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by Jenni Lada
I might be alone in the universe. This planet is mine for the taking, with wilderness as far as the eye can see. It's the perfect opportunity prove myself, to show Florans don't have to be warlike monsters. Yet, I find myself at a crossroads. I've come to a point where I can build a Distress Beacon, but doing so would let the universe know I exist. I'm here, and I'm different. It would bring with it the chance to spread my wings and see other worlds, but who knows who, or what, would answer that call.
Such is an early plight for players of Starbound, the latest action RPG sandbox simulation from Chucklefish. A spiritual successor to the wildly successful Terraria, Starbound gives players the chance to choose a race and explore the stars, visiting numerous planets and developing substantial bases and ties on each one.
A Starbound adventure doesn't begin on a grand scale. Six races were available from the outside in the Early Access version released on Steam, and vary from the standard Human, to more unorthodox Apex, Avian, Floran, Hylotl, and Glitch. Players are free to choose whichever they prefer, and then customize said character's appearance. I went with a Floran, because the plant people are visually pleasing and can eat vegetation that would be poisonous to other races. Since hunger factors into performance, it seemed like a smart decision at the time.
Hunger isn't the only unexpected variable to take into account: heat is another. It gets cold at night on desolate planets, and no one wants to freeze. Staying near a torch or campfire is the only early fix, though eventually clothing can be made to keep a body warm. Even if a character is in a cave or dungeon, there's no guarantee of warmth.
Not to mention, danger lurks everywhere at all times. Unlike Terraria and Minecraft, there is no solace in sunlight. Violent enemies are everywhere, which means a Starbound player must be on constant alert. I took to leaving a weapon equipped in the L or R hotkey position, so I could press X at a moment's notice to prepare for a fight. Other important pieces of equipment and resources can be assigned to one of ten hotkey buttons, but the others remained squirreled away in the inventory until the time is right.
Still, despite the minor changes, many truths from other open world sandbox games remain constant. The first priority for any player is to devise a shelter. An adequate room with a few torches kept my character warm and safe at night, and a bed, which can only be made with wood, provided a place to sleep and recover lost hit points. Bandages made of plant fibers can be crafted early on as well, making travel away from the base camp simpler.
Not that one really needs to worry about these sojourns. Starbound players get constant access to a spaceship. It's lacking fuel when the game begins, but as long as someone is in an open area, they can beam up to the ship, then down to the initial landing point on a planet. It's a perfect quick-save, in case a dangerous situation arises. Besides, even if a player does die, they'll just immediately resurrect and respawn with their inventory intact.
Another thing that keeps the fear of dying at bay is the fact that it doesn't impact any current quests. Starbound introduces more RPG elements, like towns filled with NPCs and quests. The game even begins with some tutorial quests that help get players started, like making a workbench. The beta version doesn't provide too much handholding, however, so much of the experience is exploring the first planet and crafting some basic furniture, work stations, tools and equipment. Fortunately, even those who don't have a history with Minecraft and Terraria should be able to manage. Standing alongside a station and pressing E will bring up a crafting menu, and crafting is as simple as has holding the necessary ingredients and lit up items to create them. I found I was in a comfortable position after over two hours exploring the initial world, and decided then to start gathering enough fuel to take to the stars.
Another big change from similar games is that Starbound doesn't trap players on a single world. Once I had acquired enough coal to use as fuel, I was able to travel away from my starting planet. Admittedly, I've only visited one other world thus far, but the wildlife on each were different, as were the biomes. My starting point was a lush, forested planet that had a huge forest with giant flowers instead of trees, and poisonous lakes. The other had snow on the ground, and was decidedly more barren, though it did seem to offer more entrances into underground caverns.
I found it was best to be safe during my Starbound beta experience. At least, it was a good decision for the first three hours as a Floran. My plant person may have been pretty, but she was also rather frail. It made more sense to stay cautious, stripping that first planet for the resources necessary to make the most basic work stations and equipment. Then, when I felt I had stripped the land and seen everything I could see, I tore down my most important pieces of furniture, temporarily set them up on my ship, and moved onto a new world.
Sadly, I haven't been able to try the multiplayer experience, due to a lack of friends playing, and I don't personally feel like my Floran is in a good enough position to be a helpful asset in a match with strangers. Those who had issues with Terraria’s multiplayer should find Starbound less intimidating, but those looking to play online will have to do a little research. Those looking to host will have to learn about port forwarding, or perhaps download a virtual networking program like Hamachi to set things up. If someone's just looking to participate though, it's as easy as getting the access information from the host.
What has been most shocking with the Starbound beta is how smoothly the Progenitor phase is going. I've been playing for just over four hours, and haven't encountered any bugs or glitches. In fact, the only omission I've noticed thus far is the lack of the seventh Novakid race. The other six races are immediately available in this initial beta phase, so early adopters still have a choice.
The Starbound beta is now available for purchase via Steam and the Humble Store for $14.99. Patches are already being released, with the Irritated Koala update having been released on December 5, 2013. More are planned, and the launcher includes hotlinks to provide feedback, report bugs and get general support assistance. Though it's always difficult to determine the quality of the finished product from an early release such as this, Starbound has left me feeling quite confident about the future of this project.
Date: December 10, 2013