Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Starbound - 20/20 hours

Once more, I found myself blowing past my deadline and playing a survival game for around an hour after I should ostensibly have finished. I couldn't help it, I was getting into a real groove. I'd finally gotten a full set of Durasteel armor and I looked absolutely adorable, like a little pixel-art space marine, and combined with my new shotgun and powerful elemental broadsword, I was able to beat the second of the game's bosses (a military penguin piloting a UFO, for some reason). I got fuel for my FTL drive and an entire galaxy of planets to explore (including toxic junkyard planets and weird mutant planets where the trees have eyes).

And now I have to stop.

Oh, I suppose I don't have to (and strictly speaking, I probably won't, at least not until I decide what I'm playing next), but this is another one of those games whose bigness makes it difficult to play half way. How long, exactly, until I feel satisfied? Until I can say, with absolute certainty, that I'm done? I couldn't even begin to speculate.

When I started Starbound, I was worried it wouldn't stack up to Terraria. The latter game had a lot more charm and creativity than I remembered, but it turns out that so did the former. If I were to try and characterize the main difference between the games it would be that Starbound feels like you're on a journey outwards and Terraria feels like you're on a journey inwards.

In Terraria, you've got this big, complex world and you need to explore its every nook and cranny. There are mysteries to uncover and bosses to beat and a whole heap of exotic treasures to accumulate, but though the world is procedurally generated, these discoveries are always going to be the same discoveries. There's one underground jungle and one dungeon and one Eye of Cthulu, and so on. This doesn't necessarily mean that Terraria is boring, though. Instead, this single world has a lot of character. Each time you start a new map, it's like you're trying to solve a puzzle.

Starbound, by contrast, has dozens or hundreds of different worlds and while they're not all super-distinct, they do each have individual differences. I went down to the desert planet in my starting star system and I found a prison filled with humans and behind that an expansive plain of skulls and bones. Another desert planet isn't likely to have either. That means that each map you unlock is a chance for new discoveries. And if there's not quite as much to do on a typical Starbound planets as there is in a Terraria world, then it doesn't really matter because all you have to do is fire up your spaceship and move on to another.

I think it was misguided of me to try and pit these games against each other. Each has its own brand of survival-crafting-platforming awesomeness and the world is richer for having them both.

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