Don’t be fooled by its cartoonish art and charming soundtrack. Don’t Starve is a brutal ego-crusher, determined to turn even the most casual player into an obsessed masochist. That might be a bit strong, but nonetheless, Don’t Starve is a wickedly addicting game designed to ruin your day and make you stay up into the wee hours of the morning. When you load up Don’t Starve for the first time, emotionally steel yourself. You’re going to die of hunger. Or freeze to death. Or be murdered by frogs. Or enrage a monster tree and be chased across the map. Or lose because you didn’t know you had to have your own light at night. Probably the latter initially, like us. Don’t Starve doesn’t hold your hand. That’s okay, though- that’s what we’re here for.
Don’t Starve is a wilderness survival game with an extremely high level of difficulty that includes the warmly beloved game mechanic of “permadeath.” This means that once you die, you’re dead. No, really. There aren’t any second chances, and there aren’t any quick saves and reloads. Once you die, it’s game over, and you lose all of the progress you made. This is part of what makes Don’t Starve so richly rewarding and malevolently punishing- you could create an entire encampment, survive for a month, and lose it all by doing something dumb like forgetting to take food with you on a foray into the woods. The game has a randomly generated open world that is massive and beautifully drawn. Initially you play as Wilson, the “gentleman scientist,” but you may unlock other characters with special abilities later on as you die and gain experience (perhaps the only good thing about dying). Don’t Starve was originally released by Klei Entertainment in 2013 through Steam, and now is available on consoles with expansions like Reign of Giants and Don’t Starve Together.
Disclaimer: this is the unfinished guide. We still lose at Don’t Starve, and have not yet once made it successfully through summer. We have Reign of Giants, but have never seen a giant. Also, we still starve. But, here’s a skeleton of what you need to know to at least survive your first few weeks. And, trust me- you’ll need it.
- Get Yerself a Nightlight
You will die if you do not have some sort of light keeping your evenings bright. You can build things like torches and campfires, or you can use things you’ve found like a miner’s hat. We suggest you use campfires for the most part, and do remember to keep feeding them with consumable materials like logs, or they’ll go out. And you’ll die.
- The Seasons
Surprise! The four seasons exist within Don’t Starve, and while spring and fall may feel like a piece of cake, you’ll be wishing you had never started the game once you hit summer or winter. These are the seasons you’ll need to prep for, and the game will warn you of their onset with cues like withering trees or snowfall.
- The Enemies
Why Klei Entertainment thought that Don’t Starve needed a plethora of mortally terrifying enemies in addition to the difficulty in just not starving is beyond us. Regardless, your map will be home to all sorts of things that would like to kill you. High on the list are hounds, spiders, angry pigmen, and walrus people. However, you may also run into camouflaged living trees that become furious when you cut down a tree next to them, or frogs that rain down on you and try to kill you that way. Sigh. Get yourself a weapon of some sort, make some armor, and prepare for attacks, at the very least from hounds.
- The Sanity Meter
You have three meters throughout the game that track how well you’re doing with sanity, health, and hunger. The sanity meter is perhaps the most frustrating meter when you first start, since it is not immediately evident what will make you more “sane.” Picking flowers is the easiest way to give your sanity a boost, but you can also make sleeping rolls to sleep through the night with, or eat food cooked from a crockpot. Create a petal garland to make yourself continually a little saner, and avoid the dark if you can.
- The Health Meter
This meter tracks when you get hurt from enemy attacks or if you are suffering badly from the elements. Eat things like spider glands, petals, and mandrake roots to help your health. Eating regular food in general also increases your health, thank goodness. Just, try not to get hit if you can help it.
- The Hunger Meter
Well, the game is called Don’t Starve, after all. Your hunger meter is the one you’ll probably be watching and agonizing over the most. You can pick wild food like carrots and berries, and you can also catch and eat meat from things like rabbits and birds. You can additionally eat nuts from trees and seeds from the ground. Making and using a crockpot gives you new combinations of foods like jam and ratatouille which will not only fill you up better but will also improve your sanity.
- Put Yer Thinking Cap On
Make a science machine! Science machines allow you to create new and improved items, and you can create better science machines from your science machine that will do the same. You will absolutely need items like a crockpot, an icebox, and log armor, all of which will require you to spend some time investing in technology. You will also be able to make farms, which you’ll need to help carry you through seasons like summer and winter.
- Time Management
Spend a little time getting to know your controls before you dive in. That might sound silly, but every second counts when the clock is continually moving towards winter or summer. You can pause the game by checking your map or your inventory, and we suggest that you do both frequently as you trek across the wonderfully varied world of Don’t Starve.
The Ultimatum: Go Buy It
It’s a beautiful game. But, much like the Dark Souls trilogy and games like The Binding of Isaac, it’s also terribly unforgiving. Don’t be too discouraged when you die for the first time- it won’t be the last. And, as you become better and better at Don’t Starve, new horizons will open to you in the shape of improved camp building and extensive map exploration. You’ll die a little on the inside every time you die on the game, but you live equally vehemently every day that you do survive. Just remember: don’t starve.