Starbound Review

Played on Windows.
Currently Also Available on Linux and macOS.

Terraria was a smash hit selling ten million units and still growing, and not only showing that Re-Logic was a force to be reckoned with but it also showed that Minecraft did not have to be the only building game. Rather than going for a straight clone of Minecraft, Terraria moved to a 2D adventure game, that had a wealth of combat, and bosses as well as a more meaningful progression than Minecraft. Overall, Terraria was an impressive game.

So when Tiy, the sprite artists, left Terraria and worked on a new game eventually called Starbound I took notice as did many others. But the focus of Starbound seemed to be developing more quests and story than Terraria ever had. In addition, Starbound was moved from a single planet to a sci-fi outer space adventure that allowed players to travel to different worlds. It definitely peaked my interest.

For the record, this is not my first time playing StarBound. I bought the game in July of 2017 and saw the game in late early access. Achievements had been added and I wanted to see the state of the game. However, the state was rough. I liked the look of the game, but the fact was much of the claimed major features for launch were still in the unstable branch that I wasn’t aware of, and with no guide or information, I refunded the game within a week to avoid losing the opportunity as I was unsure what was going on.

Time passed and I got Starbound in the Humble Care Package and here I am again to see how it’s grown. Currently, it’s in the 1.3 release which is their spacefaring release which focuses on giving the player more to do in space. So let’s begin.

From my opening, you might guess I’m a Terraria fan, and I am, I’ve put in over 50 hours into the game, and still enjoy it. With that said, it’s simple to say graphically Starbound has a lot in common with Terraria. That’s not surprising when you think about the fact that Tiy was a sprite artist and clearly brought that style with him to Starbound. In fact, I rather like the similar style because the style allows the developer to enhance the differences in the game a bit more. Starbound has 7 playable races, each with a different style and look. I personally played a Glitch which is their robot race and a Novakid which is supposed to be a gaseous character in some way.

The look of the characters are different and there are lots of customizations in the game for you to play with. Even the clothes the character wears can be changed, as well as having “racial armor” that only one race can build. In fact, the racial armor is a bit interesting. Whereas Glitches are Robots, their armor is based on Medieval Knights, and their architecture is as well. Novakid might be Gasbags on some level, but their society is based on the Wild West. It’s an odd twist and while I don’t know exactly why the strange racial armor looks the way it does, I do have to admit it is interesting to see the outfits and costumes. It is also interesting to see the level designs when you find an outpost of a specific race. There’s also a special racial pet that stays on your ship. The Glitches own a piggy, and it’s easily my favorite special pet.

The graphics are beautiful when they are predesigned structures

So with all of that out of the way, let’s look at the story. The story begins rather suddenly. You’re joining The Protectorate and are about to earn the matter manipulator. Honestly, I feel like the story misses an important step here, and doesn’t give the player a chance to earn the matter manipulator, or does something like Fallout where you go through minor tasks as part of a tutorial. Instead, the game immediately jumps to graduation day. As it’s a graduation day in a game, you might be able to guess it goes poorly. It does. Everyone dies, and you get your matter manipulator and have to flee the planet.

From there you are rescued by an AI called “S.A.I.L.” which stands for Ship-based Artificial Intelligence Lattice, Basically, it’s your AI buddy that will tell you what to do when no one else is available in the game. I like the idea of S.A.I.L but in practice, he seems remarkably unhelpful. There’s a point where it tells you that you are getting RADs from somewhere and as you get closer to the boss of the area, it screams out something like “you’re 98x the level of RAD.” Is that supposed to be a joke? Because it’s not well set up and not very funny.

The fact is SAIL could just say “You’re almost there, getting closer” and been more helpful. Ultimately SAIL is supposed to drive some dialogue for the story but personally, I couldn’t stand the AI because it intentionally seems to be useless. I guess you could go with it trying to be humorous, but it’s just an annoying character, and maybe I’ve just had enough of these useless AIs. SAIL isn’t malicious like Glados but he just isn’t useful.

So with the AI itself out of the way we continue the story, SAIL help you steal a ship during that first level of graduation day. Throughout this level, you’ll have a very limited tutorial that shows you how to attack and how to dig with the matter manipulator. Everything else is not mentioned, and it’s a flaw of the game.

I knew how to craft in the game due to playing Terraria which is a similar game, but ultimately there’s an awkwardness to how the system works here. However, once you understand that you are supposed to use the crafting station, the crafting works. But the downside is so much of this is done through trial and error.

The game doesn’t even attempt to really teach it’s complex systems such as upgradable crafting stations and the different stations because the game is about exploration, but again, if the opening was longer and showed a bit more, we might be able to understand the rules of the game.

