“Captain Bowie was a kind man, prone to spontaneous dancing in the middle of combat rounds, mad dashes, and double-jumps. He preferred chocolate to canned rations, and lucked out when he discovered an entire moon covered with the main ingredient used to craft it. He liked jumpsuits, the astronaut gear from the Erchius Mining Facility and had a shock-top faux-hawk, –bright red, and long in the back. STARBOUND the campaign didn’t kill him. He died after a quick teleport back to his ship, when the idiot playing him forgot to save and quit, after a routine apex dungeon run, and he starved to death.”
– Captain Bowie II. #HardcoreModeFTW
STARBOUND is a hybrid platformer-survival-builder / galactic colonization sim with elements of action, adventure and strategy. Initially released as an in-development title on December 4th, 2013, STARBOUND went 1.0 on July 22nd, 2016. Designed in the UK by Finn Brice and published by Chucklefish Games, it is available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, Linux and Mac OS platforms.
Proudly multiplayer, and built around the idea that each character will begin in its own version of galaxy / universe, STARBOUND begins with a combination of quest – driven storyline and procedurally generated “home world.”
Cast into space after an alien invasion destroys the Earth, you are initially tasked with exploration and survival on a semi-hostile 2D planet. Each world is filled with vast side-scrolling landscapes, deep underground caverns, an occasional landmark — like a bridge, or ruined tower structure — and a smattering of friendly NPC’s who own tents, have fire, and operate mines.
Native wildlife abounds, and almost everything is relatively hostile. Flora is collected with a multitool, along with dirt, rock, and other precious minerals like copper, iron and silver. Some of these are used for crafting, and others may be placed to build your way around obstacles, to construct a shelter, to protect your character from the ramped up savagery of the night cycle.
STARBOUND offers a wide variety of highly customizable playable species, including Human, Avain, Apex, Florians, Hyotl, Glitch (sentient robotic life), and Novakid. Each species has its own starting spaceship, and its own backstory.
Note: There are three difficulty levels, and one is chosen at character creation. They cannot be adjusted during the game, and the only real difference is in the death penalty. Casual incurs a loss of 10% of your pixels (the game’s currency), Survival incurs a 30%-pixel loss, and loss of (some) items not stored in any of the games numerous containers, and Hardcore has no “death penalty,” per say. Rather – once you die, you’re done.
All three difficulty levels play the same in game, which means you can join a multiplayer “world” on your survival character, even if they are playing casual. Both casual and hardcore players are free to carry anything they can in their inventory, while the survival player is best served by making good use of the containers, for storage, in case of death.
STARBOUND rewards careful, deliberate play: the little books and chat bubbles not only tell a cute little story; they also provide clues which make doing certain missions / dungeons easier. There aren’t any overly wordy “lore books” ala Skyrim, but what you find, is useful, and can be added to your codex, and sold for pixels afterward.
Which brings me to the meat of the story: DEATH.
I started playing video games during the 80’s, when the Atari was a year or two old and ColecoVision was attracting new fans with its slightly more involved games, overlays and controllers. I didn’t play much through the late 80’s or early 90’s, and when I started up again, I played a lot of DOS games on the 286 and kept a PlayStation hooked to the living room TV. The games I enjoyed best were a mixture of action and adventure, with enough danger that certain bottlenecks held me up for one or more deaths while I worked through the puzzles and encounters towards completion of the game.
Death was fairly common, and saving after a big milestone was absolutely required. STARBOUND doesn’t bother with saves, except just before logging out, and instead uses a system familiar to most early MMO players: the death penalty. These range from mild, on casual difficulty, to irksome on survival difficulty, to absolute – on hardcore. When you die playing a survival character, you respawn on your ship, short 30% of your pixels and a handful of items. Some of those items may be recovered by traveling back to where you died, and picking them up off the ground. The pixels are, however, gone forever.
This gives STARBOUND a sense of urgency not found in most modern RPG’s, and it fits. My son, Zach describes STARBOUND’s death penalty as “the sweet spot,” and he’s absolutely right. When you die in-game, you earned it, and you literally have no one to blame but yourself.
This breeds a measure of caution into the gameplay, especially on survival or hardcore difficulty. This caution will serve you well on your starter planet, but it is absolutely required in the game’s first real dungeon, –the Erchius Mining Facility. I’ve never completed a run in less than an hour. I can give up and teleport back to my ship, but if I stay gone for 10 minutes or longer – I have to start over. The boss at the bottom is a pain in the ass, and it’s nothing but platforming all the way down.
Getting past this bottleneck is at the core of the game’s meta: It hooked me directly because the gameplay is so engaging. It’s deceptively simple; — equal parts fun and frustration, and it flows towards various tangible rewards. For example: completing the Erchius Mining Facility unlocks the ship repair that allows you to travel from star to star. Explore (and bookmark!) various planets, and debris fields, or pharm the hell out of an asteroid field for gold, which can be sold to a vendor at the outpost for pixels to buy upgrades. There are quests everywhere, if you follow the game’s storyline, and monsters to be defeated along the way, if you’re into it (and what kind of gamer isn’t?)
In short: STARBOUND is everything No Man’s Sky wanted to be, but isn’t.
Let that sink in while you platform over a series of pitfalls and traps, dodging plasma-beams, and obnoxious, bouncing heads that explode on contact with your face.
You can thank me later. I promise.