Don't Starve Together is for people who 'just want to watch their friends burn'

Klei's cooperative Don't Starve expansion, Don't Starve Together, has the potential to bring you and your friends closer than ever before. That's when they'll least expect an axe in the face.

Don't Starve Together is unique in that it encourages both cooperative and competitive play. Plopped down in the middle of the unforgiving wilderness, up to four players team up to build a camp, hunt wildlife and eke out a meager existence, strengthened by their bonds of friendship.

The core Don't Starve experience can be much more forgiving, for instance, when you assign one friend to craft survival supplies while another goes and chops firewood. If you ran into any opposition alone and unprepared, you'd be in serious trouble, but with an armed buddy watching your back (and reviving you when you're overwhelmed), being stranded in the wilderness isn't so bad after all.

If one of your teammates decides to choose the pyromaniac character class, though, you could be in for a world of hurt.

In Don't Starve Together, players choose among three classes, including a pyromaniac who can set fires at will and is invincible to the blazes she leaves in her wake. All classes bring their own special abilities and traits into the wilderness, and all have the ability to help their companions as much as they are able to hurt them.

Killed players aren't out of the game, either. As seen in early prototype footage, dead players turn into ghosts who can grief the remaining survivors with effects that range from annoying to deadly.

While players had tons of dangerous wildlife to contend with in the single-player Don't Starve, Don't Starve Together feels distinctly different, thanks to what designer Seth Rosen describes as the addition of "random craziness that comes from having someone else in your world." Describing human players as akin to "the ultimate AI," Rosen explains that your fellow survivors have the potential to deliver unexpected, emergent gameplay beyond the original game's intended scope.

During Klei's demo, I witnessed another player charge at my character with a herd of trained Beefalo in tow. Unarmed, I wouldn't stand a chance against them in combat. With assistance from Klei's team, I put my pyromaniac's skills to good use -- rather than tackling the herd head-on, I rushed toward a glade of trees, set them ablaze, and watched as the Beefalo turned tail as I ran unharmed through the burning forest.

Fire is actually one of the more dangerous elements that crops up in Don't Starve Together's multiplayer sessions. Rosen notes that the forested areas within the PAX demo world tended to be destroyed quickly by player-set fires. When playing as the pyromaniac, restraint is needed in order to balance your survival needs with the ever-alluring prospect of torching your friends and the surrounding world.

While watching over the demo stations at PAX Prime, Rosen observed what he describes as a "50/50 mix" of players who attempted to bond together cooperatively and players who "just want to watch their friends burn." It's an interesting dynamic, and the game's structure accommodates both styles of play. Though the "Together" in the title implies that players are encouraged to cooperate and survive as long as possible, the game is open-ended enough to allow competitive tournament play during PAX, with the winner being the last survivor standing.

While Don't Starve Together is limited to four players currently (either over LAN or online), Klei has been experimenting with 15-player sessions in bigger worlds, hinting at an even more chaotic experience if technical issues can be worked out. Even with four players, though, play progresses much more quickly than in the single-player Don't Starve experience, making it a challenge to satisfy your character's basic needs while not falling prey to your teammates should they decide to turn on you.

Don't Starve Together will be released as a free expansion for all players who own the core Don't Starve game on PC platforms. A closed beta is due to launch by the end of September.

[Images: Klei]