Still, once you’ve escaped on the ship, the game starts, and it’s a slow burn. You land on a planet and are told to investigate the surface. Now I have to give Chucklefish credit here. Starbound is fully randomized. You get a random space in the galaxy, a random planet (though always a low danger world, and usually a forest place) and the same goal to reach, but the planet is different.

I went through the opening three times, and each time I landed on a different world, in name, design, and place. The worlds are always a lush forest world, but there’s a lot of variety. The first world I was on in the First Look required a long distance to find the energy source that SAIL eventually detects, the second attempt had a similar length but different land, I even found a random mining outpost. Then I started the Novakid version and landed almost next to the energy source the game wanted me to investigate. The fact is the game really does have true randomness in it, and I have to applaud that because it’s what makes the game interesting to play two, three, or even seven times.

However, when you reach your energy source you quickly are told you have to go to the core of the world to get energy crystals called core fragments. This requires a deep dive down to the core of the planet.

Now, this is where Starbound starts to show it’s hand. There’s no tutorial here, and no clear path to get them (though that mining outpost did have enough, it’s not always on the planet). The quest simply says “mine to the core of your planet”. I did it three times and had mixed results. The first time I just dug straight down realizing later that I had to get out and with some of the deep drops I came down it was really hard to do that. I also died a few times and had to retrace my steps and it wasn’t a fun experience.

The second attempt was more methodical, creating stairs and pathways that I had learned from Terraria but it was still frustrating. Finally, I went on a “casual run” which was done in the same way with a change. I could teleport out at the bottom and it was a bit easier. I’ll talk about game difficulties later, but the fact is that each of these dives to get the core fragments was painful and annoying.

Again the problem is the lack of lessons, digging to the center of the world even on an easy world is a dangerous proposal. Normal difficulty makes it harder, but still, there could have been some small side jobs, maybe making a weapon or armor, or just teaching subsystems. Instead, the game just went “nope, just dig… “ and from there you have your orders. You don’t have an understanding of wood platforms. (Platforms are critical to bring on your trip to the core to help you get out of the core) In fact, you haven’t even been taught how to chop down trees, so if you’re new to Terraria and Starbound you’re going to get lost.

It’s a shame because Starbound has a good system, but it’s just never taught to the player and while that is the same as Terraria, this one has stories and quests, Terraria didn’t. In addition, Terraria isn’t about the story. There’s a ton to do in Terraria but you choose something you can tackle. Here you’re given a relatively hard quest and it’s just assumed you’ll figure out everything from point A to B, which likely won’t happen if you don’t go to the wiki or a guide.

So as you search the surface or go to the core you’re going to run into another major system of Starbound, combat. Combat in Starbound again is the same as Terraria, but this time there’s a good health bar of one of your opponents at the top of the screen and it’s helpful. In fact, I found the ranged combat to be as good or better than the melee combat, and I had the ability to switch between them. But combat is also quite difficult, most enemies seem very powerful and capable of killing you in a few hits early on. You can eventually make armor to make it harder to be killed, but even there, there are not many choices and most items needed for that armor might not be available on your planet.

I’m just not a fan of the combat here. The beginning is annoying due to the high difficulty, but eventually, I leveled up my gear and figured out how to win those battles. The problem is that it didn’t turn out great, it just turned monotonous. There’s a LOT of combat, and while the enemies of the game have more variety than I could hope for, the experience is not as good as I hoped. I rarely felt more powerful than enemies and even when I did, I still fought entirely too much. If combat was more entertaining it might be fine, but the problem is the game goes from too hard early combat to too repetitive combat later and it stuck between those two extremes. We’ll talk about what this game is but it feels like combat is intended to be a major part of it. If so, the quality isn’t there for it.

Small enemies like these aren’t too dangerous, but when you move to humans or humanoids the challenge rises sharply.

Eventually, you finish the quest to get the core fragments, you use the energy source, and open a teleporter and now can go to “the outpost”. You can think of this as a hub area or a special place for your character to visit. You have a few discussions and are told to repair your ship. From this, you are given your first adventure map to go get a crystal to repair your ship. This introduces another element in Starbound, the static adventure maps.

Essentially Starbound has you go to a map that doesn’t change and can’t be modified. It’s always the same map for each character you have and has the same type of enemies and encounters, you can’t mine or damage the map, so instead, it’s more like a standard platformer. Honestly, if the combat was better or more interesting this would work, and the adventure maps are fun, but at the same time, the randomness is suddenly gone in these maps, and I have to admit… I miss feeling like I’m seeing something for the first time even if it does give a major boss encounter.

