Don’t Starve: should early-game experiences really be this hard?

Don't Starve capI have mixed feelings about Don’t Starvethe survival roguelike that I just started playing again (largely because it’s now out on Vita). When I wrote a previous article lauding it’s many virtues, I hadn’t really TRIED to beat the game, or at least to do well at it. I did a lot of research instead, watching gameplay footage and reading wikis. Now that I’ve actually had the time to sink my teeth into the game, I’m finding myself more frustrated than I would have thought.

When I first played Spelunky, I was enthused. The game was fast, quirky, and had funny puppies in it. That being said, it was still hard as hell. It was only when I stopped sprinting off ledges and throwing bombs any which way that I started to really master the mechanics (and I STILL haven’t actually beat the game yet). Still, the frustration I felt when I tried Spelunky for the first time is no match for how much I’m starting to hate Don’t Starve. 


 “It takes so long to really get anything done which makes the fact that there’s no consolation prize/reward to make you feel better about how lame you are when you fail all the more terrible.”


So I was trying to figure out what exactly it is that lets me forgive Spelunky and not Don’t Starve when it comes to difficulty curves. Is it because Spelunky has a Quick Restart button? Is it because Don’t Starve is so obtuse in its mechanics? Or maybe it’s just something dumb like more people have talked about Spelunky as being a fantastic game and so therefore I just feel like it’s better?

The truth is, I probably won’t feel the same way two weeks from now when I actually get GOOD at Don’t Starve, but, as my dear readers know, I often make snap judgements based on a few hours of gameplay then come on here to complain. I could go on about how important it is to record early-game reactions to video games, but I’ll leave it there.

Like, what is even happening here? Screencaps like this simultaneously make me want to play more while reminding me how terrible I am thus far.

Like, what is even happening here? Screencaps like this simultaneously make me want to play more while reminding me how terrible I am thus far.

Back to Don’t Starve: what makes this game so damn infuriating? I think the reason I get so angry at it is the same reason I have so much trouble getting into tower defence games as well as the reason why I loved Rogue Legacy so much: rewards.

Rogue Legacy rewards you, even if it’s just a little bit at a time, for trying to get through the game. This is immensly satisfying, even if it can be a bit tedious and long at times. While Spelunky doesn’t give you any permanent rewards, restarting a game is quick and easy, plus you can unlock shortcuts to the later levels, making it a lot easier to practice mastering those areas.

Don’t Starve does the exact opposite. Not only are there no real rewards for trying to play through the game (well, you do unlock new characters, but they don’t retain anything from the playthroughs), the game is brutally long and slow. It takes so long to really get anything done which the fact that there’s no consolation prize/reward to make you feel better about how lame you are when you fail all the more terrible.


“Should some of these games have an easier/more accessible early game then ramp up the difficulty as you go?”


So why am I still playing it? Well, largely because I have faith that it will get more exciting once I start getting the hang of the early-game stuff, but also because, for the first time since playing Super Mario World as a kid (basically because it was the only game I owned), I actually want to be good at video games again instead of just breezing through all the QTEs and soaking up five-minute cutscenes.

And maybe that’s the real issue here. There seems to be a renewed interest in making difficult games (Dark Souls/Bloodbourne/VVVV/Super Hexagon/etc), but how much of the early-game experience should represent that difficulty?

What I’m trying to say is, should some of these games have an easier/more accessible early game then ramp up the difficulty as you go? Would this feel unfair to players who breezed through the beginning only to get stumped later? It’s a hard line to walk, for sure.

In terms of Don’t Starve, I’ve decided to give up my pride a little and look at some basic strategy guides. I’m not happy about the fact that I feel like I NEED to do this in order to feel like I’m not wasting my time on this game, but I’m sure I’ll get over it. In fact, there are a number of guides for people who are just starting out, something that tells me I can’t be the only one.

I’ll probably post about Don’t Starve again in the future, seeing as how I’m still very much in the baby stages. Stay tuned!

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