The game itself has only just made it out of Early Access on Steam, but has been available for purchase since late 2013. We've followed the developments of the title and have decided that with version 1.0 out the door, we're at a good point to provide you with our thoughts on whether it's worth picking up.
Developed by Chuckfish Games, a British game developer based in Cambridge, Starbound essentially takes the Terraria formula of dig, build, explore and adventure to a whole new level. Those who have come from the world of Terraria will feel at home in the new universe too, and that's not an accident. The founder of Chucklfish is Finn "Tiy" Brice who actually worked on Terraria. There are similarities with the two games (which has caused tension between communities in the past), but there's a whole lot to discover and enjoy in Starbound.
My God, it's full of Pixels
You start at the character creation screen, as is always the case with adventure games of this nature. Want to be a female robot? Go for it. How about an ape? The choice is yours. There's not a whole lot that changes depending on your selection, but you do get a different style ship and pet, the former which can be later upgraded massively to house looted goodies and your able crew.
Kicking things off in the tutorial mission, your character is introduced to the world of Starbound on Earth. Things quickly take a turn for the worst during your graduation, but you're provided with the tools and means to start adventuring and make a hastily escape aboard your cruiser. Arriving at an unknown planet, with little in terms of resources or food, your only choice is to beam down as your character begins to figure out what's going on.
The built-in questing system really does a fine job at holding your hand early on so you don't get lost, but you could from this moment on completely ignore the main storyline and start hunting down food, digging to dangerous depths for ore and kick-start the creation of your new outpost. The beauty of Starbound is the choice is entirely yours.
Once you've finally ceased faffing around, it's time to locate the local portal gate and head to the main outpost in the game, which sits on what appears to be an asteroid. For some unknown reason there's breathable air here, but don't let that fool you. Travelling to a moon or extreme plane without the necessary breathing apparatus and upgrades will end up supplying you with endless bad times.
But fear not, the outpost full of NPCs is perfectly safe. This is where you'll find and turn in quests, buy and sell items, as well as upgrade available character add-ons and your ship. It's also where you'll come across an ancient protector (you're the last surviving one following the the events on Earth) who will bring you up to speed with what your main task is, but be aware: she can and will talk for years.
You're a Protector
After being sent on your way to discover artifacts and prepare for the inevitable end finale with The Ruin, you're able to gallivant and do whatever you wish. Fortunately, the developer built in a progression system, locking certain ores, monsters and loot to more advanced planets. These are dangerous places where you'll definitely need to come prepared. Think rocket launchers, whips, armor and some baked potatoes.
We'd recommend ignoring the main quest to a certain degree. It's worth unlocking your character upgrades (meet double jump, dash and the ability to transform into a ball), as well as aiding NPCs to open up more shops at the outpost and hire crew members for your ship. Speaking of which, your ship is where you'll spend most of your time preparing plans as to where to travel next. That's if you have enough fuel, which you'll need to mine/syphon from a nearby moon. As you can tell, there's a lot to Starbound.
I've mentioned there's a lot to collect on your travels, and that's mainly in the form of weapons and items. When kicking things off you'll be overwhelmed by just how much space the developer has given you when it comes to the inventory, with different tabs separating the various objects you can carry. Unfortunately, it's simply not enough to hold absolutely everything you'll end up picking up on your travels.
There are different levels of loot as one may have experienced in other games. Items are classed from low-level common (white) all the way up to legendary (purple) and anything you collect that can't be used can be sold to various merchants for pixels. Yes, pixels. That's the name of the currency you'll be using to barter with others. Just try not to do as you lose a fair amount upon death.
Melee and ranged weaponry feel solid and the overall combat system is pretty good. An issue I have with Starbound when it comes to loot, weapons and collecting resources is that it all feels a little too easy to collect everything. While things are locked out to specific planet levels and whatnot, you could essentially land on the second planet you come across on your travels and find most of the ore you need to progress a fair amount, as well as some half-decent weaponry that will make mincemeat of anything that attempts to stand in your way. It's a difficult one to balance.
Playing through, especially with a team of friends, we felt as though it could have been harder to get to where we were. The developer could have made it so ores are less common on the star map, so to force players to traverse some distance and use fuel. Speaking of which, while the pink blog monsters on moons are spooky and such, they pose little challenge. Why not add a few more and increase their speed? Make fuel a more valuable resource that is more difficult to acquire.
That all said and done, the variety of weapons available is both awesome and rather hilarious at times. Grenade launchers, rocket launchers, magic sceptres, deadly swords and even a whip await you on your travels. Depending on how you best enjoy taking on enemies there's an arsenal of weapons at hand that will allow you to smash skulls in and wreak havoc. So long as you have adequate armor to withstand the potential beating monsters will undoubtedly provide.
Blocks, blocks and more blocks
While Starbound is an adventure and exploration game at heart, building and de-construction also play a major role in the experience. You'll be able to design and build anything from a starting dirt or wooden room without a door all the way up to a huge tree house or high-security fortress, using desired bricks, panels, glass, and other combinations to create your ideal home.
Anything you come across, whether it be a village, underground dungeon or ruined prison can be dismantled with blocks extracted into your inventory. This comes back to our point about the rather large inventory simply not being enough when you really get stuck into things. You'll need to make full use of the flag marker system for multiple trips when entering into hoarding mode. This feature adds bookmarks when you're teleporting around, handy for marking planets with useful resources.
As well as on the ground of a planet, you're also able to build and place furniture on your spaceship. Fear not if you feel as though your player is seemingly lacking in the space department when it comes to your orbiting hub. The ship itself can be upgraded as you progress through quests and collect modules, adding more levels and expansion rooms.
I could continue explaining all the different activities you could find yourself doing, but finding things to do is part of the fun when it comes to Starbound. Landing on planets and checking out locals for missions, to then find yourself wrapped up in exploring a random cave system is what makes the title such a time stealer. Get some friends on a server and you have yourself the potential for some hilarious situations.
- Great soundtrack
- Impressive pixelated presentation
- Hundreds of hours of gameplay
- Main story isn't brilliant
- Side quests can become repetitive
- Feels a little too overbalanced
Starbound is a gem with a few rough edges, but let's remember that this is effectively version 1.0. While Chucklefish has enjoyed the best part of nearly three years in Early Access, I would hold out hope that future updates may contain fixes, optimizations and changes to sort out issues raised by the community. That said, if you're a fan of adventure and sandbox titles, pick this game up especially since it's just $15 on Steam.
This review was conducted on a Windows 10 PC with an Intel Core i5 6600K processor overclocked to 4.8GHz and 16GB DDR4 RAM with an ASUS AMD Radeon R7 265 graphics card with 2GB VRAM, playing a game copy purchased by the writer.
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.