Dirtbound

In Starbound, I have officially surpassed the number of hours I spent playing Terraria. And I am more convinced than ever that Terraria is the superior game.

Simply put, Starbound is a game of multitude of systems that have zero synergies with each other. Dig dirt, mine for ore, create armor, and so on. Pretty basic stuff, right? Not really. The actual crafting mechanics in Starbound are terrible, as are 99% of the items you can craft. Your “tier 1” armor is made from iron and woven fabric (made from plant material), but tier 2 is made from tungsten and cotton wool. Not only does this skip Copper, Silver, and Gold ores, but I’ve been playing 20+ hours since the 1.0 release and have encountered a grand total of three (3) cotton plants.

I can understand if the cotton bottleneck was intentional. But it’s not: the interplanetary gas station sells every fabric type other than cotton.

Starbound_GasStation.jpg

Bold move, Cotton, let’s see if it works out for them.

You can’t explain that.

Indeed, it seems like the devs simply abandoned any attempt to structure progression in the face of a billion procedurally generated worlds (filled the same three enemy attack types). Matter Manipulator modules are a sort of upgrade currency that can be found in nearly every box, everywhere. So are the tech cards, which unlock double-jumping and the Metroid-esque ball rolling. Getting those upgrades early kinda sorta maybe trivializes a lot of the content that comes later. And it’s not as though you get more of them in more dangerous areas – the algorithm basically puts one in 25% of all containers.

Then there is the fact that the best items are drops, full-stop. I mean, I get it, trying to balance gear progression around both player crafting and dropped loot is hard. But the fact that there are effectively zero good weapons from crafting means that that entire element is gone from the game. So your whole desire to dig for ore is reduced to the amount you need to craft the next tier of armor. Without the desire to dig though, you don’t, which means you’re just exploring the surface of the world and missing out on all the dungeons/set pieces that exist beneath it.

“But what about building bases and such?” Yeah, that’s still there. Given the default “survival” mode requires constant eating, it makes sense for even a story-focused character to stake out a simple farm. But honestly? It’s about a million times easier just coming across an already-built set piece randomly, and then planting your flag on it. Or tearing one down and transplanting it elsewhere, as opposed to crafting the individual components.

I don’t know. There are a million more things going on in Starbound than Terraria, but Terraria actually has synergy between what its got. In Terraria, the houses you build unlock NPCs you need, and the act of building settlements attracts monsters and even bosses. The deeper you dig, the more dangerous stuff appears. You can actually craft cool shit in Terraria. All the pieces fit together into a cohesive whole. In Starbound? Not so much.

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Posted on August 11, 2016, in Commentary, Review and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’m with you. Starbound is a textbook example of feature creep. What started out as a pretty straightforward explore-craft sandbox game ballooned over the last couple years into a ridiculously crowded mixture of mostly-unrelated minigames all vying for your attention. It’s as if Chucklefish took early criticism of “there’s nothing to do” to mean they should just throw everything they could think of against the idea wall and see what stuck instead of refining and deepening the existing systems.

    So instead of getting an interesting, deep exploration game with a robust, rewarding crafting system, we got shallow versions of each along with shallow versions of like a dozen other systems–pet collection, outfit collection, bug collection, decorations, weapon collection, building, colonies, ship upgrades, “dynamic” quests, crew members, vehicles, techs, fossils, farming, fishing (soon), etc, none of which feed very meaningfully (or at all) into any of the others.

    My feeling is the early access feedback caused Chucklefish to suffer a major crisis of confidence in their original vision of the game so they figured if they could just implement enough distractions they could please everybody. While this has certainly resulted in a game with an absolute shit-ton of content, it also feels hollow in a lot of ways.

    I’ve spent double the number of hours in Starbound than I have in Terraria, and I can’t help but agree that Terraria is a better game.

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  2. If Terraria is the better game, why have you spent more hours playing Starbound?

    This isn’t criticism by the way, I’m just curious.

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    • Part of that was because I played before 1.0, and they wiped the servers at some point in-between; there was at least 20 hours on that first playthrough. The other part is kinda what I described in this post though: there are a lot of different things you can do… but there isn’t much of a point in doing so.

      In Terraria, all the systems are nested. Build a settlement to get NPCs you need for something else. Then a boss shows up after your settlement gets big enough. That boss then unlocks something else. And, finally, there is a natural endpoint: the last boss. Then hardmode world, but nevermind.

      In Starbound, there is a progression of bosses, but it has nothing to do with anything, really. I built a settlement because I already had a farm, and thought “Why not?” All that time spent getting it set up though didn’t affect anything. I unlocked almost all of the food recipes too, even though I would have been fine with the same 2 crops. I spent at least a full session collecting Japanese-esque tiles to build my own sort of permanent residence, then found myself losing all desire to continue playing the game at all the next.

      So, yes, I did end up spending more time playing Starbound. But the quality of those gaming hours? Pretty low.

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