In my 20s, I spent several years living on an antique boat in an industrial canal. The boat sank. We got a new boat, which got destroyed when it ran aground during a hurricane. All this to say, when I saw that Klei had titled its newest Don’t Starve DLC Shipwrecked, I thought, “Shipwrecks? Here’s a game I’ll be good at.”
I am not good at it. Shipwrecked has all the features you love to hate from Don’t Starve: scavenging for resources, brutal seasons, a cascading series of crafting necessities, and that murderous darkness. Instead of waking up to the musical taunts of Maxwell, you find yourself on a desert island surrounded by the wreckage of your ship. Your goal is still the same—to survive as long as you can—but instead of one sprawling landmass to master, you must build a boat (or, in the early game, a raft) to hop from island to island, trying not to spring a leak in the choppy seas as you search for a place to call home.
Boats aren’t the only new addition Shipwrecked brings to the table. There are new food sources in the form of wobsters, mussels, limpets, crabs, and coconuts. The introduction of a new tool, the machete, allows you to hack up vines and bamboo to craft traps, rafts, and outfits. In addition to being vital for farming, the shovel now enables you to dig up magma piles for rocks and other minerals, as well as sand that can be used to craft, among other things, a cute little sandcastle to stave off insanity. This sandcastle will come in handy; as always in Don’t Starve, there are plenty of things to drive you insane.
Among them are new monsters to contend with, including snakes, some of which are poisonous and require anti-venom to counter. Not quite monsters, monkeys populate many islands, delighting in stealing things you harvest if you aren’t quick on the draw. At one point, with darkness closing in, I realized I didn’t have enough materials for a fire. I had already depopulated the island of trees, and as I hurried to try to mine enough rocks for a firepit before night came on, a horde of monkeys descended to snatch my loot away before I could collect it. In between frantic bouts of mining and attacking monkeys only to incur their poop-flinging wrath, I managed to craft my firepit seconds before nightfall. Victorious, I turned to taunt the monkeys—only for the tide, another new feature, to wipe my fire away, plunging me into darkness and ending my game.
The seasons have a new twist as well. Instead of the summer, fall, winter, and autumn of the last DLC, Reign of Giants, Shipwrecked replaces winter with a hurricane season that sees rain, lightning, and wind that can sweep your possessions into the sea; a monsoon season that features flooding; and a dry season replete with volcanic explosions as well as the familiar threat of overheating. There are new biomes as well, such as mangrove areas that can only be navigated by boat, the aforementioned magma zones, and of course the beach, the shores of which change to reflect the phases of the moon. These twists on familiar staples all present new challenges and expand the world of Don’t Starve, bringing new character to this unique and lively game.
The new content in Shipwrecked is sure to excite hardcore Don’t Starve fans, making an already tough game much tougher. However, on a personal note, Shipwrecked exacerbates my biggest struggle with the game. While Don’t Starve has always carefully balanced the need for base-building against the drive to keep moving farther and farther out, it’s never been a game that’s fully afforded me the ability to explore. I tend to steer clear of bases in favor of the nomadic lifestyle, unable to leave a corner of the map in darkness, and as such I often run into trouble. By separating land with ocean, Shipwrecked complicates this desire by making exploration more difficult. A journey across an uncharted sea can leave you resourceless and stranded as night falls, certain death if you didn’t bring a torch or your boat springs a link. While such sojourns are necessary as you deplete your home island, the water disincentivizes pure exploration in favor of well-planned supply runs, though it balances this via the introduction of hidden treasure that appears on your map if you find a message in a bottle while at sea. Nevertheless, the inability to move freely made me pine for the solid landmass of the base game. I’d stare at the unexplored regions of my map with longing before deciding, in the interest of my accumulated days, that it was best to stay put until absolutely necessary.
Shipwrecked is currently in Early Access, with a few bugs and some features yet to be implemented. Klei has a solid track record of responding to player demands, though, and the game is already polished enough to welcome hours of hunting, crafting, and nearly starving. The threat of keeping the sea at bay certainly felt familiar from my own sea-faring days, and I felt right at home in the inevitable disasters Shipwrecked provides.
Riley MacLeod spends a lot of time thinking about stealth games and the serial comma. You can follow him on Twitter at @rcmacleod.