97% of people call it “Terraria in Space”. Those people are as wrong as they are made up, by me, for dramatic effect.

Sure, that imaginary majority will see the low-pixel graphics, zoomed-out point of view, intricate block-based crafting system and diverse range of weapons and make the jump to warp. But where Terraria is about diving deep into one randomly generated world and mastering its hazards, Starbound is about skimming multiple worlds to advance the story.

This may sound like a mark against Starbound – a shallow interstellar romp isn’t the best headline. Let me try again. Terraria is Minecraft in two dimensions. Starbound is Mass Effect in brief.

Be a birdperson! Be a plant! Be a sentient gas cloud! Be a human (if you’re boring)…

A slice of the universe, each star a system of multiple unique planets

Galaxycrafting

I’m not saying you’ll be romancing birdmen on alien worlds, but what Starbound and Mass Effect do that Terraria doesn’t is build a coherent galaxy and give you a reason to care. Unlike Terraria’s glorious sandbox, Starbound shows that you’re part of a greater whole – then it breaks that whole and tasks you with putting it back together again. Your goals are clear – survive, save the universe, perhaps get revenge.

I wish I could say more as the start really grabbed me by the lapels, but that would ruin it. What I will say is Starbound does a great job of setting the stakes and engaging you in the world and characters. The story will push you to explore further, within planets and across the stars, to complete both unique and freeform missions. You might need to scan a ruin, but the game won’t tell you which one, just the type of planet you normally find them on.
Hitchhiker’s Guide

The starting missions also serve as a tutorial so you’re not just thrown into the world, and give you the main tools and transportation you’ll need to build and explore. Your Matter Manipulator serves as your pickaxe, shovel, sledgehammer, bucket, paintbrush, and nearly everything else you need, and is upgradeable to dig faster and further.

Graverobbing is a cinch!

What it isn’t, is a weapon. You’ll find a huge variety of them on enemies and in chests, from daggers to axes or lasers and rocket launchers. This is a sci-fi game after all. You can also store a huge number of these in your inventory and have loadouts for various occasions, as you have different bags for different things – gear, food, blocks, furniture, etc., so carrying a few more guns won’t mean a few less pinched wardrobes.

I’m about to ruin Chickenman’s entire career

There’s also no ammo to worry about, which is a very welcome space-saving change. Everything except basic melee attacks uses your energy bar, which can be improved by wearing certain armours or eating certain foods. Ranged attacks do feel limited by this, as I’d often run out of energy before killing one enemy, but at the same time I did find myself enjoy the forced focus on either evading and recharging or jumping in with a blade after a few volleys.
Taxicab Galactica

For transport, other than your own two feet – which won’t get you very far in space – you have your trusty SAIL, or Ship-based Artificial Intelligence Lattice, helpfully tethered to a starship. With the right fuel you can jump across the universe to exploit alien places for their rare resources and slaughter the locals. Basically the British Empire at its most feisty. It also comes with a teleporter, letting you beam-down to planets without landing your space galleon.

Beyond SAIL, you can buy jet bikes, teleport between planets, and most badass of all summon an upgradeable mech to pulverise ore and foe alike. The mech isn’t just a stylish mount with a little extra functionality. It’s needed for exploring space and docking with ships and stations, though it can be deployed as and when you like as long as its battery lasts. Imagine the EVAs from Neon Genesis Evangelion, but with 100% less mandatory teenage angst.

Of course I’m the good guy, for a subjective value of good…

Your small corner of the galaxy

However fancy and fast the travel options are though, you’ll likely want somewhere to put down roots. Probably literally, as farming is a great way of feeding your hunger bar and getting some extra buffs.

I’m a freelance space murderer and my wife raises lizarddoggos. Our budget is 5 million pixels

While you can upgrade your ship to have more room and place the same workstations and blocks you can elsewhere – opening up farming on the move – early-doors it’s far more likely you’ll settle down on a planet and build somewhere to ride out the weather and lizard-dog attacks.
The decorative possibilities seem immense, though it’s not an area that I explored. You have materials from different biomes, worlds, and cultures to take advantage of, and can apply the same block to either the background or foreground which is a real nice touch. Building seems more in-depth than Terraria, and better for non-functional blocks than Minecraft if you don’t mind the lack of a third dimension.
Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here.

There are a few wrinkles. After many hours of play you’ll notice some differences are only skin-deep. Literally. Often enemies are reskinned versions of some murderous fauna living elsewhere in the universe.

Cutesy graphics and the overarching quest line does a lot to blunt occasionally repetitive gameplay

The environment holds-up much better. While exploring space is a bit repetitive (much like actual space I guess) ships, stations and planets have enough variables that they’re usually distinct. I saw the same pirate ship a few times perhaps, which is damn impressive considering the huge amount of time I spent shooting them in the face with my mech’s gatling gun.

Ultimately, if you like your crafting survival simulators to have a driving narrative and enjoy your Iain M. Banks over your R.A. Salvatore, Starbound should be on your wishlist.

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