Eventually, you beat the adventure map and you are freed to explore the universe and it’s really that, millions of planets and galaxies, and you can go anywhere and travel. The teleporter on your ship can instantly send you to any other teleporter or to any flag you’ve placed, but overall you’re free to explore

You see, there are many different worlds and the game allows you to go to any you want. There are different “difficulties” for the planets that the game seems to say but really that’s just how much combat and how damaging the enemies are. No matter which difficulty level, you’re going to find combat or dangerous things.

The game does allow you to craft new armor as necessary, however, it seems like there are limited weapons to craft. Novakids are locked into making certain guns which works with the wild west but everyone else makes the same weapons, however, the weapons you get don’t seem much better than random weapons you can find. Personally, if you can find a planet with a lot of quests, it seems better to stick around and do as many quests as you can because the reward packs have very valuable drops in them. Though leaving a planet with a number of quests active can be annoying because the game leaves those quests in your active quest lists. It, however, doesn’t appear to name the planet those quests were on so you might have to go “find X character” but you won’t even know which planet that quest was given on.

Still, the universe/world map is excellent and I love seeing all the places I can go, and then zooming out and realizing all galaxies are available, and it seems to only cost 100 fuel no matter how far I wanted to go. That’s a great deal.

Each bright star is its own universe. Only thing is the difficulties aren’t shown, but that’s livable.

But this is also where the game started to turn for me. The quest that I was given as the main quest was “Find Floran people” and the game said, “on Forest planets”. That seems like an open-ended quest and the fact was it is. I went to a nearby forest world and found Florans, then I was told to scan their homes for clues. Ok, as I did that I realized I wasn’t making progress. You see the game didn’t want me to scan their home, they wanted only to scan special parts of the home.

Eventually, it was clear what types of items the game wanted to scan, they were the items that turned green under the scanner. I scanned everything I could in a rather large village with over 10 large houses including tree forts. I only got about 90 percent of the way through the quest. I couldn’t get the last 10 percent in that area. It was clear I had to go to find another home for the Florans.

Now, I had gotten lucky and I found a planet where the town was next door to the point I warped in at. That sounds like something the game set up for me, but it’s not, it’s a random chance where the village is, so I set out to go to other planets to find these Florans… It took me three worlds to find another civilization because the game is actually random. The problem is I often went down to a planet and got no information about the number of Florans on it, or direction they might be. Instead, it’s just an exploration game. This one quest took me close to 2 hours of looking. In fact, the first quest also could take a couple of hours to look for the initial gate, the core fragments took at least an hour. Starbound takes a long time to complete quests.

Eventually I got the Floran scans and then I was off to my next adventure map, the “hunting ground”, which I found quite hard, and I gave up due to the fact that the combat in the game wasn’t that much fun, and when I died I lost many items, that I then had to go back to recover. Still, I gave the game a second chance.

You see where I said I tried to play the game three times before is due to the difficulty. There are three options, Casual, where you drop no items on death, Survival where you drop many items, and a Hardcore mode that’s a permadeath. The first game I created was on the normal difficulty, Survival, as was the second. I abandoned one character because I died and couldn’t recover my items, and gave up, and started over. The same thing happened on the second time where I lost all my items, so I decided to try “casual” difficulty, where you have lower penalties, and no item drops if you die. I feel that the game should default to that in my opinion because it made the game better. Even better, you could teleport back to your ship when you were underground and there were almost no penalties for adventuring. I believe the combat was easier also, but I am not sure about that. Still casual was where I started having a better time with the game.

But again the Floran task came around again, this time I had to search 4 planets before finding the first outpost. The first galaxy didn’t even have planets with forests on them, so it was hard to even find forests and then even when I did, it didn’t show me where the outposts were. Did I miss the outposts on those planets or did I find planets without them? Don’t know, the fact is the game doesn’t help the player enough with this important question.

So from there, I got back to the hunting grounds. It still took at least an hour for each quest in the new game because the game requires a lot of time hunting and looking for everything. But I got to the hunting ground and quickly beat it. Again I don’t know if combat was easier or I was more adept at it or spent the time to make better equipment, but I was leaps and bound better the second time around. But the problems popped up again.

The end of the hunting grounds.

You see after the hunting ground and it’s mini story and getting the artifact of the Florans, I was tasked with the next quest. “Find the Hylotl” the aquatic species. So I set off to an ocean world and found a single Hylotl, or maybe it was another species. I’ll never know because it was there that I realized, I wasn’t having fun.

