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Games with James: Alone in a Sea of Stars

Imagine you’re stuck in space, above a planet with little to no intelligent life. In order to survive, you have to gather enough materials from said planet. After you finally extract the resources you need from that planet, you move on to the next—this is the basic gist of Starbound.

How the review will work: This review will follow the previous review’s format, with some minor changes and revisions. I have integrated a new category for graphics, and I have moved the “Story” category to the front, with the new order of categories being “Story,” “Gameplay,” “Music,” and “Graphics,” or SGMG for short. This can be remembered by the acronym of “Sometimes Guys Make Gangs.” I’m sure this will help everyone in remembering how these reviews work. 

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Story: The story of Starbound is based in the future, where humans have traveled into the stars and met other alien races, which include: Humans, Apex (apes who evolved to be smarter than humans, but have fallen into a communist state with them following the word of the mythical “Big Ape”), Avian (humanoid bird peoples who have a society similar to that of the Aztecs and Mayans), Floran (violent plant humanoids who’s society is based on fighting), Hylotl (humanoid fish people who have a society based upon East Asia), Glitch (A group of robot peoples, who live in medieval society), and the playable yet irrelevant Novakid (cowboys who are gas-based). The story of Starbound starts when the Protectorate—a group of people devoted to protecting the universe from threats—is attacked by some sort of evil tentacle monster that destroys Earth. The player manages to escape to a ship and end up at a random star, later making it to the “Outpost” and meeting Estera—a former leader of the Protectorate. The main storyline from here is based around gathering artifacts from every major race (except the Novakid), with the end goal being destroying the Ruin (that tentacle monster from earlier). Players get to choose characters’ appearances and “personalities”(I did this myself) with the character creation menu to get more invested within the story. I chose Norvac, a Glitch who wore a suit of armor, a bear hat, and wielded a hammer. I found the bear hat randomly, put it on Norvac, and decided it looked great—it was really funny to imagine a scary robot with a cute bear hat. I decided personality-wise that my Norvac didn’t actually care about saving the universe. 

Verdict: The story of Starbound is fun—I enjoyed exploring each of the cultures of the races from the game, my personal favorites have to be the Florans and the Glitch. The story’s pacing was moderate, but felt slow in sections where you had to figure out where the artifacts were, as you had to locate planets with settlements for that specific race. I would say the story is a fun ride but has some issues. 3.5/5

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Gameplay: Now let’s get to what kind of game Starbound is. Starbound is a 2D, sandbox, survival, crafting game, with RPG elements and a massive open world; it has an entire universe of smaller worlds making up that open-world setting. Each planet, spaceship, and random event is procedurally generated, meaning each area of the game is unique outside of the story-based areas (for example the outposts and mission areas). This allows the player to feel as if they are actually traveling across the universe, and so that planets are never bland: each has their own, different feel. To navigate between these planets you will have to enter the Navigation Console on the ship (which I will quickly mention is able to be upgraded for more room). This allows you to see the universe around you, be it between stars or within a solar system. Fuel is required to get between stars, but not planets. On these planets, you have a chance to find settlements from the races in the game: some of these will be ruins with no NPCs (Non-player characters) in sight, others will be villages or hostile environments. The NPCs within a village will occasionally give quests to the player (not to be confused with the missions, which I will explain later). The quests, once completed, have a chance to turn the quest giver into a potential ally, meaning they can be recruited. Recruited allies become part of your ship crew, and can help in many different ways, depending on their class (with notable classes being soldiers, medics, mechanics, or chemists). You can also make your own settlements by placing a Colony Deed within suitable housing. Beyond letting you feel like you’re in the British Empire, these allow you to spawn in your own tenants who (similarly to crew members) fill their own roles, and can also give quests like the village NPCs. Hostile environments will take the shape of unique structures that house enemies—these enemies are always going to be hostile NPCs who will attack the player on sight regardless of any attributes. This brings me to the game’s combat system: the game has a multitude of weapon types, such as the one-handed melee weapons of the game (Axes, Daggers, Fists, Shortswords, and Whips), the two-handed melee weapons (Broadswords, Hammers, and Spears), along with ranged weapons with various handedness (Bows, Firearms, Staves, Throwing weapons, and Wands). These weapons allow combat in Starbound to feel unique depending on the style of weapon used. Some weapon attack styles change the gist of combat, such as Axes, Bows, Hammers, Staves, and Wands, requiring one to hold the attack before releasing it, typically dealing more damage per hit than the other weapons. All ranged weapons make use of the Energy stat to be used: firearms require Energy to be fired, Staves and Wands make use of it to cast spells, and all two-handed weapons have a special attack that can be used by consuming Energy. Furthermore, Energy is increased by equipping higher quality armor, which also increases the Health, Defense, and Attack Power stats. In order to make the most of your offensive capabilities you also need good armor to go with your weapons. To get these weapons and armor, you typically need to forge for them; however, certain randomly generated weapons can be found randomly throughout the worlds. Forging equipment requires you to gather materials from random containers, or mining materials for precious metals. Now let me quickly get onto Status Effects. The Status Effects (the most common being “Burning,” “Poisoning,” “Frost,” and “Electrification”) can affect you during combat depending on what you are fighting. Furthermore, there are also environmental Status Effects(such as “Slime,” “Slow,” “Tar,” and “Wet”). There are also Statuses that depend on your Hunger, such as “Full Belly,” “Hungry,” and “Starving.” Similarly to real life, your hunger in the game dictates your survival  (unless you’re playing in “casual” mode, in which case, congrats casual). To fill your “Hunger” bar you obviously need to eat; edible items can be gathered by hunting and farming, and you can increase foods’ value by cooking it. Now, on to my favorite rhyming topic, “Mechs” and “Techs.” We’ll start with Techs. A Tech is a movement upgrade that can come in many different forms. There are three main Tech slots: Head, Chest, and Legs. The Head slot allows you to change your form into a small sphere. Each “Tech” in this area adds a different ability to the base. The Chest slot is for horizontal Techs movement, with each Tech giving different dash types. The Legs slot is for the vertical movement Techs, with each Tech giving a different special jump. As for the “Mechs,” they have a specific crafting table that is used to create new mech parts with some materials that can only be gathered with the use of a “Mech.” The “Mech” starts out fairly weak, but with progression and time players can have a weapon of mass destruction. As for the crafting system of this game, it’s pretty standard, and players need to have specific crafting tables to create specific items. These endgame equipment tables are unique, with basis acquired by upgrading the anvil to the highest rank. To be able to use the endgame tables, players craft an attachment which can be used to access the highest quality items. There are three attachments, each with a different focus on which stats they prioritize. “Aegisalt” focuses on your maximum Energy, “Ferozium” focuses on damage, and “Violium” focuses on your maximum Health.  On to the last two topics: Missions and Matter Manipulators. Missions are similar to quests—they bring you to a pre-built dungeon that you have to fight your way through for a reward that is almost always a story item. In certain story missions, you can find assorted cosmetics throughout the area. Lastly, before we move on, we must discuss the “Matter Manipulator.” The “Matter Manipulator” is a staple of Starbound. The tool is used to gather materials and build, and it can be upgraded to be more efficient at its job. To upgrade the function of the tool, you will need specific items that are called Manipulator Modules. The upgrades have range, efficiency, area of effect, and the utility category, which has its own promising upgrades. The utility upgrades allow you to collect water, paint, and connect wiring with the Manipulator. 

