As a long-time fan of Terraria and other similar world-chiselling games, I was very excited to try out Starbound. The sci-fi theme looked neat and I appreciated how the combat looked more engaging and action-packed. The Starbound "early access" has been available on Steam for less than a month, and in less than a month's time I have seen more monsters, met more NPCs, visited more biomes, and crafted more items than in the past 2 years since Terraria launched.
The biggest hurdle in these sorts of world-building games is a lack of variety. Okay. Cool. You can dig out blocks and build other things with those blocks. Neat-o. But we're well past the era of when Minecraft was a new and unique idea. Plenty of developers have aped the concept of Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress.
It is in this area that Starbound excels. Even in its current beta...er "early access" condition, Starbound has far more things to see compared to Terraria and - dare I say it? - Minecraft. You start off on one planet with practically no resources. Par for the course, your first hour will be spent gathering simple resources, craft basic tools, and carving, building, or otherwise creating a suitable shelter to hide in when night comes.
First, you get to choose your race. There are six races, each with a different look, customizable hair, customizable stance, and a choice between male or female. And yes, each race also has a racial ability. What's really cool is that each of these six races have a unique visual style in the worlds you visit. You'll see NPCs of these six races each with their own unique architecture in the towns you encounter.
During these first hours, you'll notice some nifty things. The composition of the trees, plants, backgrounds, and enemies gets a shuffle in every world you visit. Yes, even your start world will be different each time. This visual variety is quite wonderful. Heck, even the color of the dirt below your feet has a variety of different colors. An extra little touch that I enjoy is that if you hit the 'n' key or click on the magnifying glass, you can read the description of nearly every item in the game. Some of the information is still incomplete but it's fun to read the cute little one-liners about various objects in the environment.
Enemies are randomly generated with random powers. Some fly. Some crawl. Some creep. Some shoot icy blasts. Some poop fireballs on you. Some bite. While you'll see a few similar types, the randomization works quite well and the enemies actually pose a thread to you (I'll touch on this a bit later).
The planet surface is littered with little towns and shops and outposts, sometimes full of friendly NPCs but sometimes populated by enemies. I really like this aspect. Minecraft feels absolutely empty. Terraria did a bit better by adding NPCs that can join your town, but Starbound feels much more alive and vibrant due to the number of creatures and NPCs. YMMV, but I love this aspect of Starbound. I love exploring the planet to find various pre-made villages. Often I'll make a home in that village instead of building an encampment way off in the middle of nowhere.
But it is after this point that Starbound blossoms into a game far bigger than its peers. For starters, you have to monitor not just hunger but also heat. Weather conditions can kill you as easily as enemy monsters if you cannot warm yourself up (this is especially true once you start visiting other planets with more extreme biomes) or if you don't have the proper equipment to breathe (yes, you can suffocate on a planet with no atmosphere if you don't have a suit).
Oh, I didn't mention that you can visit other planets?
Yeah. Starbound does not restrict you to only one planet. Once you reach a certain point in the game, you can begin exploring other solar systems, settling planets, looting abandoned research labs, mining asteroids, and fighting progressively-tougher enemies. Each planet has a "difficulty level" that increases the challenge while also increasing the quality of loot that you'll find there.
Speaking of combat...
Combat in other world-builders has never been considered a selling point. In Terraria, it was particularly bad (I hated that goofy arm-swing). Starbound gives the players multitudes of melee and ranges weapons with which you can battle. Enemies are also much tougher and much more varied in Starbound as I explained above. You actually...die in Starbound! *gasp* Yes, I know this seems hard to believe, but enemies can be pretty tough and will kill you if you aren't careful. Thankfully, you have plenty of equipment at your disposal. One thing that's really neat is that you have 1-handed and 2-handed weapons. You can hold a flashlight in one hand and a knife in the other (handy for those dark caves) or a big 2-handed axe, or a shield in one hand and a gun in the other. Weapons - like many of the other things in Starbound - are also procedurally generated a la Borderlands.
Collecting a ton of different weapons is quite fun, and because there is such a diverse variety of enemies and bosses (even though this is just a beta) means that each new planet will have enemies you've never seen before. It certainly adds to the mid-game and end-game, whereas in Minecraft and Terraria once you beat the "hardest" enemies you just kinda piddle around and build railroads until you get bored.
You think fighting on foot is going to get boring after a while? So does Starbound. That's why you can get vehicles as well. Hoverbikes, boats, mechs (yes!) and more to come. This particular area is a bit limited right now (believe it or not, but this is currently a beta) but the developers promise to flesh out the selection of vehicles in the future.
For some of us, we like these games because we like to explore. Others enjoy these games because they want to conquer the toughest enemies. But there are a lot of people who like to use their creative side. In that regard, Starbound does not disappoint. There are a TON of different items in the game to use for your construction plans. Not only are there tables, chairs, flags, doors, stairs, etc. but there are different kinds of these objects, ranging from Star Trek-esque sliding doors to primitive thatch huts to medieval-style buildings. There's a wide palette for you to choose from.
And of course, you can dress yourself in all sorts of different clothes and armors with different patterns for each of the six playable races.
There are quite a lot of different ways to build things and customize the world, and the number of options keep increasing with each new game version that is released (you were paying attention when I told you this is a beta, right?)
Beyond all of the things I've already explained, there is so many other things I'm neglecting to mention. There are pets. There are musical instruments you can play. There are quests (yes! Quests!). There are mods. There is online multiplayer where you can play with hundreds of other players on the same server.
There is so much content packed into this game and so much more on the way. The developers are actively listening to the community and adding more stuff on a regular basis. The game has been out for less than a month and yet it has already received several content patches.
Starbound is awesome. I still enjoy Minecraft, but I cannot think of a single reason to go back and play Terraria now that I own Starbound. For those of you who loved Terraria, get this game. It is everything good about Terraria and so much more. For those of you who weren't sold on Terraria, Starbound packs so much more punch and I'd encourage you to give it a try.