your health depletes rapidly until you die. Your sanity also depletes over time, and as it dwindles, you see more and more shadowy hallucinations and trippy visual effects. These hallucinatory creatures attack if you let your mental well run dry, and they're far from the only beasts you encounter.

Alone and in the wilderness, life can only be what you make of it.

From giant cyclops birds and living tree monsters to carnivorous frogs and spiked tentacles, there are lots of creepy critters out there eager to end your existence. The rewards of battling them outright rarely feel like they measure up to the risk involved. Point-and-click combat is unfulfilling, since you basically stand there and whack away until someone dies. Often that's you. Slain foes may yield crucial ingredients for crafting and survival, but enemies are just as likely to kill you with a few quick hits before you have a chance to finish them off. Even docile critters can turn deadly with only the slightest provocation, since they tend to rally their pals in large numbers and come chasing after you en masse.

Dying wouldn't be such a big deal if it didn't wipe your progress away permanently. While other roguelikes make it easy to get up and running, building a foundation for survival in Don't Starve is labor-intensive and monotonous at times. When you finally gain a decent foothold on survival after spending so much time chopping wood, scavenging sticks, and fighting for your life, losing it all in a split second is absolutely agonizing. You lose steam after being wiped out a few dozen times and forced to start the whole process over from a few twigs and berries. Every day you stay alive in each run does add toward your total experience points, but that only unlocks a handful of additional characters to play.

At least Don't Starve doesn't force you to dig your own grave.

Adventure mode ups the danger and frustration substantially too, since it requires you to hunt down pieces to assemble portals across five increasingly tough world maps. Die once in, and you're kicked back to Survival mode, outside a portal. Granted, when this cycle gets too irritating, you can manually tweak the frequency of most resources, monsters, and perils before starting a new run. But it's hard to find the sweet spot between painfully hard and absurdly easy, since having everything at your fingertips saps the enjoyment of foraging and crafting.

The way Don't Starve blends its crafting, exploration, and survival elements makes for an enthralling and unique combination. This game will readily eat up many hours of your time if you let it, but the promise each run holds never seems to pan out thanks to the insidious challenges the game constantly stacks against you. The initial sense of wonder that comes from stumbling upon the surprises and discoveries of this interesting world rapidly fades away when you're stuck tackling the same menial tasks over and over again to regain lost ground for the hundredth time. It's disappointing, because Don't Starve otherwise packs a tremendous amount of charm, depth, and intrigue.

The Good
Tense mix of crafting, exploration, and survival
Distinct art style and atmosphere set a cool vibe
Massive open world to explore
The Bad
Lacks the rewards that would balance out the repetition
Unflinchingly brutal difficulty
7
Good
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Discussion

75 comments
SirFiddler
SirFiddler

it's brilliant. surprising how two free games ( resogun and don't starve ) are my absolute favorites for the ps4 now.

i just kicked the bucket last night in winter and my guy was going completely nuts after i ate the wrong mushroom. what a struggle for three days, not finding enough food, barely surviving and then f'-ing up like that :-) amazing game

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

man after all the hype around this, I might as well give it a try… the lack of [good] exclusives and variety in my ps4 is tiresome...

Jock9
Jock9

I'm looking forward to it, PlayStation Plus get's it for free after 7th January, so I will give it a go - I like horror survival themed games, so it looks my type of game.

advocacy
advocacy

Meanwhile, "Gone Home" gets a near perfect score.

Sniper4211
Sniper4211

Plus this reviewer probely did not make a base. When you have a base the longer you live the easier

Sniper4211
Sniper4211

This is a great very origenal game. The Review had the opion of everyone who played the game at first. The way to make the game less difficault is to play the game. You learn what to do and not to do. It is a great game that could give you a 100 hours of entertainment. This is a great game. BTW if you dont like the type of game(perment death and survial game mix) than it would make sence that you dont like it.

SKaREO
SKaREO

I feel bad that the reviewer was forced to play through this garbage just to deliver this score. Obviously he added a few points to keep the fanboys coming back, but damn is this game ever a piece of garbage.

redness19
redness19

Difficulty is fine, anyone who says otherwise is a baby or should stick to Peggle. I will agree with the lack of reward though. I feel like sandbox mode should have it's own goals and adventure. The fact that we can build an amazing base camp then have to leave it all behind to start adventure mode sucks. And on the flip side, what's the point of building an amazing base camp when staying alive stops being an issue for the initiated.

Thathanka
Thathanka

This game is so good!  Best thing I've played since Dark Souls.

Courtawulf
Courtawulf

I hate that the difficulty and lack of progression give it negatives. Those are at the core of the "genre". I feel that it is equivalent to giving an FPS a negative score because 90% of the game involves running and shooting people in the face. I know it isn't a "roguelike" by the "hardcore" definition. But it certainly has roguelike elements, and one of those are you die and then you start over from the beginning, with nothing but your previous experiences to help you. And there are some rewards, you unlock new characters (much like in FTL). 

