After a 5 year long early access run, Starbound is now a fully fledged game. Amidst the concerns that the game had died, developer Chucklefish finally released Starbound as a fully released title, and it sure has made huge changes since it’s first release in early access.
When I first played Starbound, it had barely released its first early access patch, and all there was to the game was the barebones exploration, mining, and crafting elements that you see in its final release. However many things, such as tentative story, questlines, and customization were still just concepts to be implemented later, so we were left with the foundations for what would later become the complete game. It’s early access run felt a lot like how No Man’s Sky gameplay feels currently, as it has a lot of interesting and engaging mechanics, but leaves the player wanting more. After finally reinstalling Starbound to try it’s full release, everything felt completely different. Originally being thrown into a damaged ship and forced to land on the nearest planet, Starbound’s final release provides the player with a story arc, exploring your custom made player and his or her graduation ceremony from the Terrene Protectorate, an intergalactic peacekeeping organization. The game’s story there on takes you on an adventure to find out the cause of the events that take place in your graduation ceremony, taking you around the procedurally generated universe of Starbound. This alone amazed me, because I wondered for years how Chucklefish was planning on integrating a capture worthy story to motivate players to explore and uncover the secrets of the game’s universe.
Gameplay wise, Starbound has improved upon the base mechanics from early access, as well as take much inspiration from the modding community as well. One of such inspirations was the implementation of both ship customization and crew integration. The ship customization allows players to expand their ship’s size, allowing for more crafting stations to be implemented as well as allow the player to store more into their ship, eliminating any potential storage issue. Your starter ship upgrades aren’t the only thing that Chucklefish added to the final release of the game, but they also added alternative modes of transportation as well. Hovercrafts can be purchased for a premium at the social hub and allows players to zip through planets much more efficiently than on foot. Another great addition to the final release was the implementation of multiplayer. The multiplayer experience is near seamless, as players are able to join their friends simply by joining their session. The incorporation of multiplayer doesn’t make the game much easier, however, as there will be areas that will be teeming with difficult enemies and being in a party with your friends will help increase survivability.
The most important feature that I felt Chucklefish really improved upon is adding more life to their procedurally generated universe. Often times when exploring planets, you will come across small settlements and the like that will be teeming with NPC alien species that may at times hold information on that particular species. They kept this, but further adding on a social hub of sorts, full of shops and side quests that can further enhance player effectiveness when exploring. Although the NPCs have limited dialogue options, with the addition to a centralized story, NPCs play more an integral role in unraveling the secrets to the plot in Starbound. Small settlements and towns now play a more important plot progressing role in the game as uncovering the origins of various alien species become a core component to the game’s storyline.
Some users have felt that the final release of Starbound is a much watered down version of what the early access progressively provided throughout the years, mainly due to the fact that Chucklefish decided to remove several abilities and features that were in the early access versions of the game. That being said, the changes made to the game still capture the general feel of what Starbound is meant to be. Some features however, such as the significant reduction of other alien species’ story is a bit disappointing. Although these species do tell important story related details that do contribute to the overarching story, the species’ original origin stories felt much more fleshed out and even had darker undertones. Much of this was possibly reworked to accommodate the newly reworked story line, which unfortunately somewhat heavily emphasizes the Human race’s story. The changes to the skills, weapons, ship accessibility, and vehicles have of course upset many fans who were anticipating the final release of Starbound, with many arguing that the game was ruined with the significant reductions made. Despite this, I believe the game still holds up on its own with what it offers the player, as the sense of wonder in exploration is still not lost, and many unfamiliar with the series will definitely enjoy the still evident variety of weapons, armor, vehicles, and customization available for use.
Starbound ultimately encapsulates the wonder of space travel and exploration through its quirky but fun 2D adventure. You hardly ever feel the game feeling barren or lifeless, as the color palette used for the different worlds is lively and colorful. Not just that, but the worlds you explore are always full of mysteries and secrets if you explore enough. The NPCs also add to that sense of mystery and exploration, with small but insightful tidbits to the history of their origins. The combat and customization are intuitive as well, so you’ll never get tired of fighting for your life to not lose your precious resources. Check out Starbound on Steam, it’s a very fun and affordable game and offers a huge universe for you to explore and enjoy alone or with friends!