Early Access was made for games such as Starbound -- titles with an irrepressibly alluring bundle of core mechanics that can be expanded upon throughout an open development period that allows a game's creators to respond to player feedback in real-time. As such, we've been having a blast with Starbound for since before the turn of the year, enjoying watching and experiencing the game grow and develop. And with the massive patch a couple of weeks back ending the cycle of character wipes, we thought it was time we told you what we thought of the game.
So, in similar fashion to our WildStar roundtable last week, we thought we'd present a few thoughts on the ongoing Starbound beta thus far, and why we've been so besotted with Chucklefish's procedurally-generated, sci-fi craftbox.
To me, Starbound is a marriage of my favourite things – procedurally generated adventures, and space-faring exploration. It’s for this reason that the project grabbed my attention many months ago, but even though I have been following the development for a while I wasn’t quite prepared for my first steps into Chucklefish’s early access build, because it really impressed me. If I had to sum up my experience so far in one word, it would be “charming.” Yep – that game has charm all over the shop, and I’m absolutely swooning for it.
Exploring new planets and coming across existing communities, be they friendly or not, brings a sense of discovery that Terraria doesn’t quite manage, and the ability to go planet-hopping makes sure that happens again and again and again. All of that on top of the usual task of creating your own home with creation suite that powerful despite its simple presentation. In fact, trying to tame the world in a bid to make it hospitable was a task that, while challenging, was incredibly enjoyable, and that is a credit to the effort Chucklefish have put into their systems.
One minute I could be on an Earth-like planet, the next I could be somewhere with acid rain, making traversal a challenge even during the day. That next planet you go to might be filled with lava, or it could be the complete opposite by being the coldest thing ever and freezing your character to death in seconds. This variety keeps the action interesting and forces the player to adapt to new scenarios, which is something that I think other sandbox titles don’t do quite as well.
Then there’s the soundtrack – oh, that soundtrack. I could honestly just sit there and listen to the music in that game for hours, and I swear it has been responsible for luring me into a false sense of security and happiness as I come across a cute looking creature that all of a sudden OH GOD WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING LIGHTING AT MY FACE AND NOW I’M DEAD. Damn you, soundtrack! But yeah, it brings up another point in that the constant need to assess alien creatures is a humorous task – to the point that I now consider anything cute as automatically hostile, and anything ugly as friendly. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was Chucklefish making a social statement, but then I stop caring because man, that’s a pretty soundtrack…
Naturally, Starbound really jumps into a different level when played with friends, and as we demonstrated with our episode of Game Night, there is so much fun to be had with exploring the homeworlds of your various part members, storming danger-filled caves and bases, and placing toilets all over the place. Perhaps Chucklefish’s greatest achievement so far is the feeling of progression within the game, both in terms of your personal character and that of the worlds they visit. Unlike Minecraft, where despite wearing the best armour and having the best weapons you’ll always find Creepers and Ghasts to be complete swines, the characters of Starbound can become stronger and take on foes more easily. Of course, that only lasts as long as you stay on their tier of difficulty, but at least the player makes that choice to move on, allowing them to prepare for the next round of survival.
Complaints so far are minimal, with the sudden stop to the quest chain being one of them, although that will probably be expanded over time. My other one is how in every playthrough I’ve had so far, coal has been the equivalent of gold dust, with it being needed for light, warmth, and fuel for my spaceship, and there simply isn’t enough without spending several hours mining underground, which leads me to my next complaint – the lack of obvious way to repair tools. I know there’s a way to do it, but I’ve yet to do so successfully which is an issue when you’re deep underground and the durability of your pickaxe has taken a nosedive. However, even in the face of these issues I’m still enjoying myself immensely, to the point where an intended 30 minute blast turns into 3 hours. Perhaps most impressive of all? That it’s still in early access, and that Chucklefish are nowhere near done with their procedurally generated space opus.
Personally, I can’t wait to see how it translates onto the Playstation systems (I bet it will look gorgeous on the Vita’s OLED screen. Mmmmyes.)
