Winter is coming and a straw hat won't keep you warm.
We went into Don't Starve with no prior experience, expectations or preparations. It was released on PC last spring after about six months of public alpha testing and now console owners (those lucky enough to have scored a PlayStation 4) get to jump into the gloomy world of Don't Starve. This is how Don't Starve is meant to be played - you learn by experience without any real pointers, arrows, objective markers or explanations. Sometimes you have to die in order to learn a lesson.
The game has a simple premise, as at the start you're thrown into a mysterious wilderness. From there you gather materials - grass, wood, rocks, gold, flowers, mushrooms - you name it. These can be combined into more advanced and refined equipment as you climb the surprisingly deep technology tree. And one way to enjoy Don't Starve is to simply craft items and build a camp where you can survive the cold of winter.
Time flies in this game, days last mere minutes, and when it gets dark it gets dangerous. You need to build a fire or a torch to keep the evils that hide in the dark away. The world is randomly generated each time you start a game. Resources are distributed according to the various land types, as are enemies and wildlife. Some animals are neutral and won't attack you unless you attack them (and early on you're wise not to hunt the larger animals).
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The game is full of simple mechanics, but exploring and discovering the world is the main feature of the game. Sure there are objectives or small puzzles you can clear; there's an adventure mode you access through a portal, there are caves (even more deadly than the overworld) and tons of mechanics to explore and exploit.
There is a lot going on underneath the surface as the game keeps track of innocent animals you kill and the like (which could land you in trouble). There are more advanced tactics that see you herding pigmen in order to have them clear enough spider nests. There are giant cyclops birds that lay eggs and will hunt you until the end of the world if you steal their unhatched young.
There are traps to lay and bait. There is fishing. There are frogs, bees (and honey), evil things and a garden gnome (what it's for we're not quite sure yet). There are pig altars to activate, dead explorers to loot, and plenty of strange rituals and ceremonies that you may or may not want to interrupt.
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Klei Entertainment have always been known for their distinct aesthetics and Don't Starve certainly shines as far as the artstyle goes. At first lazy glance a Tim Burton-inspired look comes to mind, and surely it's been a source of inspiration, but Don't Starve has enough of a look of its own to avoid being labelled an isometric Nightmare Before Christmas. The first time you come across something new in the landscape is to be treasured. Friend or foe? Well, let's just say you better be prepared to run.
In addition to making sure you're well fed and you're not freezing your ass off, you need to keep your wits about you. When your sanity meter falls (beware of the green mushrooms that only appear when it's dark) your vision will be blurred and creatures from your nightmares will attack you (even where there is light).
You start your first game as a chap named Wilson, who is sent to this world by Maxwell (who seems a decidedly naughty fellow). There are eight more characters to unlock and they each add nice twists to the game and characterisation.
Wilson grows a beard that helps protect him against cold. There is pyromaniac girl called Willow who start setting things aflame when she's nervous. There's a robot, a strongman and a librarian. You unlock these by levelling up (you don't level up the characters per say - they have a set number of health points - and only grow stronger with better equipment), and there is always that lure when you die and happen to unlock a new character to give it another go.
My first experience with Don't Starve was brief. I attacked a pigman. I shouldn't have done so and died on my very first day. Later bees, spiders, hounds, darkness and a tentacle would snuff out my ever-expanding list of dead characters in the morgue (basically your leaderboard in Don't Starve).
Once you die any previous saves are deleted. This is a roguelike and it's meant to be experienced as a series of long or short attempts to survive. After a while getting food and staying alive at night isn't a challenge and you start exploring other things. You try and craft various items, set up a farm, mine for resources, go spelunking or take on larger animals. Perhaps you'll see fire to a forest (you really should, it's quite a sight).
It takes a few lives to get fully accustomed to the user interface, but once you do it's quick and painless to browse through tons of items and things to craft. Perhaps it lacks some of the overview afforded on PC, but Don't Starve is clean enough in its interface to feel fully at home on console.
Don't Starve: Console Edition grew on us over the course of the last week. The depth of the game crept up on us and we found ourselves immersed for hours trying to "prep" as best we could for whatever trials lay ahead. Progression lies with the player rather than the avatar, which is a nice twist that keeps the game from ever becoming too easy or simply a matter of pressing the same buttons.
Don't Starve is a rare experience on console and one you shouldn't miss out on, regardless of whether you get the game as part of your Instant Game Collection with PS Plus, or if you need to part with £11.99.
8 / 10
Wonderful aesthetics, Deep and rewarding mechanics, Lots and lots to discover, Randomly generated worlds, Charming and diverse characters.
Starts out a little slow, Lack of direction may not be everyone's cup of tea, Heavy on trial and error.