A Noob’s Review of Don’t Starve Together

If only it were so easy

Flash has been raving about Don’t Starve Together for months now, which echos the positive reviews from the gaming community. Me being the stingy one, I tried to hold out for a sale on the game before pulling the trigger.

Little did I know that Flash would convince my wife to pick up the game at full price! Sad.

One good thing that came out of this was that purchasing the game on Steam allows the owner to gift one copy to a friend. Lucky for me, my wife doesn’t have many Steam friends.

The premise of the game is simple: don’t starve. It may have been more appropriate to name it Don’t Die Together, but that sounds much grimmer.

Following the success of the solo campaign, Don’t Starve, the developers released a co-operative mode as a follow-up. Don’t Starve Together allows you and up to five friends to test your mettle against the dangers of the wilderness.

As I quickly learned, there are a whole host of things that are worse than starving in this game. In night one of our joint gameplay, I got a taste for how challenging this survival game can be.

Similar to my early League of Legends thoughts, I wanted to share my first take on Don’t Starve Together (DST, for short) with some commentary about the things I found most helpful to getting situated. Here’s what I learned and what I’m looking forward to in night two!

There are a lot of mods

Before we even got into the actual gameplay, Flash had us add some mods to make our experience more enjoyable. The DST community has definitely been busy based on the number of mods available in the Steam store.

You can find everything from character mods to map editing mods. The ones Flash asked us to install were mainly to flatten the learning curve a little bit:

  • Display Food values by alks – This mod displays what food and healing items have what hunger, health, sanity values (including rotting). It will work for items in inventory, backpack or in containers.
  • Global Positions by rezecib – Wow, so many things!
    1) Show other players on the map (and hover over them to see who they are)
    2) Show player indicators (the bubble things on the side of the screen) when they’re far away
    3) Light signal fires that show up as indicators and on the map
    4) Ping the map by alt+clicking, creating markers that show other players points of interest. Note that muting a player hides their pings. Controller users can ping by clicking in the right stick
    5) Opt-out of sharing your location with a button on the scoreboard
    6) Share your map discovery with other players automatically
  • Health Info by Nubs – Shows exact health of creatures on mouse-over and controller-auto-target
  • Combined Status by rezecibDST – This mod enhances the HUD to better show the player’s stats and various information about the world, such as temperature, season, and moon phase.
  • Where’s My Beefalo by Afro1967 – Adds minimap icon for the Beefalo.
  • Geometric Placement by rezecib – Snaps objects to a grid when placing and displays a build grid around it (unless you hold ctrl).
  • Minimap HUD squeek – Fully functional minimap that can be zoomed using the zoom map binds (defaulted to the mouse wheel) and can be panned by clicking and dragging.

I know a lot of this Don’t Starve terminology won’t make any sense if you’ve never played, but you should definitely add these ones before your first playthrough. Fun fact: you don’t install any mods, you subscribe to them! 

A quick google search will help you find the mods that are best for you, but I found The Gamer list and this Reddit thread to be especially informative.

Mod screen from Don't Starve Together

The sounds are strangely awesome

There’s no way to actually win this game, but the intro music is so incredibly cheery that I almost forget that death was on its way. A lovely piano tune is accompanied by delightful woodwind instruments as you scroll through the game menus. 

At one point, I even found myself waving my head back and forth to the tune of the DST soundtrack. 

Once the game starts, you get a different happy song during your day travels. At night the music dissipates and you’re just left with the sounds of the darkness.

Each sound effect feels very appropriate and realistic. Chopping down a tree sounded like chopping down a tree. When the torch was lit, I could almost feel the heat of the fire. There’s also a good mix of goofiness in the sounds made by critters on the map.

Overall, A+ to the audio team behind these noises!

Character selection is interesting

The game had 13 characters to choose from, 3 locked characters and an option to pick a character at random. Each character has its own short description, some more helpful than others. 

Some things were very clearly bad: “Is afraid of monsters and the dark”. Others were less descriptive and borderline useless: “Was once the king of the world”.

