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Don't Starve Review | Strange Lands and Shadow Hands

Updated: Aug 25, 2022


 


Title: Don't Starve

Developers: Klei Entertainment

DLC in Series: Reign of Giants, Shipwrecked, Hamlet

Genre: Open World Survival, Adventure, Roguelike, Single player, Indie, Crafting

Rating: Personal Favorite: Enjoyment comes from learning through losing.


When starting most survival games, it's mainly about surviving through tough conditions in a hostile world. When this game tells you Don’t Starve, they really mean it.


I have explored, starved, died, and survived through the entirety of the original Don’t Starve game; including both of its DLCs. Shipwrecked and Hamlet don’t have an end-game goal like the story mode from base Don’t Starve, but I have beaten every boss and survived every type of season. Unlocking and playing all of the different characters took a while, especially Woodlegs and Maxwell, but I think Wagstaff might still be my favorite.


Summary

In terms of gameplay, Don’t Starve is all about understanding your environment if you want to go far. The combat is simplistic, but danger comes in many forms. Starvation, overheating, freezing, insanity and monsters are all difficulties to overcome through trial and error. Everything in Don’t Starve requires time management, meaning you need to know when and what you can fight, or when you need to stock up on supplies to stay alive. Not knowing what you might be facing is one of the greatest strengths of this survival game, so remember that you will probably die a lot from obstacles you didn’t know were coming.


Story

Mystery plays a role in story-telling just as much as narration. Don’t Starve has had a very cryptic method of cluing the players inside and outside the game. The base game starts with a mad scientist discovering secrets on how to create a portal, the purpose is not clear, but a strange radio whispering knowledge allows him to finish the device. When he pulls the lever to activate the machine, he is met with two shadowy hands that drag him into the world you play. This scientist is Wilson, the first character available. For all the others that are unlocked, it can be assumed that they faced a similar fate of kidnapping by the mysterious shadows. In your travels, you will come across all manner of subtle story-telling through the environment. Such as the feral pig men who surround the pig king, in comparison to the sophisticated pig inhabitants in the Hamlet DLC who never fell victim to the werepig curse.

Even more suspicious are the ruins and statues located within the many caves found in the wilderness that allude to an ancient civilization that dabbled in shadow magic. There is a story mode for Don’t Starve, and it’s hidden somewhere in the open world as a mechanical portal (Similar to Wilson’s Portal) surrounded by trees. Upon completing the multiple challenges this story offers, you learn that the character Maxwell, who appears to taunt you before each level of the story, is responsible for creating this strange puppet world through powers he earned while sitting on the Shadow Throne. Maxwell appears to be a captive of the throne just as much as you are in this world, so the player frees him. But in doing so, the player takes his place on the throne, stuck until the next person decides to free them. The developers even created a secret YouTube cinematic released on an unlisted account for players to find out about Maxwell’s origin.

When talking about the Shipwrecked and Hamlet DLC, there are only environmental lore pieces that add to the world in which they take place. Both DLCs are implied to take place after the events of the base game, where your character somehow escaped the Shadow Throne and traveled to a new area seeking solutions for their imprisonment. The lore of the Don’t Starve is expanded upon immensely by its sequel, Don’t Starve Together. Also, take a look at some of the informative Don’t Starve content creators on YouTube like Jakeyosaurus, Jazzy’s Games, and The Beard 777.


Gameplay

Don’t Starve has some of the key features of a survival game; Health, hunger, temperature, dangerous mobs, and crafting materials. But it has a special sanity meter to keep track of as well. For surviving, you will need to carefully manage multiple statuses and keep track of what season it is. That’s right, the four seasons (and a few others) play a huge role in the game. You will almost always start in autumn, collecting building materials like grass, twigs, and wood in a randomly generated world with biomes. Like most survival crafting, you have different crafting stations that increase the type and quality of tools/structures you can make. Weapons and armor will make mobs easier to kill, while cooking equipment allows unique foods to be made that restore your status. For newer players, most of the difficulty will come from stockpiling for winter and summer; both will heavily punish those who don’t know how to handle the weather. In the DLCs, seasons will pose many other types of threats and bothers, such as wind, pollen, disease, and even meteors. Once you learn how to craft the necessary clothes and items to deal with the weather, the next big hurdle involves the many big bad bosses. All manner of giant monsters will appear when certain conditions are met. The Deerclops will probably be the first you encounter, which stalks you during Winter, attempting to destroy any structure or animal in its way with large claw swipes.

If you manage to beat any of the 14 bosses, they will drop special loot that is well worth the fight. Beating the game is only possible in the base game, which is accessible through the story mode mentioned earlier. It consists of premade maps containing challenging weather conditions and confusing puzzles to solve. Have fun trying to beat it. Death is almost certain in Don’t Starve, and it is rogue-like in nature. When the character freezes to death or gets mauled by shadow monsters, you will lose all your progress in that world and have to start over. Each game played progresses your character unlocks, but you will have to reach certain objectives to get the secret characters.


Graphics

Easy on the graphics card and with a completely unique design to boot. With so many hand-drawn animations and item designs, it's hard not to enjoy the cartoony, yet the gritty feel of Don’t Starve’s style. The base game has a duller color pallet than the DLCs but still holds its own with its artwork. The Shipwrecked DLC has a fantastic color design, which pairs very well with the water-isolated island aesthetic. The waves you sail on in Shipwrecked vary in size based on wind and water depth, which is a serene experience when casually traversing the shallows, but intense when avoiding tall waves in deep waters.

Although Shipwrecked is my favorite, Hamlet boasts an impressive amount of purple and green hues, accommodating its humid jungle environment. The thick plants carpeting the jungle floor and treetops make for great exploration, especially when you uncover a hidden ancient ruin. Even if the gameplay is not your cup of tea, I know that most people will enjoy this type of animation, art, and music that the developers put their passion into creating.


Is It Fun?

In an interview with the founder of Klei Entertainment, Jamie Cheng, he said “...it's going to be fun because it's fun. That’s why it's fun. It's interesting to learn and people want to learn… So when they die, did they learn something?... Learning is the fun part”. You can see the full interview here. I think that quote summarizes how Don’t Starve feels to play. It’s about the learning you get just from playing and surviving in the game, not an ultimate end goal. If that is how you feel about playing video games, then you will enjoy playing this one even though it can be difficult.


Should You Buy It?

It can be a very unforgiving game, taking a long time to become proficient. However, it is such a unique game experience from start to finish and back again. For fans of the survival genre and indie classics, this one should be on your list to play. I highly recommend both DLCs, which are full-fledged game experiences completely separate from the base game; including compatibility if you want to jump back and forth with the loot you get from each.

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