A New Wave of Don't Starve - Shipwrecked
When I wrote about Don't Starve about a year ago, it was a game that had boiled the "survival" part of Survival Horror down to a raw essence epitomized by its blunt title. At the time, they had released a large number of updates to the base game, adding cave systems and boss monsters. The game really came into its own with the release of the Reign of Giants DLC, in April 2014. The expansion added new seasons, new biomes, and, best of all, even more boss monsters. This had the effect of making Don't Starve into a more thorough, complete experience, though the core mechanics were essentially the same. The biggest challenge of survival in previous updates - winter - came about a year earlier. Though summer and spring offered some nifty mechanics, they didn't feel all that different.
With the latest major DLC of Shipwrecked, however, Don't Starve is moving into new territories that are offering something that feels like a truly complete experience.
As the name implies, Don't Starve: Shipwrecked adds the opportunity to cross the ocean, placing your hapless little character into a dangerous new world of archipelagos and islands. In some ways, it's a little bit of a cut-and-paste of Don't Starve. Rabbits are replaced by crabs, hounds are replaced by sharks, and the majestic beefalo are replaced by...well, water beefalo. Keeping a lot of these elements familiar-but-fresh was unquestionably vital to easing players into the new world. It takes a while for the proverbial rubber to hit the road, but once it does, Shipwrecked does add a lot of unique, interesting elements that put a fresh face on Klei's base game. Volcanoes erupt, hurricanes blow, and all new boss monsters spawn at the worst possible moment to ruin your day.
There's a lot of fun to be found in this expansion. The new characters in particular are a gas - my personal favourite being the surfer girl Walani - with unique abilities that feel new and varied. And one of the best features of all is a craftable item that lets you link a previous saved Reign of Giants world to your fresh new save slot. With a little bit of planning, you can even bounce between your two worlds for a proverbial "winter vacation" to summer climates. This does have the effect, however, of making the game feel little more...safe?
Don't Starve has always had a quirky sense of humour. It's part of what set the game apart. But, I can't help feeling like it might've gone a little bit overboard (no pun intended). Here, the sense of otherworldly foreboding that surrounded a lot of your experiences in the strange world that Maxwell controlled is all but gone. The bosses are still monstrous, the creatures are still threatening, but they all seem very...quantifiable. Part of this is down to the exclusion of the cave/ruin levels. Those areas gave Don't Starve a rich Lovecraftian feel to its somewhat aimless plot. Here, things are just kind cartoony. Even the more violent occurrences, such as a volcanic eruption that unleashes rock showers and dragon eggs, feel like things you can put down to nature being angry. Reign of Giants was all about the unnatural; creatures and areas that just didn't make sense.
Shipwrecked is still a worthy addition to Don't Starve. It offers a lot of neat new items and enemies to sink your teeth into, and if you enjoyed the basic game it's pretty much a must-have. If, however, you were like me and you were quite fond of it blending in the horror, be prepared for a bit of a shift in the tides.