Death of the Critic

The Backlog - Don't Starve

Written by: Tom Blaich


I have a confession to make. Like many of you reading this, I have a list of games that I’ve been meaning play for years. I have way too many games on Steam, and a stack of cases sitting next to my TV. Close to five hundred games now. Maybe more. It makes me feel guilty. I haven’t touched 90% of them in one way or another. I need to fix that. So this week, I dug deep into my backlog and pulled out a game. I want to play all of them; I’ve just never had the chance. Now’s the time.

Don’t Starve
is a deceptively simple game. At first it seems like you just need to gather food and survive, but the deeper that you get into the game, the more complex systems begin to reveal themselves. There is magic and technology, cultivation and crafting, fearsome enemies hiding in dark places. And in some ways, the game is better for obscuring these systems, letting you discover the systems on your own and adding entire other layers of depth to the systems.


But on the other hand, the game could do a much better job at teaching the player about these systems. At first they feel very obscure and trying to suss out systems by yourself is frustrating and having to lean on wikis is more than a little frustrating. You can definitely improve your experience with the addition of a few simple mods, which are easy to integrate through the Steam Workshop. A simple mini-map quickly became a part of my standard play style, if only for the convenience after I had gotten used to the gameplay systems.

The game is hard, there is no denying that, and even after spending a while with it, a single lapsed moment of concentration could spell my need. Recovering health takes a long time, and enemies can wipe out large chunks of your health pool quickly. You have to plan your fights carefully, prepare for them before you go off or you will die and you will lose everything.

I can’t count the number of times that I id this, over-extending myself and being punished for it. Nights hurt you if you are not prepared, and the feeling of the darkness creeping in is legitimately unsettling, as you stand huddled around your fire with a spear, wondering what lurks in the murky pools of darkness that surround you.

This is only furthered by the Burton-esque artsyle, which just feels ever so slightly off, angular and distorted in the right way, characters gaunt and lean and haunting. The world is unsettling and foreign, and it makes you worry as you try to explore new areas. It nails the atmosphere in a way that many games try and fail to do. It isn’t a horror game, but it does atmospheric horror better than most. It’s a survival game in which it feels like you have to struggle to survive, and that is really cool.

Don’t Starve is an amazingly competent game, one of the rare survival titles that remains fun to play even later in the gameplay loop. I put a fair number of hours into it, and I can already picture myself going back for more, spear clutched tightly in one hand as I face the unknown horrors that await me.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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