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My Current Obsession: Don’t Starve

As I mentioned back in my Card Hunter post, it is pretty rare that I get 100% engrossed in a given game. The all-in immersion in a game’s delicious logical systems is precisely what I desire, but gaming today is typically focused on front-loading the fun, followed by a tapering off of stimulation. So color me surprised when I found myself playing Don’t Starve until 6am again, trying (in vain) to get myself prepared for a winter I have never survived long enough to see.

It's all inevitably down-hill from here.

It’s all inevitably down-hill from here.

In a nutshell, Don’t Starve is an indie survival roguelike. You wake up, get taunted a bit by the above-pictured guy, and… that’s it. As the Steam store description states:

Uncompromising Survival & World Exploration:

No instructions. No help. No hand holding. Start with nothing and craft, hunt, research, farm and fight to survive.

They’re not kidding. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of a particular mechanic… BAM! You get stung to death by angry bees.

Not a good way to go.

Not a good way to go.

If you die, that’s it, game over; your save file is erased. Occasionally there will be a sacrificial altar-looking thing, which acts as a one-time respawn mechanic. You can even construct your own Meat Effigy, which will also respawn you once… but you will have a lower maximum HP for as long as it exists. And keep in mind that you don’t resurrect with your gear – all of your shit is piled on the ground next to the giant spider nest or murloc Merm camp or swamp filled with giant tentacles or whatever nightmare area you died in.

And that’s another thing: there’s a sanity meter too.

But, seriously, Don’t Starve is one of the most brilliant games I have played in years. While I sort of feel like it’s still in beta (there’s a countdown until the next patch on the title screen), how all the game systems already interlock is astonishing. As you might imagine from the title, getting food is important. But actually getting enough food to survive is pretty easy. The problem is that actually foraging all that food will consume a large portion of your day, leaving you little time to explore before nightfall. You can’t just hoard food either, because it spoils. Even worse, no crops grow during the winter and the ponds freeze over and you can’t eat monster meat without going insane and… you get the idea.

This is how far I walked looking for Flint, one time.

This is how far I walked looking for Flint, one time.

What I find so engaging is how I feel like I’m… juggling. You know in RTS games like Starcraft (etc) when you’re trying to micromanage some battles and having your base produce more units and sending scouts out to look for expansions? I actually dislike RTS games that are structured that way – I can do any one of them well, but not all simultaneously – but Don’t Starve somehow threads that needle. I would spend a few days making food supplies, then trek out into the wilderness looking for more of a certain resource I was lacking, foraging when I could, and trying not to get too far afield. Then come back, craft some new feature in my camp, and then get attacked by Hounds and die on Day 22.

And I’m not even mad.

Each world is procedurally-generated, which means next time I might be able to locate an even better starting location for my camp. Or maybe I’ll run across one of those random set-pieces and get a huge leg-up on survival with the ready-made supplies there. Or maybe I’ll actually find that goddamn Maxwell’s Door again and be able to play the game within a game. Oh, did I forget to mention that? The base game is a sandbox, but you can do Adventure Mode (a story-ish game mode) if you walk through Maxwell’s Door. If you die inside though, you get booted back outside into the “normal” world and it’s forever closed to you on this world. Collect four mysterious items though, and you can jump to a brand new world with another Maxwell’s Door located somewhere on it.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, because none of us are likely to make it. As it says on the Steam page:

Randomly Generated New Worlds:

Want a new map? No problem! At any time you can generate a new living and breathing world that hates you and wants you to die.

One day, I will see the winter. And die horribly, no doubt. But seeing it will be enough. For now.

Keeping Valor

In perhaps one of the more refreshing moments of sanity in quite some time, Blizzard recently announced that Valor points would not be reset in 5.2. The prior plan was best described as a triple-gate clusterfuck:

  • Current players got VP downgraded to JP, which buys heirlooms and little else.
  • Players below the ilevel 480 cutoff for the 5.2 LFR would essentially have to either re-grind more Valor to purchase (discounted) rep gear, provided they had the rep, or replace 100% of their items with 483 gear from the last two LFRs.
  • New/Returning players would continue needing to grind reputation to grind VP to get gear to enter LFR to get gear that let’s them grind 5.2 LFR bosses to unlock more VP gear locked behind more rep. (Yo dawg, I heard you like grinds, so…)

The level of nonsense was incredible. Downgrading only ever makes sense when the items are downgraded (to JP) too, lest your purchasing power actually be destroyed.

The new rubric makes much better sense. Those 3000 banked VP mean nothing when you can’t purchase 5.2 VP gear without killing raid bosses anyway – a gate mechanism already exists, so double/triple gating is unnecessary.

As always though, having a new patch within sight does engender a bit of progression fatalism. I abandoned all pretense of shooting for the weekly VP cap for several weeks now. Because… why would I? While it is silly to take that argument all the way – “why gear at all when gear resets every expansion” – it simply makes economic sense to me to wait out the 5.1 clock. Instead of 2-3 items after weeks of work, I can get 2-3 items after weeks of non-work.

In the meantime, a more pressing issue presents itself: the race against the upgrade vendor disappearance. Not an upgrading of standard gear, of course, but an upgrading of the Bind of Account staves that my level 85 Scribe can craft… if not for the 5+ Spirits of Harmony required. Of the once-a-day Scrolls of Wisdom, I have 45. Which… is a little disturbing to think about, actually.