Steamrolled: Don’t Starve Review

They can't all be winners: a quick review of Don't Starve, another Steam impulse buy.

Ordinarily my impulse buys on Steam are either heavily discounted (“75% off?  How can I not afford to buy this?!”) or inexpensive in their own right – Dead Pixels and 10,000,000 were under $5 and I have a handful of other titles around that price range that are just waiting for some playtime and review.

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But every time I was on the Steam store, I would see Don’t Starve.  It’s been running on a discount down to $12, and whenever I saw it I was just interested enough to consider buying it before moving on to other titles.  After the sixth or seventh time, I decided to buy it and see what it was all about. 

I’m sorry to say that I was disappointed.

Why I’m Sorry To Say That: The Development Team, The Concept

The development team working on it does a lot of wonderful things.  They are still in beta with the game, and I have seen issues I originally had when I picked the game up be resolved fairly quickly.  They even link to their forums from the start screen and have an embedded timer to the next build/release:

They are on the ball with development, correcting issues and keeping their fan base engaged.  It’s very cool stuff that I wish more companies would do.

Plus, the concept sounds neat: you play as a scientist who’s pulled into a strange world, and need to survive long enough to find a way home.  It seemed like Minecraft and Terraria, where you start in the middle of a random world and start building/crafting your way to awesomeness.

Why I’m Saying It Anyway: Lackluster Gameplay

So, your character appears in the world.  There’s a guy next to you who says you should find some food before disappearing into the shadows.  Then you’re alone.

And you spend the next half hour gathering.  You can eat berries and carrots, which are fairly plentiful.  There are also grasses and saplings and the like that you can pick up and stow away for a rainy day.   But there’s no real indication of what to do beyond that point, so you just wander around picking things up.

Unless you run into a random monster and die, of course.  

Then it starts to get dark, and you get a little thought bubble that you should build a fire.  It turns out you should have made an axe out of the flint and twigs early on so that you could cut down trees for wood, so that you could build a fire.

There’s nothing saying this until just before dark, so you have just enough time to cut down a few trees if you’ve gathered the materials to make an axe.  And if you time it just right, you only need a few of those logs for fuel.

But if you don’t build a fire before dark?

You die.  Apparently some monster comes out that you can’t fight and kills you.  Done.  There’s no option to burrow and hide out if you couldn’t find the right resources, like you have in Minecraft or Terraria – you don’t build a fire one night, and you die horribly.  

The Summation: Where My Expectations Were

I originally played it a week or so ago, and ultimately just came away underwhelmed by what it was.  But I still wanted to like it – the concept is great and it could be something amazing.  So I tried again earlier today, shortly before finishing up this interview.

Still underwhelmed.

But I still want to like it.  I really do.  There’s that niche gamer deep within my soul saying “Maybe it’ll be better when you get to Day Three.  Or Day Five.  Or Day Twenty.  Maybe this just isn’t a casual game you can play for an hour and be happy with.”

Hopefully that’ll be the case and I’ll come to love it as I play more, but for right now it just hasn’t impressed me.

 Steamrolled Score: 4/10

This has been an installment of Steamrolled, a semi-regular column about impulse buys on Steam that turn out either very impressive or very… not.

Steamrolled: Don’t Starve Review
They can't all be winners: a quick review of Don't Starve, another Steam impulse buy.

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