The following review will be a critique of the game "Starbound" in it's current update,
"Enraged Koala". It is important to note that this game is still unfinished with no confirmed release date as of now.
For those who are unaware, Starbound is a Sci-fi Adventure game made by Chucklefish. The entire game is set on a 2D plane. It allows you to cut down trees, mine blocks, collect minerals and build houses. A pretty familiar concept, huh? But it has a defining feature - the ability to travel between planets and entire star systems! As of the time of this review, we have spent an accumulative time of 200 hours in Starbound. We have reached end game and have experimented with the sheer majority of things that the game has to offer. So, how does the game shape up when we look at is as an experience overall?
Firstly, let's look at the first, roughly, 70 - 80% of the game. When you begin the game you are given the option of, currently, 6 races and a reasonably large amount of customisation options that affect appearance (there are no choices of your character to be made apart from aesthetic appearance). You are then dropped into your very own ship (which are different for each individual race), given a short and static background story and told to "warp" down to your first randomly generated planet (which is usually a forest biome).
You are then allowed to do, essentially, whatever you want within the space that the game provides for you. It is very much a game that gives you free will. As mentioned before, you can travel between planets using your space ship (which is powered by coal - and, later, other minerals). By defeating the bosses that the game offers, you can unlock new sectors, which are, essentially, new star systems. Each new sector contains planets of increasing difficulty (Beta Sector has more challenging enemies than Alpha) but that also contain more materials/minerals (that you will use to craft more weapons, machinery, armour and tools).
Starbound is a game that constantly expands the more that you play it. It is also a game in which you never feel at a lack of things to do. There is always something but also because of the very likely else to make, something to push for, a boss to fight, armour/weapons to forge and civilisations to discover. Yes, this game has a long list of civilisations that are randomly spawned and can be found on planets. They can range from one lonely person and a waggon to a town to what could be called a full city. The citizens of these civilisations could be any one of the 6 available races and each race are themed with one classic stage of human history (medieval, tribal, etc.). Finding a new civilisation is always exciting not only because they are interesting but because you "plunder" significant amounts of gear, building materials and decorations that you can use for yourselves. I once found a medieval castle, slayed the king and took his crown for myself. It's interesting and organic moments like this that really bring home the sense of exploration and discovery that this game instills. You always feel like an adventurer, charting your own way through the star systems. It's invigorating. Strangely enough, there is no way in which you can interact with civilisations as of yet. Your best and only option is to, quite literally, kill every single aggressive member of it and then to steal all of their possessions and belongings. This doesn't degrade the experience of the game in any way, but it could be something that could be enhanced upon and would, in turn, enhance the experience of the game as a whole. The combat in the game is also well done. However, it is definitely not the highlight of the experience. It feels more like something that is coupled with the exploration components of the game, rather than the other way around.
The building aspects of the game are very well done. There are ludicrous amounts of materials and decorations that can be used to massively customise what your home looks like. The differences between the races are, for the most part, merely aesthetic. Different races will have different looking armour and weapon sets for each new tier as well as different looking ships. They all, however, have exactly the same stats. Allegedly, higher tiers of armour will give each race a different ability, but they are so minor that they don't affect how the game plays in any notable way.
Now, let's talk about the final hours of the game leading up to what is known as "end-game". Design-wise, this portion of the experience feels monotonous, tedious and repetitive. At the end of the first 80% of the game (around 70 hours) we had finally gotten tier 4 armour and had unlocked what is called "Sector-X". While each Sector before this encompassed only one Threat-level of planets, Sector X contains Threat-levels 5-10. And, therefore, tiers of armour and weapons 5-10 are all unlocked and crafted within Sector X. It took us approximately 2 hours to grind through all 6 tiers (which drastically reduced the sense of achievement that we had once felt when we unlocked a new armour and weapon set). Without going into too much detail, it was dull portion of the game that left us feeling a little unfulfilled as we hit the cap of what we could unlock. However, this could simply be how end-game is structured at this stage and, hopefully, it will be improved upon in the future.
To summarise, Starbound is an immensely engrossing experience that will infuse a strong sense of progression, discovery and adventure within you. It also includes very enjoyable combat and building mechanics to boot.