Don't Starve review: Leave the light on

Boy Scouts should be required to play Don't Starve before going on any camping trips – they could even get a badge for it, in the form of a gaping, pointy-toothed wormhole. Or maybe a friendly campfire.

Don't Starve is packed with wonderful advice about survival and personal growth:
  • In the wilderness, you must build your own tools using only the immediate environment
  • Animals are a great source of nutrition, no matter how cute they are
  • The world is bigger than it first appears; explore it
  • Scary things that will kill you hide in the dark
  • When you die, your world disappears
  • Fire is fun
  • Go for the eyes
And that's not mentioning the obvious one.%Gallery-189368% Don't Starve is, at its most basic level, a survival game. It features crafting, mysticism, science and all manner of nasty creatures, especially once it gets dark. In order to stay alive, players have to use the surrounding flora and fauna to craft increasingly complex tools, starting with a simple axe and building up to items as intricate as lightning rods and carpeted flooring.

When you die in Don't Starve, your current world is destroyed, along with the things you created while surviving in it. There are advanced tricks to escape death – constructing a Meat Effigy or finding an Amulet – but rest assured (and in peace) that you will most likely die before gaining the experience required to craft or dig up these items. A Touch Stone will also resurrect fallen players, but finding that structure early on is more luck than certain death. I did find it, at the beginning of my second run, but I didn't know what the strange circle surrounded by pig heads was, so I didn't use it, and when I died, I was dead.

That said, curiosity and a desire to poke at unfamiliar things are essential in Don't Starve (and keeping the wiki handy is probably a good idea, too).


Dying is a fundamental gameplay aspect. Death won't always come from starvation; it inhabits many forms, including beasts large and small, and the terrors that hide in the night. A clock-like status bar in the upper right corner of the map shows how many days you've survived and the current time, and it provides health, hunger and mental gauges. It's an efficient system, the clock hand moving from yellow to red to blue – day, afternoon and night – and circles of health systems draining without proper care. One glance and it's instantly clear how long until you have to build a fire, or if you need to eat or rest.

On top of a solid survival game, Don't Starve is a deep, layered experiment in crafting and exploration. Throughout the biomes are wormholes that transport players to different lands, which offer new materials for building science machines – which unlock new crafting recipes – and heartier structures. New characters are unlocked with experience – 20 points per day survived. Willow, the first character to unlock, is freed at 160 EXP, or eight days. Wickerbottom, the final character unlockable with EXP, is freed at the cap, 1280 EXP or 64 days.

This is all in Sandbox Mode, but Don't Starve also features an Adventure Mode, which players can enter by finding and activating Maxwell's Door. It's somewhere out there, encircled by Evergreens and Evil Flowers, I promise. Adventure Mode is Don't Starve's campaign, pitting Wilson against Maxwell, the demonic genius who brought Wilson to the wilderness in the first place. It's five grueling chapters – upon first entrance, players lose all items and crafting recipes, and can only carry four items between Adventure Mode chapters. Die in Adventure Mode and you're spat back out into Sandbox Mode, precisely where you left it.

The chapters become more difficult, and Maxwell more deranged, as Adventure Mode progresses, until the final chapter is shrouded in eternal night. You will be spat back out in Sandbox Mode. Guaranteed. I should know – I haven't beaten Adventure Mode yet.

Don't Starve spent months in beta, with players suggesting tweaks, modes and additions, and now that the full game is officially out, developer Klei is constantly updating it. The main menu hosts a countdown for the next update – it currently promises 18 days until some cool new features find their way into the forest. This community engagement is not only smart from a marketing and outreach perspective, but it's what gives Don't Starve its depth: All of these features bundled into a survival game with streamlined, robust mechanics and infinite ways to die.

There is at least one way to win, of course – Don't Starve.


This review is based on a Steam download of Don't Starve, provided by Klei Entertainment.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.