Long ago, I watched a Let’s Play that showed a character with a little pumpkin-looking pet. The pumpkin followed around this character and stored things for her. With inventory space being limited, I knew this would be my starting character.

It’d be helpful to see more clearly what the pros and cons of each character are, but this format only adds to the allure of the game.

Don't Starve Together character select screen

There’s a lot going on, immediately

Once you enter a game, you’re just in it. There’s no tutorial, no training grounds, no practice area. You just start out in the wilderness and go.

Sandbox exploration is an incredible thing, but it can also feel overwhelming at first. Flash told us to grab some food so I got to work picking up anything that looked edible.

Once I had a little bit of food in my storage, it was time to gather crafting materials. Forging an ax meant I could chop down trees, gaining precious logs. When I made the pick, I could break down rocks to secure even more building items.

Gather, build, harvest, gather, build, harvest. You and your crew get stronger and more settled but the enemies also get stronger and more aggressive.

A big part of getting off to a good start is knowing what things to do in which order. Here are some of the things you should be picking up first: flint, saplings, grass, logs, rocks, carrots and berries.

Surviving the night means having fire

If it’s dark out and you’re not near a source of light, then you messed up. In your home base, this will likely be a fire pit. when you venture further away, you’ll want to make a torch on the go.

Without these things, you get some very no-good consequences. Fandom sums things up really well:

  • The player will be alerted that Charlie (Night Monster) is near. After 5 seconds the player is attacked and damaged for 100 health and 20 sanity.
  • (Armor will absorb damage taken from Charlie.) 10 seconds later it will attack again, causing the same amount of damage. 
  • 50 sanity/min is drained while in the darkness. (0.83 sanity/second)
  • You will be unable to pick up items or interact with objects using the mouse button. Objects can still be collected by using the space bar, but due to the games natural tendency to go towards any object instead of the closest one, this is an ineffective way to gather materials for a torch or a fire.

I won’t say who, but someone in our party turned a nearby forest into a source of fire for us. Smoky the Bear would have been disappointed. 

Needless to say, make sure you have enough materials for a torch everyday, especially if you are going exploring far away from your friends!

Home {base} is where the heart is

When you choose to settle in a location, you’ll build a centralized area to keep your party sane and fed.

Remember all that foraging you’ve been doing? Now is the time to plant trees, saplings, bushes and other food sources.

Eventually, you’ll have enough resources to craft more advanced structures like a crockpot. This makes cooking more efficient and makes your farms even more valuable.

Additionally, your crew can all maintain one fire at night. You should also share resources to make sure everyone has the proper equipment and supplies for the coming day. 

Planning is really important here. We put the farms in a grid formation and kept storage chests close to the fire.

I imagine that later in the game, we’ll have multiple home bases as we explore further from the initial settlement. For now, I’m excited to make our little village as prosperous as possible.

Minibosses are tough

The first boss we came across were some hounds. I didn’t actually see them but Flash let me know that many were in his area. 

I had some practice fighting small critters like frogs, but I don’t think I was ready for a stronger beast. None of us had armor yet and the only weapon in my inventory was an ax.

Flash is a seasoned vet and was able to manage on his own. For the next encounter, I promise to help out…maybe.

It seems there’s some regularity to the timing of when bosses show up. Know the general timeframe and you can prepare accordingly.

Winter is coming

We ended our session at day 9. I got a chance to explore, forage, battle (if you can call smacking a frog with an ax a battle), build and stumble through a small piece of Don’t Starve Together. Without Flash’s guidance, I don’t think I would have made it past the first couple of days.

Decision overload would have hit hard as I tried to determine which items to collect. There were at least a dozen decorative items lying around which almost found their way into my backpack.

Instead, I was able to prioritize the right food and collectibles to be a somewhat helpful member of the team!

Alas, Flash has warned us of the impending winter ahead. Not only will we have to make sure not to starve, but there will be an added challenge of not freezing to death.

Soon, I’ll share some of the madness in a gameplay review! In the meantime, leave your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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