On Alpha Xi-1 Cet 2259 V b, I was a God. The primitive tribe of plant-based indigenous life forms had never seen a visitor from the stars before, welcoming me into their daily lives and peacefully trading their meagre commodities with me. We were happy, and their beautiful tree village burned so fiercely when Deathwing and his penguin pirates descended with slaughter on their minds, an ablative shield that I abused without pity or remorse before building a castle on the smouldering wreckage. Still, their sacrifice allowed me to set forth into the galaxy, merrily bound for pastures new. [You're a monster - Ed]
So it was somewhat fitting that I subsequently found myself in an utter sh*thole. I do mean that literally with no hint of irony, because my next port of call was completely bereft of sentient life or any signs of civilization... except a single, inexplicable wooden outhouse. Beneath it lay a disgusting warren of automated sewage processing plants defended by robotic guardians, revealing that the crust of the planet lay suspended on a filthy mantle of raw excrement and slime.
And platinum. Enough platinum to sink a spaceship, and make the smell worthwhile.
Everyone's story is different, everybody has their own tale to tell, and that's part of what makes Starbound one of the most exciting games on the PC scene right now. It's the craftbox we've all been waiting for; offering familiar mechanics, but setting them in a glorious new context that makes each procedurally-generated adventure relevant, and survival all the more exciting. Starbound is an infinite universe of discovery just waiting to be explored, exploited, conquered and marvelled at, whether alone or cooperating out with friends.
That said, its reliance on 'Pixels' is a nothing less than a disaster in the making.
Unlike other craftboxes, you'll need to amass a bizarre arbirary currency to craft anything remotely worthwhile and reach higher technology tiers. This makes no sense whatosever, and worse, it often leaves you with the resources you need, but not enough money to build the weapon, armour or item you want. It feels obtrusive and lazy, a barrier to progression that pulls us out of the experience and forces you to get our grind on.
I'd elaborate, but I'm afraid that I have to get back to the poo mines. Sorry about the pong.
Yesterday, I fired up Starbound while working and just let the menu music play for several hours. I love it -- it's so soothing and inviting. It's like an aural hug. I like the way it changes dynamically, too -- kicking the tempo up when danger approaches, often lulling you into a false sense of security with twinkly piano and then HORNS! and suddenly several cartoonish monsters come cascading down a mountainside and start vomiting acid blood all over you.
As Carl mentions above, it's always the cute ones. And birds. I was playing South Park: the Stick of Truth earlier this week and the Ubi rep noted I was on something of a mission to shoot birds out of their trees. "Blame Starbound," I muttered, cackling as I wreaked vengeance upon completely unrelated avians.
It took me a whole day to finish the Starbound tutorial, simply because I ignored the messages that kept popping up and went exploring and mining and I built an afro'd totem that looked like Shepherd Book because I'd run out of dirt and rock and only had snow for the hair. Then I proceeded to invite a couple of friends down to my planet and we located a nearby temple filled with Stargate-esque badasses. After redecorating their throne room with Christmas trees, we proved that swords were better than guns, and then pillaged their corpses for ancient space rifles, before carving our way into underground caverns that sparkled with diamonds.
Then my save got wiped because I'd completely forgotten about the patch schedule.
But I didn't care at all. Starbound is a game that has developed and matured during its lengthy and ongoing Early Access period, but the procedurally-generated planets and the ever-changing foundations for adventure have remained a constant joy. We're beyond the character wipes now, but I've still found an excuse to start brand new games as other friends have joined and as I've looked to do a spot of role-playing with certain of my own creations. Every hour in that game is different, every planet presents new, exciting opportunities for adventure. I'm not a fan of the game's reliance on Pixels as an arbitrary form of currency, but even that hasn't really dulled the allure of a game that's constantly surprising me and challenging me and filling me with wonder. There are several times when I've had to pause what I'm doing to appreciate how beautiful Starbound can be... usually seconds before what looks like a perfectly docile genetic cousin of a lamb fries my giblets with a lightning shock.
Starbound might well be easily described as Terraria in space. But it's better, deeper, and yet more accessible than Terraria was, and if you haven't taken the plunge yet, I'd strongly suggest doing so. Ignore the Early Access label for this one -- it's already incredibly playable, packed with features, and enjoys an ever-growing community. Unless you have important stuff to do, though; Starbound has a way of turning that quick twenty-minute dabble into ohballsits5amandivedoneitagain.