Don’t Starve hit the PC at exactly the right time back in 2013. A smaller indie title focused on survival and crafting, with a Tim Burton-esque art style, the game had all the right pieces to be a big hit on Steam. Heading to the consoles though is a totally different story, but the team at Klei Entertainment did well enough with the PS4 and PS Vita versions last year. However, the controller wasn’t quite as good as a mouse and keyboard for such an inventory and menu heavy game. Now it heads to Nintendo’s flailing Wii U platform in the form of Don’t Starve: Giant Edition, combining the base game with the Reign of Giants DLC, and offering the promise of Gamepad support to alleviate the console versions woes. Unfortunately the team hasn’t taken advantage of this opportunity, leading to a disappointing port that is fine enough on its own, but misses the mark when considering what could have been.
Don’t Starve: Giant Edition is still the great, but flawed, survival game that first appeared on PC. You play as a lonely scientist named Wilson, or other unlockable characters, who is magically transported to a hostile wilderness. Players will have to forage for food and supplies, while crafting bigger and better tools of survival in order to simply keep themselves alive through the harsh days, weeks, and months that they are stuck in this world.
It is those very tools that are the main crux of Don’t Starve, as players try to gather more and more resources, which unlocks more craftable items, which continue the cycle even further. Unlike other games of this sort, such as Minecraft on PC, the actual crafting is easy enough to figure out, with a navigable menu that lists what you can craft, and what is still required if you can’t. The logic of some of these items isn’t entirely sound, but overall you can figure out what you need to get what you want.
Finding out what you actually want to build is the real tough part, as Don’t Starve: Giant Edition continues the trend of never holding the player’s hand whatsoever. It’s easy enough to find food to survive for a few days, but anything beyond that will require the player to either make huge leaps in logic, or scour the online wikis and forums for hints. The various systems of survival, such as hunger, sanity, and health will dwindle for a multitude of reasons, and if you don’t intuit why you’re currently in danger then you’re pretty much out of luck beyond the first few weeks.
The world itself also has little care for players, as it contains a cavalcade of creatures who all want the player dead. Disturbing any of them can easily result in a quick death, which is where Don’t Starve really shows its hardcore survival roots. Death in Don’t Starve is completely permanent, barring the acquisition of certain items in the game. This means that, upon death, all of your hard work is totally wiped out, and you have to start over in a new world. For those seeking a more extreme gaming experience this might be great, but for those just wanting to enjoy the world and figure out all the nifty things you can make, it can be game breaking.
The main issue with it is the start of the game always plays out the same. You wander around, looking for spots that contain enough resources to survive on, build up your inventory and the various elements to establish a base, then do some exploring. It’s this last bit that is the most enjoyable, but you’ll have to grind through the same steps each time you die.
This was all true of the previous versions of the game though, so it’s not too surprising to see it again here. What the Wii U version offers is the integration of the Reign of Giants DLC, and some Gamepad integration. The Reign of Giants DLC adds a decent amount of content for those looking for a more robust Don’t Starve experience, adding in additional content such as biomes, seasons, and bosses. It’s mainly meant for those that have played the game before though, so newcomers won’t really appreciate it’s changes, and will likely be better turning the extra features off until they become more familiar with Don’t Starve.
The Gamepad integration is where Don’t Starve: Giant Edition truly feels like a missed opportunity. The touch-enable device offers an endless array of features that the game could have taken advantage of. Instead, it is simply used for the map screen, displaying, but not allowing interaction with, the inventory and menu. Managing your inventory is a massive element in Don’t Starve: Giant Edition. Choosing what item you have equipped, switching between food and useful items, mixing things together, or moving items around. All of this and more could have been simplified and streamlined by the Gamepad, but none of it has.
Instead you have to press a button to bring up the inventory, scroll through it, close the inventory, then hit the corresponding D-pad direction to perform the action. It becomes tiresome quick and yet players will have to perform these actions over and over as they progress through Don’t Starve: Giant Edition. The only truly great use of the Gamepad comes in the form of Off-TV play, allowing players to enjoy their survival experience without taking up the TV.
Another sad omission, though not entirely surprising at the moment, is the lack of the excellent Don’t Starve Together expansion. This currently Steam Early Access only DLC adds multiplayer to the mix. Something about adding in extra players makes the difficulty of Don’t Starve that much easier to handle, while making the entire experience more enjoyable. Given it’s beta-esque state at the moment it wasn’t expected to be a part of this package at all, but its exclusion makes the game feel a bit hollow. Hopefully Klei will follow their usual formula and add this DLC to the game for free later on.
Don’t Starve: Giant Edition is still the same great survival game, but it also contains all the same flaws as past releases as well. Colossal spikes in difficulty combine with a general lack of concern for the player’s well being and understanding to make for a truly challenging survival experience. For those looking for that kind of adventure, Don’t Starve certainly offers it, but many will still find frustration hidden within at some points. The lack of true Gamepad support is the biggest failing though, making for a cumbersome inventory that hampers the game significantly. It’s still a fun overall experience, but it is certainly a flawed one.
Don't Starve: Giant Edition
- Available On: PS4, Vita, PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U
- Published By: Klei Entertainment Inc.
- Developed By: Klei Entertainment Inc., BlitWorks
- Genre: Survival
- US Release Date: May 28th, 2015
- Reviewed On: Wii U
- Quote: "Don't Starve: Giant Edition could have been the best version of the game yet. Unfortunately a lack of true Gamepad support simply makes it another flawed but enjoyable survival experience."