Starbound PC Review
To be honest, when I first loaded up Starbound, I wasn’t expecting much more than your standard, if somewhat more nuanced, sandbox experience. Gather some stuff, craft some stuff, build some stuff, kill some stuff, repeat as necessary until all the objectives are completed and all the rewards are earned. If it sounds like I’m suffering from genre fatigue, it’s because I am. Thankfully, Starbound packs in enough variety and new experiences into its straightforward premise to keep even the most jaded modern gamer coming back for more and that’s saying something special right there.
While there is plenty of mining and crafting on offer here, the world building goes beyond simple game mechanics and into an aspect many similar titles seem to have forgotten about or given up on: the story itself, and the different worlds and characters presented therein. The opening prologue only hints at the larger parts at play in Starbound’s universe, parts which come together to form a rough mythology in which the distinct species Chucklefish Games have given us to choose from all play key differentiated roles. Traditional sandbox is of course present (especially for the first hour or so of gameplay, which will be quite familiar to anyone who’s played Terraria or one of its genre brethren) but the game really starts to take off once you complete your first couple of missions and join the larger drama.
I think a great part of the Starbound’s novelty is the ability to travel to many different planets throughout the solar system, each of which is host to a great variety of biomes, monsters, and NPC’s that can quickly turn out to be either friends or foes. Hell, even digging straight down from my starting base introduced me to a mad parade of different material and enemy types, going from standard caves to a tiny luminescent village haunted by giant robots (what happened to all the people?) to a mostly submerged cavern to a massive cave complex literally made of rotten meat to the planet’s molten core itself. The exploration here is highly enjoyable and, much to my surprise, so is the combat system.
Once you get some rough supplies together and craft some decent weapons and armor, the combat system really opens up to many different types of play. My personal preference for the first couple planets (and their moons and asteroid belts) was to switch between machine gun and poison sword, but there are plenty of other options I had a blast switching between as the game progressed. Boss fights are both fun and challenging, often involving little strategy tricks or puzzle elements that harken back to the classic side-scrolling adventures of yore.
As I mentioned earlier, what really ties Starbound together and places a pretty bow on top is the story and quests. Finding a new home for the human race and our alien friends is a real treat when the questing takes place in a universe such as this. There are six sentient races for the player to choose from and each has a well-developed set of cultures to set them apart from each other, and they all have to be convinced to get along in order to save the day and stop the horrible tentacle monsters who are attempting to drag all of creation down into the primal chaos from which it sprang (isn’t that always the way it goes with horrible tentacle monsters?). While from the player side of things there’s not that much difference between your selected species, interacting with them is a whole other matter.
Perhaps the best part of Starbound is the wonderful lack of fatigue I experience during my various play sessions (and at this point I’ve logged about 15 hours of gameplay). Most games, especially games sharing a lot of surface similarities to Starbound, start to wane after an hour or two. Not so here. Maybe it’s the absurdist variety of biomes, the seamless melding of action and exploration, the fresh spin on gathering and crafting, or a mixture of all three, but Starbound stays fresh for an astonishing amount of time. Mixing it up between running through various side and required quests versus maintaining your current base keeps any one aspect of gameplay from overwhelming the others. Bored with farming? Go kill a mighty monster of a boss. Getting a little combat fatigued? Build out that basement treasure room you’ve been thinking about. Think you’ve seen everything this planet has to offer? Hop on your spaceship and start all over on a drastically different one.
Starbound is a game that, after a few hours of play, starts to seem like an instant classic you’ll be revisiting from time to time over the next unknown period of years. I’ve actually already gotten my roommate hooked, and she wouldn’t know Minecraft from Minesweeper. If you’re looking to get sucked into a fun game that makes an old genre feel new, tells an interesting story, and gives you the freedom to rebuild multiple worlds in your own image, Starbound is most definitely a game for you. Me, I’ll be here on the living room couch building my new hunting lodge of rotting flesh and tasty fungus.