You see, Starbound seems to have a rather major issue. It’s not clear what it wants to be. It feels like it wants to be a Space Terraria, and have a focus on colony building, or just building. If that was the case, ok, Terraria was a great game and Starbound could have their own bosses, but a space style to it. The problem is that it’s not enough, and Starbound tries to tell a story too, and that’s not bad because if Terraria has an issue, it’s that it’s mostly random events and even the bosses don’t feel well connected.

But Starbound really doesn’t want to do a story or a building, it instead wants to do exploration. All the quests are “search for stuff” and that’s what the game becomes about, if you want to follow the main story. The randomness makes the exploration painful because you spend hours searching for something that may or may not be there. That’s where the people who chase the quest and story will find themselves and it’s not a good experience in my opinion.

At the same time, Starbound keeps trying to get the player to find and feel engaged in combat, but it’s the combat mentioned before. It’s fine, but repetitive and appears all too often. It doesn’t really assist the exploration, but it also doesn’t assist the story. The fact is I didn’t like the combat and I couldn’t win the fights often enough, and then I figured it out and got better weapons but still couldn’t enjoy it as there was too much of it. The combat wasn’t rare enough to be meaningful, and too frustrating to be a common occurrence.

The question is which face is the real Starbound? The building game, the exploration game, the story game, or the combat game. There are four types of game here, and a game can have many facets but the fact is Starbound doesn’t have one I enjoyed. It doesn’t do any of them very well, at least not well enough to stand on its own away from others.

It’s a shame because I’ve kind of bagged on Starbound, but there are some good additions to the genre by them. There’s a mech suit that’s rather fun to play in outer space, though it can be deployed to the surface of normal worlds, and then you feel how overpowered it is. It has limited battery life, but you still can dig for minerals and cause a lot of damage with it before it has to be returned to the ship. It’s free to deploy, so there’s not much reason not to, and it’s powerful so it’s worth using.

The giant mech suit is always fun until it runs out of power.

I feel the combat especially with guns does work, and I rarely like to switch between ranged and melee weapons in games, but Starbound had me mix the two often. I even had two revolvers as a Novakid and two blades and I felt both like a cowboy and a rogue. It was not how I normally played video games, but in Starbound it felt right. It’s a shame the combat itself wasn’t rewarding because I had finally found some combat choices I liked including a double bladed melee monster.

The upgrades and racial gear is another choice that really worked for me. I love looking at the wiki and seeing the racial costumes so I can see what outfits can look like in time. It’s a shame it was so hard to even craft one of the sets.

The diverse worlds also played a great part, and exploration felt fun, but I often felt I had seen most of this before. Different planets all seemed to have different enemies and that was cool. Even going to multiple forest worlds, I kept seeing new enemies, and that’s great. There’s actually a system for procedurally generated monsters. Kudos to Chucklefish for that. It probably was a lot of work and paid off.

The outposts and people were cool to play with and I wish there was more to them than just a stopping point. Even more story from them would have been great, or a system to make them or a quest to built colony big enough to help you could have been more interested than the random explorations. It could incentive the buildings which is what it seems people play this game for and have you build up a civilization or outpost you could call your own.

The thing is Starbound does some things right, but for the most part, it feels like a second place game in most categories. You see if I wanted to build something awesome, I’d play Terraria or Minecraft. The story is better than Terraria, but it’s not even there for most of the game. I think the quests are a good improvement, but after playing Portal Knights for over 20 hours, I think I prefer it’s minimalistic approach to progression, than Starbounds, and the combat… well, it’s lower than second place if I have to be honest about it.

At the end of the day, Starbound wasn’t the game I wanted in Early Access, it’s a shame that now that it’s almost a full year later and fully launched, it’s still not the game I wanted. I like the idea of a sci-fi Terraria but that’s not enough to make me recommend it over the original Terraria. Ultimately, I feel that it’s impossible for me to recommend Starbound to anyone that doesn’t just want another game to just spent large amounts of free time trying to complete quests and even then, I think there might be better uses for their time. Life’s just too short to run on a hamster wheel, and definitely when it’s self-inflicted like Starbound is. So, with the inability to give a recommendation I feel that I have to give Starbound a


I get the love of Starbound by some people, but personally… I just didn’t find this game enjoyable, and the more I played, the more time I felt that I was wasting with it.

Final Thoughts: It tries to be a little of everything and succeeds but it doesn’t really do anything that well, and because of that, it’s not a game I can recommend. Everything takes too long to do.

Stats: 15 hours recently, a total of 23 hours total, Did not finish. 13/51 achievements earned.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s