The official Don't Starve website (found here: http://www.dontstarvegame.c... ) calls the game "An Uncompromising Wilderness Survival Game Full of Science & Magic!" I call it a game where you die a lot, and I love it.
The premise of the game is as simple as it gets: do not starve. Cast onto a seemingly deserted island, you must gather your wits about you, prepare to face each coming night, and find a way to survive. This game has me hooked for a number of reasons, mostly because it's fun to play in quick bursts, but those quick bursts have a nasty habit of turning into several hours of playtime. This game is perhaps best known for its cartoony-yet-grim art style (screenshots at the bottom), but there is a great deal of depth hidden beneath the surface.
Don't Starve has been available in Beta form for a while, but now the "full" version can be purchased for about $15. Based on the exploration, the randomly-generated maps, and the crafting, Don't Starve seems similar to games like Minecraft and Terraria. However, the game plays much closer to the old-school Roguelike RPGs where death is near-instant and victory can only be achieved by the incredibly persistent gamer. One thing worth mentioning is that the game is still being updated with new monsters, biomes, crafting recipes, and secrets, all for free.
A big focus of the game is the challenge. It is never unfair, but it is often brutal. Once you get a cursory grasp of the basic mechanics, you'll feel like you can venture out into the world and handle anything, but then you'll be thrown for a loop, killed by a monster-tree that came to life while you were chopping its less-than-mobile siblings. So, you've died, but you've learned to be on the lookout for tree monsters. Then, during another play session, you might be slaughtered while exploring a den of spiders. Still, your death (one of many to come) will hopefully teach you a lesson. You begin again, this time preparing ahead of time before trying to attack those spiders. And this time, you might fail once again, or you might succeed. But then, a few in-game nights later, you are attacked by rabid wolves in your camp, and again you've been killed.
Next time, you might defeat the wolves, only to be caught without an adequate heat source in the dead of winter, and you'll freeze to death. You might bring along a heat source, only to be killed by a shadow creature borne out of the creeping insanity. You might keep tabs on your sanity, only to slip up, forget your food, and break the cardinal rule of the game: don't starve. Again and again, you'll die, make a small discovery, die again, and slowly improve your understanding of the game. Oh, did I not mention death is permanent? Yeah, good luck with that.
The layout is similar to Diablo and other isometric RPGs in that you click to move, click to attack, click to pick up items, and so forth. The main difference is that Don't Starve focuses on survival moreso than combat or climbing the tech tree. The exploration doesn't feel as awe-inspiring as Minecraft, but in Don't Starve, the world is a far more dangerous place to explore. The tech tree has fewer items to craft than what you'd find in Terraria, but each new item you unlock in Don't Starve feels like a can't-do-without tool in your measly survival kit. The difference between Don't Starve and the games that inspired it is that Don't Starve really, really doesn't want you to succeed. Just when you think you've rounded a curve, the game throws something new at you. And the worst (or best) part is that it isn't unexpected. The game doesn't (usually) one-hit kill you with a blast of lightning. The game doesn't throw a huge pack of spiders at you without warning. Usually, you'll die because you weren't being cautious enough, or you were being too cautious. Finding the balance is what makes the game entertaining.
Visually, the game is very unique. It has a muted color scheme, reminiscent of old turn-of-the-century film reels, and the art style seems to support that. A really cool effect occurs when your sanity meter falls below certain points. You begin to "see" things. For a split-second, you'll see another character flash on the screen. Or, you'll see peculiar shadows reaching out toward you while you huddle around your campfire. Oh, I didn't mention you have a sanity meter that steadily decreases and when depleted brings your nightmares into reality? Yeah, good luck with that.
The difficulty will be the polarizing aspect of Don't Starve. Either you love the idea of a game that hates you, or you can't stand dying over and over again. This game isn't meant to be Minecraft. You won't be re-constructing the entire realm of World of Warcraft. From the start, you will be focused on not starving, not freezing, not getting caught in the dark. Did I mention that the pitch-black darkness kills you, too? Yeah, good luck with that.
It's ironic that despite Don't Starve's incredible difficulty, it gives you an incredible range of options to alter that difficulty. When generating your game world, you can change just about every variable of the game's world. You can change which season you start in, how long each season is, how long each of the daylight/dusk/night segments are in each day, how many enemies of each type appear, and more. You can make it rain all the time, or never. You can fill the world with frogs, or choose the option making sure they never show up at all. Unlike a lot of other games in this genre, Don't Starve at least lets you tweak the difficulty if a certain hostile enemy or the lack of a certain important resource keeps causing your demise. Personally, I choose to play on the default settings because it encourages me to try new strategies, but the fact that the options are available is thoughtful. In addition to this list of pre-game options, you are given a very helpful map that automatically fills in while you explore. Not only will this map annotate landmarks and environment types, but it will also show icons of trees, rocks, beehives, worm holes, rabbit traps, campfires, and stuff like that, allowing you to worry about surviving instead of keeping notes on where you are. Also, the game will update its list of craftable items (contained in a sidebar) as you get more items. This takes out all of the guesswork. You know exactly what to acquire and how much of it in order to build your next project.
My only gripe about the game is that it can get repetitive. But that's the point. You're supposed to slowly peel back the layers and add to your knowledge of how the game works. Some gamers, like me, aren't going to complain about the repetitiveness. If you were never bothered by the so-called repetitiveness in Minecraft or Terraria, you likely won't mind it here.
The rise of Minecraft created an entire genre of open-world survive/explore/create games. Don't Starve follows in that trend while standing out from the crowd. It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of some of its more popular contemporaries, but if you want to tackle a game that will challenge you at every turn, Don't Starve might be a good fit.