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What’s Killing My Social Life This Week – Starbound

{Warning! Starbound is still on early access, representation not product full blah blah unfinished game blah is this an early access phase I’m going through, or will I finally move on to  playing shit that works blah blah}

Do you want your Terraria world to be less fantasy and more sci-fi, yet still stick to the Lovecraftian undertone? Have you spent hours on forums, just looking for the right mod to make your game more like Battlestar Galactica? Well then there might just be a game for you and your extremely specific tastes.

Starbound is a 2D sandbox, adventure game from Chucklefish games and it’s the hottest shit since our ancestral proto-humans first touched the bright, orange flickering blob. In it you play as one of 7 different races, stuck on your ship because WHO CARES? What matters is that a horse helps you out and then hands you a weird diggy thing that is slower than a frozen snail on a turtle. Seriously though, the game does a pretty good job at keeping you engaged in the world around you, making it feel really expansive and alive (so long as you pay close attention to the flavor text, read through all the manuals you’re bogged down with at every turn, look for secret entries in the story missions etc).

Now, back around when Juana Galán was kicking butt and looking fabulous while doing it, Starbound had just come out in Early Access and I downloaded it to see if it would make all the scratching noises stop. To my dismay, I found the gameplay to be dull and repetitive and the world to feel hollow and un-immersive. Thus I purged the game from my computer, vowing never to purchase anything with the words “Early” “Preorder” or “Feed me!” in it and then proceeded to buy the Witchmarsh Drifter reward. Several months later, having creepily watched the game grow from the dark, youtube sidelines, I decided to give it another go. And I must say, there’s been a lot of fucking good changes around; for one, there’s more to do in the game than just crafting then next level gear. With the questing system fixed, now objectives are much clearer and more tangible, even though the story missions are as hard as diamond nails. What’s more, a bugger-ton of new items, NPC’s, shops, planets and power-ups have been added, the overall UI is now less awful, a world hub has been added, pets are now a thing and there’s a gun somewhere that shoots rainbows. RAINBOWS! I mean Jegus fucking Christ, talk about overcompensation. Makes you wonder what’s planned for the next update doesn’t it? Knowing Chucklefish, it’s probably going to be a cat-dispensing box of Ferrero Rochers and maybe also a new episode of World Trigger.

The mechanics are, unsurprisingly, pretty much the same as in Terraria (water physics notwithstanding) though the art direction is definitely different. Heck, even the in-game music is completely unlike the one in Terraria; very rarely did I chance upon a lively tune, as most of them tended to be slow and quiet, giving environments the right emphasis they need (be it grim, sad, wistful, macabre, hollow or ohgodohgodI’mgonnadie). My personal favourite moment in Starbound was visiting the abandoned gate and exploring the eldritch temple ruins. Reveling at the size of the massive statues there, whilst listening to the atmospheric music in the background and making a mental note to come back once I got the flight ability.

As I said before, mechanically this game is akin to Terraria (duh), with the possible exception of the new mouse button slots; when previously your hotbar was shackled by the limiting number of just 10 slots, Starbound lets you rock around with an extra 2 (5 if you count tool slots), which can be used for dual-wielding and quick-selecting. No longer will you be forced to stop adventuring every 3 seconds because it’s dark and you need to place torches/flares/glowsticks down, no sirree. From now on you’ll be able to employ the ingenious tactic of using both hands, a cunning stratagem which almost no other gaming protagonists seem to have thought up before. Armed with a very long, very sharp, very painful sword and a dim flashlight (which straight up refuses to work sometimes but baby steps people) you can go on with your monster-slaying activities in partially increased visibility.

Another thing that’s different from Terraria (blimey, I need to stop saying Terraria so often) is that you can travel to and explore other planets and solar systems. Oh yes, spend enough time repairing your ship and you too can traverse the stars (provided that everything’s fixed and you’ve got fuel and it’s not too far and that you’ve polished the hull properly etc), which you will kinda need to do. Harder planets means better ores and loot, though also harder enemies, giving you the option to either slowly make your way up the higher weapon tiers, or –and this is much more likely- have a friend fix you up with the best equipment and power through the game faster than you can say “steady character progression”. Strangely, your ship can travel between planets within a solar system regardless of whether or not it’s got fuel in it. Yes I know, this is a petty quibble and I suppose one could say that your ship might be running on fumes or whatever, but I always found it funny whenever it happened. My character was a strong, spiky Novakid lady, with a thing for unholy halberds and the occasional matter-disintegrating plasma launcher. So, whenever the ship would just mysteriously jump from planet to planet on an empty tank, I’d imagine her going down the engine room, stepping inside the engine core and using her god-like sun powers to fuel that sucker up like a boss. Incidentally, I’d come up with a similar reason as to how she managed to power her matter manipulator and the broken doors she kept going/breaking through.

To conclude, Starbound is a very expansive, very fun 2D sandbox minecraft clone, which will probably keep me a bitter company on the many sleepless nights I plan to spend with it. Everything from the combat to the tiny gnome people, secretly living under the ground, is really well done and it all gives the feeling that there’s a lot more wacky stuff to discover. Play it with friends, then tell me what that’s like because running a stable, non-crashing server is as alien a concept to me as it is to my computer.

-The Fairy Wizard

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Posted on May 13, 2015, in Features, Geekology, Reviews, Video Games, What's Killing My Social Life This Week and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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