Terraria surprised everybody by showing us that the Minecraft formula could work surprisingly well within the confines of a 2D platformer. Since then, we’ve been treated to the likes of Epic Inventor and Asteria, but now Starbound, with its RPG stylings and theme of space exploration, is very much set to be the next big thing.
Starbound starts you off by giving you the option to play as one of six possible races, including humans, robots, simian-like beings and plant-like beings. The different races have their own specific set of bonuses and advantages, but these don’t come into play until later in the game; in the beginning, everybody is pretty much on the same footing and differences are purely cosmetic.
From there you’re taken to your own star ship where you have to choose a planet upon which to settle. It’s a bit overwhelming at first because the choices are plentiful and your star maps are quite huge. Once you’ve selected a location and beamed down onto terra firma, the real fun begins and the more familiar Terraria-esque aspects come into play: chopping wood, crafting items, killing animals for meat, mining for precious ores or just material to build with are all part of the process. An evolutionary arm’s race rapidly ensues as you endeavor to get the best weapons and armor before your enemies do.
Of course, just staying on one planet won’t do. You’re expected to build up your stocks, gather more fuel and plot courses to different sectors and solar systems, each one possessing new challenges, resources and obstacles. Some planets are richer in certain ores than others, some have lower or higher gravity which can hinder or aid your exploration and some are susceptible to hazards such as meteors. All of them contain all manner of oddball wildlife (seriously, some of these creatures look like Pokemon nightmares) and all seem to have day and night cycles – at least, that was true for the planets I was able to visit.
One thing that Terraria had going for it over Minecraft was a sense of progression: boss battles and unlocking hard mode went a long way to making players feel they were actually accomplishing something. Starbound takes it one step further by introducing quests and allowing players to unlock new star maps. At first, your quests are pretty mundane and limited in scope, but they gradually increase in requirements and become essential in making any sort of headway.
Like most sandbox survival games, it’s best experienced with a mate or three. Multiple players can share resources, beam to each other’s ships and hitch a free ride to an otherwise inaccessible planet. And we all know that your castle, city or giant statue of a certain reproductive organ is only worth creating when you can share its beauty with someone else.
The game is still in early beta, so there are some bugs to be expected, such as assorted lag spikes when playing over a LAN. While still playable, there are various sections that still feel unrefined and incomplete. The developers have stated that many of the current game elements are merely placeholders and that the final product will differ greatly in terms of content. How it will pan out remains to be seen, but in its current state it’s very playable and it has an undeniable charm with its cute 16-bit graphics, relaxing music and typical sandbox gameplay that gets you hooked. Get it, keep up with the updates and be prepared to make it your next obsession. Take a look at it on Steam hereabouts.