1wikkid1
1wikkid1

This sounds a lot like Salem, anybody who's played both got any comments?

isaacyassar
isaacyassar

I love Klei's Mark of the Ninja, but I never have strong interest toward Don't Starve. It seems like a game about endless boring work in a lonely & not-so-colorful world. Seems like job xD

borrasj
borrasj

Well, anyway, I'm buying the PS4. It's nice that Sony also thinks in the people who doesn't play online games.

Tseng
Tseng

I guess it just depends on what you expect from a game.  From little rogue like indie titles like this I tend to expect crushing difficulty and perma-death.  FTL took me a dozen or more play throughs before I finally beat it.  Frustrating as hell but I loved every second of it.  So far Don't Starve is the same for me.  I feel like I could die at any moment, and that is a good thing.  Of course, I haven't gotten past day fifteen yet, and I could see how it would be annoying if you were months into the game and you died unexpectedly.  Plus your camp placement is uber important to survival.  If you set up near Beefalo/a Pig Village you can run to them for help when need be (especially from hounds).

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

This review is pretty spot on. It's a great little game but it's easy to lose your enthusiasm after a couple times of permanent death. Even turning up the number of touchstone (respawn points) doesn't ensure a better chance of lasting longer, since they only respawn you ONCE from each one you find. It's a great game, but I think it'd be nice if you could simply set the touchstones for multiple respawns in sandbox mode. It'd be nice to know you can lose stuff but not the whole game after so much hard work. Just to have the setting as an option would be nice. Because starting over again and again gets a little tiresome. Even with the resource settings turned up and enemies turned down. But I still suggest checking it out. Very beautiful art style and it is fun to play in bursts.

colt_a
colt_a

Played this game a lot since beta until now.  The review is pretty fair. 


You can survive forever if you play safe, but venturing out increases death exponentially.  Thus making the game boring if you do what the game's namesake is (Don't Starve)...but when you get bored and go out for a portal piece there will be some ridiculous situations that will cause you to lose hours (or even days) of gameplay. 

Its fun, its addicting, it makes me not want to play anymore a lot too.  Good review Nathan.

etacet
etacet

Review seems fair enough.  Scoring is what it is and it's not like we bet on game scores (or do we?) so no need to take too seriously anyway.  Main thing is that the review gives gives a solid summary of what Don't Starve is all about.  There are other indie games that seem to give bigger bang for buck but still this is definitely a solid value.  The art is great, content is clever and gameplay is decent.  I feel it it could use a little bit more of the unexpected.  Don't Starve is still receiving content patches so I will probably be checking back in whenever it gets an update.

jerusaelem
jerusaelem

"Hrrrrhgnnn! Noooooo! Game$$$pot y u give DISS game a slightly lower number then that game wen dat game iz baddur!?" - Roughly half of you.

If an arbitrary number allotted by a complete stranger means so much to you, I hereby award Don't Starve a 53. That number is 44.5 more numbers than the review they gave Blood Dragon. There you have it. You can now enjoy the game and stop whining.

Now if we're here to discuss the game rather than the pointless number tacked onto it, I agree with most of the points made in the review. The new characters you unlock are somewhat interesting, but regardless of how far you make it along, nothing about this game ever feels particularly rewarding. Sadly, once you figure out all the odds and ends Don't Starve's difficulty goes from frustrating and infuriating to bland and simplistic in the bat of an eyelash. Right around the time you find yourself planting 8 rows of crops so you can feed your small village of pigmen vegetables to make them poo so you can collect their poo to fertilize your NEXT crop so you can feed the pigmen to recollect their poo(etc...) you'll probably just start to wonder what the point of all of it is. There isn't any. It's just a pretty fun waste of time minus any honest sense of accomplishment.

...with really neat art.

rocketsatdawn
rocketsatdawn

Actually you can adjust the difficulty by reducing the amount of enemies in the settings. You can change everything like adding more resources and even remove most enemies from the game altogether.

rocketsatdawn
rocketsatdawn

I like how challenging it is. It makes me really careful with my character. It would suck if it was easy, and give it zero re-playability. It would be nice if there were more rewards at the end though, when you die. I unlocked all of the characters in my first three hours.

battleunit
battleunit

My friends and i would sometimes think of "what would you do if you where stranded on a deserted island" I think this game is a good simulation for it lol. As far as permadeath is concerned, once you learn the rules of the games, what to expect and prepare yourself, the game becomes too easy. Taking it away just make the game unrealistic and not very challenging.

turtlethetaffer
turtlethetaffer

Permadeath never was a feature that appealed to me... And I've beaten Dark Souls.

breathnac
breathnac

I REALLY love this game. It's the exact kind of sandbox survival I want to play however two things that would really go a loooong way to making this game better i.e. making life in the game more rewarding would be to:

Let players that die respawn with some kind of alterior punishment instead of starting over from scratch

Make achievements/goals

Sakuban
Sakuban

Rating this game 7.5 and giving fc:blood dragon a 8.5 shows us how much this website is corrupted. And "

  • Lacks the rewards that would balance out the repetition
  • Unflinchingly brutal difficulty.

