Is that even a word, probably not, but you know what...it should be! Starbound is from Chucklefish Games and well... it's kind of like Terraria in space. It ticks all my favourite boxes for this kind of sandbox exploration driven game and performs really well, even though it's a beta. The team (one of whom worked on Terraria) have done a fantastic job at monitoring their community feedback and as a pixel tier ($15) supporter I was really pleased at how I was able to get my key even though I never got an official email from them.
We're a few iterations into the beta now and it's going great guns, Chucklefish are doing some good balance tweaks and adding content as they go. What's more, they're keeping everyone informed on their official page here: http://playstarbound.com/
So what is it like to play, since this isn't really a preview or a review - it's a gamer's thoughts on a game they're playing at the time.
It's great to play and the new patch really smoothed out the early difficulty curve of the game.
So I'm no longer being murdered by the smallest mobs on the starter planet and I'm enjoying the heck out of the game. I was even able to quickly port forward the right port to get the multiplayer side of Starbound up and running, play with a friend of mine and spend a good few hours just exploring the heck out of the first planet and a nearby arid moon.
That's right; you're not locked to one world. You're free to go exploring in the current sector to begin with as you slowly build up your arsenal and resources to go further and further afield. You have a starship you can fuel with coal, this amuses me a lot and I love the concept that there's some kind of converter aboard this high tech vessel allowing for one of the oldest fossil fuels in the universe to be used to explore the stars.
There are some really great ideas in Starbound too, things that add to the feel of exploration and survival. Not only are you always aware of the constant threat of procedurally generated monster encounters, but you're working against the environment and your own hunger. So you need to make sure you manage your heat at the right time, build small shelters as you explore, put down torches to use as makeshift heat sources and of course make camp fires.
At night the temperature on particular planetary biomes can drop quite rapidly and it's possible to freeze to death. Careful exploration and time management ensures that you can make sure you don't succumb to the changes in temperature.
All of the content in Starbound is procedural, so you never get the same game twice. There are some amazing places to discover, some really neat tombs and complexes packed with things to kill (for alien meat) and pixels (the game's currency) - which mucho loot found inside various chests.
You're also going to be making your whole arsenal at the start, from weapons, hunting weapons and tools. Anyone familiar with Terraria will be right at home here and thanks to the simple quest system at the start it's pretty easy to get to grips with once you work out a few of the basics.
So rather than do a massive review of the thing, that will come in the end. I'm going to spend a few words just describing the experience from a starter POV.
Out of power...
The whole thing kicks off in orbit around your newly generated world, after you pick one of several races you can play as. Human, Glitch (robots) and others. I picked human to begin with and the first thing I spotted was that you have a zoom level in the options. You can change the way the game zooms to your character, I picked x2 for that familiar Terraria feel.
Then after I'd poked around the small ship for a short while, taking in the improved graphics and detail I ravaged the locker for every bit of loot in there. There were some human starting items, a sword, some wheat (staple of bread) and a few other things. Then it was off like the Red Shirt I'd chosen, to the planet below.
Upon arriving on this big world I immediately used the matter manipulator to cut down some trees, it took quite a while and I think it needs speeding up personally. The early stage mining without tools is a long process that may put some people off, slightly faster now thanks to the patch, but still a bit slow for some people's tastes. After gathering enough wood to make a crafting table, I was able to make a small wooden house, pop a couple of doors in and gather some more wood from near my landing site.
Not an antagonist in sight.
Plenty of neutral bizarre creatures though. I left them alone and constructed my shelter atop a nearby hill. It began to rain and lightning cracked behind... so I poked around under ground mining cobblestone until I'd enough to make a stone pick and a stone axe. You can use copper ore to repair tools that have a durability bar as well, so you can keep them functioning long after Minecraft would have needed a billion stone picks.
The game runs smoothly so far, some people have reported bugs and crashes, but this is a beta. So, it's to be expected. I finally get enough cobble together and make my tools, even making a hunting bow and set off to try and find resources to make a hunting knife (iron required) and perhaps an iron hunting bow.
Of course I also needed the stone to make a smelter, which I can use to refine ores into bars. I have a wooden crafting table, a small camp fire for warmth, a few torches and a wooden bed in no short order. So I branch out from my little home and start to encounter monsters, thanks to the patch I'm not being one-shotted or killed so much (death loses you pixels) - so exploration is fun and not frustrating. I can make bandages from vines and I am doing well against the monsters of this starter world.
Over time I'm now gathering up lots of resources, coal, iron, copper and mining only on the surface until I have all the things I need to make better tools and weapons.
Hours of real time have passed and I'm using this expensive game machine to play a 2d simple graphics game, with a lot of character and depth and I'm loving it. I also managed to find an abandoned base on my planet; it's got a few things in a chest and nothing guarding it. My luck has really gone over well. I've died a couple of times by now, but I'm getting stronger.
I have an anvil, a hunting knife, an iron hunting bow and a copper pick. I've got some copper armour and I'm delving a bit deeper underground discovering the joy of improved water and sand physics as well as some loot hidden in vast caverns. Wooden platforms and torches are my staple tools along with the handy flashlight. Each dig brings a nice load of resources after a short amount of time and I'm growing my little base slowly too, adding new parts to it and making rooms for various chests and the like.
All the time my ship is in orbit and I've got enough coal to fuel those engines and explore in the current sector. I am however having way too much fun on this planet...
I have a store of alien meat I've collected thanks to the bow and knife; I've got a horde of pixels from looting chests and killing bad guys with non-hunting weapons.
I have learned to manage my heat during the night and hunger as I explore. In short, I feel like I've learned from playing the game in regards to the game world itself.
I'm digging even deeper and have amassed enough coal now to fuel an armada!
So it's time to explore, I check the ship's navigational computer and there's a small arid world nearby. Off we go!
This is Starbound in a nutshell, you can go beyond the first tier if you like by crafting the distress beacon...be warned, the UFO is a pretty badass boss and needs some good preparation to defeat successfully.
If you do, then you can start to make steel and improve your arsenal/tools even more.
Yep, Starbound is shaping up even as a beta with an impressive swathe of content and fixes almost daily - it's great to be on the ground floor of this game as it expands and the joy of paying around £11.99 (£15 dollars) for something that is so much better than Terraria, is hard to describe. Give it a go and if you're a fan of this genre of game, you might just find something you really like here!
It's got nice graphics, the network code is solid already in multiplayer and the music is gorgeously done.
Off to explore!