I’m not a big fan of the early access category on Steam. Its not that I have a problem with developers selling their product in alpha or beta form, its more that I like to play a product to completion in one stretch. The same applies to DLC; if I know I’m going to enjoy a game and it will have DLC, I want to hold off playing through it until the DLC is available so I can enjoy it all at the same time.
I picked up Starbound on early access a long time ago and fell off it relatively quickly. I don’t remember why exactly, but it probably felt aimless at that stage of development and there were already so many other things to play. Fast forward a few years, and I see that Starbound has now been officially released. Well, I happen to have a copy of this ‘new’ game sitting in my library, so I install it and jump in, having little idea what to expect.
What follows is several weeks of intense play as I see Earth destroyed and begin my quest to find a set of mysterious artifacts while simultaneously attempting to craft a comfortable summer cottage on a garden world. Starbound, after many years of development, is great. That’s my opinion. Now I’m going to delve a little more into why.
Starbound is a crafting game, by which I mean it is one of those games where you collect resources and build progressively more complicated recipes. The hook is that there’s an entire universe procedurally generated for you to explore with temples, ruins, and alien bases to discover everywhere you happen to beam down. NPC’s can give you short little fetch quests for money (pixels) while random loot can be found in dungeons and chests throughout the galaxy.
This may all sound tried and true or even trite depending on your stance on the genre, but I personally found Starbound’s sense of scale to be its best feature. Things begin almost intimately, aboard a broken spaceship on a relatively peaceful planet. As you dig deeper (literally) you come across underground biomes and secrets, as well as rare resources and tougher enemies. Eventually, you can dig quite literally to the planet’s core and find yourself dangling over an endless sea of lethal lava. Heading off-world, I was satisfied again and again by this sense of depth. The first ocean planet I visited, I began by traversing the surface, a truly dull experience as there were only a small handful of dry, deserted islands. As soon as I took my finger off the up key though and began to sink, the screen started to darken as I descended into the abyss, and I dropped into the middle of a flooded city on the ocean floor. I then proceeded to dig down to the core of that world too!
Starbound also has a story. You’re a survivor of a disaster on earth trying to track down artifacts bequeathed to the mortal races by an ancient power. Each chapter involves scanning a number of objects specific to each race and then completing an instanced mission and boss fight to acquire the artifacts themselves. The missions themselves tend to be fairly straightforward, but they provided a sense of progression and challenge that many crafting games lack. The order in which you tackle each races’ favored world happens to coincide with the sliding difficulty of each biome, starting you off hunting for forest worlds and ending on treacherous volcanic terrain. The boss fights were both challenging and entertaining, incentivizing my time spent gathering rare resources to craft better weapons and armor.
Overall, Starbound was a great experience, and even as the end credits rolled I could think of a laundry list of things I hadn’t gotten to try. I still haven’t built a colony and encouraged tenants to move in and start paying rent. I still haven’t upgraded my ship to cruiser level by recruiting crew members. I still haven’t baked a cake because the idea of raising livestock to get milk is downright daunting when you have to pick a planet to start doing so on. I heartily recommend Starbound if you’re a fan of crafting games, endless universes, or like the idea starving to death at the center of the planet because you just ate your last banana.