Reasonable Review: Don’t Starve Reign Of GiantsFiled inside: Reviews
If ever I needed proof that I couldn’t survive on my own out in the wild, Don’t Starve is it. Especially when you include the new Reign of Giants DLC that just released for the game.
Granted, the deck is stacked against you…a lot. After all, the sheer purpose of pretty much everything in the game is to make sure you die—painfully, if possible and slowly and tortuously otherwise.
For those of you that may have missed the game since it originally released, the game is a quirky sandbox survival game.
The narrative is completely barebones: you play as one of a series of strange characters, each with their own perks and perils, and wach of whom awakes in a strange and dangerous land run by what fundamentally counts as Satan.
Like any good explorative PDL (procedural death labyrinth—think FTL), these characters only provide the pieces, it’s the world and the journey that the game derives all its meaning from. They all have personality, both in speech and in their behavior, but that only serves to diversify playstyle.
Your task, as the game’s namesake, is not to starve—but don’t let that fool you. You also need to not be mauled by hounds, freeze to death, go insane (unless you really want to), succumb to heatstroke, be eaten by spiders, assaulted by bees, consumed by deadly shadows, the list goes on. The game is all about weathering a harsh and unforgiving environment (kind of like what happened to me).
This is accomplished rather simply, in a sense. You have three meters you constantly need to watch over: your stamina, your health, and your sanity.
Your stamina is a constantly decreasing measure of how hungry you are. You just need to eat to fill it back up. You’ll usually start by collecting berries and simple vegetables, eventually moving on toward trapping small rabbits and eventually hunting large game for swaths of meat. The risk of starving to death is understandably always something to be concerned about.
Your health is, in a sense, much more precious than your stamina, though. Weathering extreme heat or cold, taking hits from creatures, or interacting with certain dangerous objects (like the new cacti, for instance) can cause bodily harm, something much more difficult to recover from than hunger. Many of my games have reached a point at which I can no longer take as many active risks, as my low health renders most combat impossible. Many of the items used to restore health are more easily found by killing creatures. Figures.
Your sanity is the most volatile of your meters. Being in pretty much any unusual or taxing conditions will start to cause the meter to drop at varying rates. Situations like this would include anything from standing in a graveyard, not sleeping at night, or encountering strange creatures can induce sanity loss, as can eating raw meat and certain fungi. As your sanity drops, your overall perception of the world starts to warp and change, resulting in some very off-putting scenarios.
Rabbits become strange beardlings made of hair. You’ll hear noises from creatures that aren’t there. It becomes harder and harder to see under any circumstances. Strange shadows follow you about. Going truly mad is a dangerous proposition, but you can harvest strange occult materials and items in this state that are otherwise difficult or impossible to obtain.
You start with simple basics: finding saplings to gather twigs and branches and flints you can fashion yourself rudimentary tools like axes and pickaxes. Using these you can collect stones and logs. By collecting various materials such as these, you can build campfires to keep yourself warm and safe at night (the dark is incredibly dangerous).
Eventually you’re basically conducting mad scientist-class research, creating weaponized bee mines, fancy helmets with lights built into them, capturing birds in special cages, building farms, the list goes on.
Characters in Don’t Starve are all predicated on strange paradigms. For example, Wilson, the mad scientist, grows a magnificent beard that can be shaved and used for crafting (also keeps you warm in winter). Wolfgang, the strong man, has the most health, and gets stronger if his stomach is full, but is fearful of the dark and strange monsters (his sanity is more fragile than others).
The Reign of Giants expansion adds two more to the list, bringing the total number of characters to eleven: Wigfrid, the character actor, is playing the part of a great viking. She can craft a unique spear and helment, and does more damage than most. But her dedication to her method means she won’t eat any food unfit for a warrior (a.k.a. will only eat meat). Webber is a boy that was attacked and partially eaten by a spider. Now, he wanders the land with a spider for a head. He can feed spiders to convince them to follow and fight for him, but isn’t well liked by many of the inhabitants of this weird world, who attack him on sight.
One of the newest and best additions that came from Reign of Giants is the inclusion of seasons. The vanilla game had a very basic swing back and forth between a “summer” and a “winter”, the only major differences being the length of the different times of day, and that in winter you needed to procure warm clothes or stay near fires to avoid freezing to death.
Now, the game has a full gamut of seasons, and each bears more variety than the others. Summer bears the risk of heatstroke, requiring spending more time in the shade under trees, or in the presence of new endothermic fires that still give off light, but absorb heat. Mini glaciers can be mined for ice to eat for temporary relief, or you can fashion yourself a hat made of a large ice cube.
Fall brings rain, which originally only meant you had a chance to be struck by lightning. Now, spending too much time out in the rain not only starts to chill you over time, but can also waterlog your equipment and items. Set clothing is uncomfortable, and increases sanity loss. Wet food spoils faster. Wet fuel burns less efficiently, and wet tools can slip from your grip. You’ll find yourself scrambling to find flower petals and simple materials just to construct parasols and hiding under trees to minimize your exposure.
