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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

By Nathan Meunier