"

Both are lies. Latest fix let you generate a more progressed world to experience a more forward gameplay. And difficulty level has too many variety with the world rules. It's even sad to say, but if you think this game is too hard for you, you have no skill.

Sniper4211
Sniper4211

@SKaREO This game is awsome. Difficulty makes the game much more fun. What the reviewer did not do was continue to play untill he got the hang of it. THIS IS A GREAT GAME, DO NOT GET TURNED AWAY FROM THIS REVIEW

akebar
akebar

@1wikkid1 They are very different and similar at the same time. The main difference being one is single player the other an mmo 

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

@etacet To other readers not yet familiar with the game: at this point in time they are releasing updates every 30 days or so. And it seems that they intend to do this for a while( as there is a constant counter on the main menu to inform you of the next one). Some seem to be more sliders in the set-up menu to tweak features of the world as well as new creatures and possibly items? But for now the incoming updates are constant. Not as an effort to "fix" but to simply add new content or ideas it seems.

Sniper4211
Sniper4211

@jerusaelem I dont like the number since it turns people away from a great game. The review make sence for people that dont like the type of game, but for people that do it is a great game

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

@jerusaelem I know it may take away from the game, but sometimes I wouldn't mind sharing the struggle with a single friend. But then you have the whole issue of a dedicated server or something. Yet help would be nice. And it'd reduce the tedium of survival.

Sakuban
Sakuban

@jerusaelem Hahah this is funny actually. You are pointing that commenting on a complete stranger's score is whining. But you are whining about the comments of  other complete strangers. *slowclap* Genius of the year.

Juan1988
Juan1988

@turtlethetaffer Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, loved it. Dark Souls, hated it. 


This? This I will try for free on PS4 this month. Hey, they said it will be fun...... right?

delta5931
delta5931

@breathnac 

Has that with Meat Effigys and Touchstones

Added that with the PS4 version but simply says "Unlocked this character" and they added the Trophy item.

made_u_look
made_u_look

@Sakuban Agreed, honestly I died quite a few times and learned from mistakes. I had no idea what to expect when winter came. Or what certain creatures did it was a learning experience each time. I thought that was refreshing and fun. I honestly thought Gamespot would atleast gave it a 8 for a indie game its up there.

Red_lath
Red_lath

@Sakuban it's not the difficulty kid, it's how you lose everything in a blink of your attention and let you with nothing more than XP to unlock a character...that's a shame...a waste of effort.


You may say permadeath is bravery, but in this case is a fool work, an incomplete work of art...

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

@made_u_look @breathnac Yeah I do enjoy watching the Beefalos' grow up. And really like the joy of trying to get ready for winter. And the threat of darkness makes the need for fire all that more pleasurable. Night time feels like night time. Just wish you could stretch out the time for day and night plus winter and summer instead of one or the other respectively.

Sniper4211
Sniper4211

@Red_lath @Sakuban THAT IS THE GERRA OF THE GAME. Lots of people like that style of if your stupied and hit a giant buffelo that you will be ok. Try to hit a buffelo in real life and see if you respon or get get a good reward since you survived 50 days

Tseng
Tseng

@Red_lath @Sakuban So you blame the game for a lapse in attention?  Sounds like a personal problem.  Also, some people would argue that all games are a 'waste of effort' as at the end of the day all you are left with is the experience of the game.  If you consider your memories/experiences important, then this could never be a waste of time unless you absolutely hated it.  Perma-death is part of the game.  It is part of the Dev's vision for how he wanted the game to play.  Who are you to say it is 'fool work' and 'an incomplete work of art...' simply because perma-death is implemented?

Sakuban
Sakuban

@Red_lath @Sakuban first of all, do not "kid" me since you have no idea how old i am.

second, i dont agree a single thing you say about the game. So bye.

Mr8ball
Mr8ball

@turtlethetaffer @jerusaelem @Sakuban hahaha poor sakuban. On topic, i've played the game before and would recommend the game to anyone who enjoys survival games, or just fun games that don't cost that much.

Sakuban
Sakuban

Hahahah you're sinking deeper and deeper, please dont stop. There's no frustration. There is only your idiocy. And it's very tolerable, everybody have the right to be an idiot.