Verdict: The combat for this game is honestly hit or miss. I have used every weapon type at this point, and I definitely prefer some over others. NPC quests can be annoying to do sometimes, and there is a low chance to get a crew member from it, so they might require some grinding to do. The spaceship is something that I enjoy, with the Navigation Console being my favorite aspect of it. I have to say I’ve always been a big fan of “Mechs,” so you can probably assume my stance on those, but within this game, I dislike the progression. I do like the “Techs”—they are probably one of my favorite mobility options within a game of this genre. I am a big fan of the Matter Manipulator, I have to say I love how the upgrades work, as I don’t like having to swap out tools every half an hour or so. Overall I’d say that this game has a big place in my heart gameplay-wise and I would rate it a 4/5.

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Music: I’m not going to lie about this, but when I played Starbound I mostly forgot to listen to the soundtrack. I had other music in the background playing, and I preferred to listen to that. So when I set out to listen to the Starbound soundtrack, I was honestly surprised. I remembered some of the tracks from when I first played the game, but for half of it, I don’t think I had ever heard in-game. The style of the Starbound OST (Original Soundtrack) is orchestral and experimental music, with some added synthwave music from the Bounty Hunter update—it is really soothing to listen to. The track “Starbound,” which is obviously the theme of the game, has to be my favorite song on the OST, alongside “Housecleaning” which was added in the Bounty Hunter update. However, the track I most think of when I think about Starbound has to be “Cygnus X1” as it is one of the most memorable songs on the OST for me, because of how soothing the song is.

Verdict: I have to say, the soundtrack for Starbound is really calming with its orchestral tracks, and I enjoy how exciting the synthwave tracks are from the Bounty Hunter update. Overall I’d say that the soundtrack from Starbound is satisfying and blissful to listen to if you are a fan of orchestral music. I give this section a 4.5/5.

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Graphics: Starbound has a 2D pixelated art style, which I would say lends itself to the style of the game. The simplicity of the art style makes the game more calming and assists in presenting all of the entities the game has to offer. The style lends itself particularly to the game’s aliens, with one of the monsters (the Poptop) being iconic and easily recognizable due to its design. The UI (User Interface) also excels, being simple, accessible, and intuitive.

Verdict: The game has a great graphical style, even if I have some difficulty articulating its good points. The lack of graphical and UI problems additionally raise this score. Overall I say this section gets a 4.5/5

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Final Verdict: Starbound earned itself a 16.5/20

Starbound is a wonderful game, and I have enjoyed it since its Beta release. I would hope this review brings some interest to one of my favorite games from this genre. I have played this game numerous times and am glad I could finally review it, because I’ve been wanting to write an article praising it for about a year now. What it lacks in storyline and crafting, Starbound makes up for in entertainment and fun.

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