In addition to this, a new moon cycle system has been added. This does little at first, but introduces some intriguing characteristics during the full moon—bright enough to wander at night safely by, but things can get a little strange during this time.
The expansion has added two more biomes to the world, as well: arid deserts and deciduous forests. Deserts are often filled with dangerous predators but can provide some interesting new avenues to resource gathering. Tumbleweeds fill this sort of area (less so in the rest of the world), and have a random chance to contain a few items, some that can be quite rare and used to be unrenewable. The deciduous forests are filled with the new birch trees and playful catcoons, which can be tamed to follow you about.
An update a while ago also introduced an entire substrata to the game, as well. By finding sinkholes, you can venture underground for access and entirely separate set of monsters and items to grab. Down there, there is no more day and night, instead it’s rather dark most of the time, with many winding pathways and deeply unsettling subterranean flora and fauna.
All these forces make for a game that is fraught with oddly calming stretches of resource acquisition and traversal, punctuated by panic-filled romps as you encounter swarms of killer bees, murderous frogs literally raining from the skies, or deadly walrus hunting parties.
You might also run into the titular giants that have been added to the game. The original included one huge, terrifying monster: the Deerclops. Deerclops would only appear in the winter, and could kill you rather easily without huge amounts of preparation. Now, a creature exists for each season, all of them large and terrifying, but each dropping a unique item that can be fashioned into several incredibly useful pieces of equipment.
Don’t Starve is a game that at once rewards proper planning as well as nomadic tendencies. Developing a good base provides a nice, central location to put basic structures like tents (crucial for restoring stamina in an emergency), machines for prototyping new items, chests for storage, ice boxes for keeping food fresh for longer, and things like farms and drying racks for food production.
At the same time, staying in one location for too long can tax the resources in the area fairly heavily, making it more difficult to acquire the basic resources you might need to build simple items like torches, and necessitating longer and longer forays into the wilderness to get things like stones or, if you haven’t been replanting, find trees.
Keeping track of your basic resources and awareness of where to acquire them in your environment is paramount to your survival. Failure to do so will result in that critical moment, as the sun sinks below the horizon and you find that you don’t have enough logs for a fire, and not enough cut grass to make a torch. Residing in the dark will kill you.
Don’t let all these horrifying notions of difficulty dissuade you, though. The game features a full suite of options for altering your world generation. If you so desired, you can make sure that fewer hostile mobs wander about, and that there are more berry bushes in the world, for easier access to food. You can alter your starting season, populate the world with random deposits of items, the list goes on.
All of these elements are perfectly supported by the game’s look and feel. The entire game looks like animated papercraft: two-dimensional models stuck in a three-dimensional space. The game feels as though is was put together by a mad scientist, with kooky music and similarly unusual creatures that, while certainly strange, make an odd amount of sense.
The characters all have quips and observations to make about the objects in the game to hint at their functions, giving them each more substance. Each is also “voiced” by a musical instrument that has been specially paired to embody their personality. The intelligent librarian, Wickerbottom, is voiced by an oboe, to go with her very matter-of-fact style of speech. Wigfrid is very forceful, and is voiced by a harmonium.
The game features full mod and Steam Workshop support, and the community in this regard is incredibly active. There are acres of new characters, balance tweaks, modes, and items is staggering, and makes for an near-infinite supply of new content to gorge on, if the game starts to go stale for you.
Developer Klei also recently announced that the game is going to be receiving a multiplayer mode in an update aimed at release this summer. The game has always been a single-player-focused experience, to the point where Klei has made several statements that they’d never include a multiplayer mode. The lesson in loneliness that is Don’t Starve does benefit greatly from its single-player roots, but being able to form small “communities” is also something I’m interested in seeing.
The game has been a sort of cult favorite of mine since its original release. I’ve always loved that sort of “survival” game, and to do so with such personality and a strong sense of randomness (without making the game a total slave to an RNG) makes the game infinitely replayable, though a loss due to an errant hit from a tentacle beast you couldn’t see well in the dark after surviving for 30 days can be…keyboard-shatteringly frustrating at times.
Reign of Giants is a strong addition to the game. It very successfully covers some of the pitfalls of the original, and manages to include new elements that further empower your character, but introduces enough to balance it out. The expansion is meant for Don’t Starve veterans, something already impressive to boast, and as such can be mercifully deactivated by unchecking a box, if you decide you want a simpler time of things.
Don’t Starve: Reign of Giants is something that has to be experienced to really understand. The game has a feel to it that is difficult to convey, and is one that is absolutely worth your time. It’s available for Steam, OSX, Linux, and, most recently, the PlayStation 4. You can get the base game for $14.99, and the DLC for an extra $4.99, well worth the small cost of admission.