I dont think you have enough capacity to understand and correlate any of this, but you need a lesson, so here we go:

First of all, your so called argument (it's blah blah blah and insults mostly sadly, btw. your insulting level is not even in the degree of high school, so stop talking about that level, you are not there yet) was: "If an arbitrary number allotted by a complete stranger means so much to you, I hereby award Don't Starve a 53." It's miscued in many aspects. First of all, nobody gives a fuck about what is your rating. People come here to read what the reviewers think about a game. And it's not only about the rating; it's about being fair and/or unfair (since you must take in account that there's too many people buying a game or not buying it depending on a rating, not to mention people who are not reading reviews and checking only scores). Gamespot were corrupted back in the day with giving all the EA games amazingly high scores. And now they’re corrupted again. Giving ubisoft games unfair amount of high points. 7.0 may not seem a bad score, but in a website where FC3:Blood Dragon takes 8.5, it’s really really low. Second of all, it's not random or a complete stranger as you proposed. He is a reviewer in a respected gaming website. Unlike you he is someone i can give a secondtought for his opinions or read to find a certain game is appealing to me or not. Third, you are saying that scores dont matter. It's agreeable in certain points. But in truth it is not. So why do you think they're giving them. Sure we are not the ones demanding or pushing them to give scores to games. It's a simple scale and rating system like any other. It’s created for bypassers who needs a quick opinion a game. Fourth; even if a review is a bad review, rating must back it up, or the given facts about the game. You can go to Terraria review right now and you can see, in reality both games are very similar. But, hell no, there's no line in it for raising the alarms against permadeth or repetition. Because this is what this game is all about: play for fun, learn from your mistakes. And what the reviewer gives us for backing the 7.0 score and not giving 8.5 or 9.0: here it is: “Lacks the rewards that would balance out the repetition * Unflinchingly brutal difficulty.” It means that reviewer himself is not inspected the game closely. You can edit the world you’ll play in, and it alters many things and adds a great deal of variety about the difficulty level. As for the balancing out the repetition, they patched the game two days ago before this review came up, and added a plus mode to progress the game quickly and give you a more forward gameplay. So what the fuck is this all about repetition? Isn’t playing any game a second time a repetition (dont tell me multi-ending, multi-choice AAA games, you know they’re rare). And just to show you how much of a dumbfuck you really are for the hundreth time, here is another quote from you: “…fertilize your NEXT crop so you can feed the pigmen to recollect their poo(etc...)” Well, you are not bright as you think now, are you? You dont need pigs to collect poo, you can find hordes of “beefalo” in the game which generates poo for free constantly. I even suspect you are playing a pirated version of the game, since there’s too many good guides in the steam, about how to do stuff etc. It just showed me you didnt get the game in the slightest. Another dumbfuck (i must say, i even stand in awe in front of that stupidity) is this argument by you: “nothing about this game ever feels particularly rewarding.” Excuse me? Come again? And you repeat yourself: “minus any honest sense of accomplishment.” Are you playing the games for sense of accomplishment? What the fuck? Dude, how miserable your life is. Now i understand why you were so keen to insult someone you dont know and why you are so keen to say the last word in an argument (infact there wasnt any arguement either, just you becoming more and more dumb and insulting more). You needed to achieve something badly, didnt you? So please tell me, what is the point of playing terraria, minecraft, pac-man etc. If you need to fulfil your “sense of accomplishment” you must play rpgs. Most of them simply exploits that need with their leveling system. I’m not saying rpgs are bad, they’re my favourite genre too, i’m saying games never have the liability to fulfill someone’s “sense of accomplishment.” They can be created fort he pure reason of delivering fun. And last of all, dont push yourself too hard to insult people with shabby-genteel words. Next time just say “fuck you.” Since there’s no difference between calling someone “blah blah… your severely malformed head” and calling simply “spastic.” At least that shows you got balls.

So, this argument –if there was any, more like your unmature bickering- done in my part. You are free to answer with all the dumbfuckness of yours for creating “a sense of accomplishment” for yourself in your schizoworld, none will be read. I have wasted enough time for a dumbfuck today.

Sakuban
Sakuban

@jerusaelem @Sakuban Another feeble attempt from a redneck with a merriam-webster. But you are cute. I'll give you that. You need more life experience and knowledge to cause any rudimentary feeling like frustration to me. Thanks for creating a whole new category for autism. You should be examined closely. Please delve more into your autism and make yourself a complete celebutard.

Sakuban
Sakuban

@jerusaelem@SakubanYour reply is even worse than your first comment. You got issues dude. And all that ad hominem stuff you sadly pronounce (calling me an idiot, revealing your irrelevant pathetic biology knowledge) doesnt make any of your whiny little ideas any better. Ciao. Have fun with your miserable, unmature life.

Don't Starve

  • PC
  • Macintosh
  • Unix/Linux
  • PlayStation 4
Don't Starve is an uncompromising wilderness survival game full of science and magic.
ESRB
Everyone 10+
All Platforms
Check out even more info at the Don't Starve Wiki on Giantbomb.com