Starbound Beta Progress Report: One Month Later
Starbound’s public beta was released last month for those that pre-order the gigantic sandbox universe. The beta is being rolled out in three phases as Chucklefish prepares for a full release sometime later this year. Currently the beta is still in phase one and has received a heaping ton of updates, balancing fixes, and many more changes and teases on the horizon. I take a look at how the game’s progressing after the first month and what the future holds for Starbound.
The single biggest update was an entire reworking of the combat and leveling system. Initially levels ranged from 1-100, each alien creature had its own level, and weapons had their own armor penetration stat that worked like a level identifier, quickly rendering early game weapons useless. A massive overhaul eliminated armor penetration altogether and reduced the levels to just 10. Now the entire initial Alpha Sector contains all level one planets, and each planet has a grouping of easy, medium, and hard creatures. The hard ones mostly come out at night. Mostly. Moving to Beta sector after defeating the first boss grants access to level two planets, and the hardest creatures on level one are equal to about the easiest creatures on a level two planet. It’s a vastly improved and easier to understand system, and now really spiffy weapons can last much longer as long if you’re satisfied with their damage output. I do fear that the first boss was nerfed too much as a group of players can easily take him out without even venturing past their initial home world.
A ton of various tweaks and fixes have been implemented in several patches in December, all of which can easily be found in the patch notes displayed on the website. Improved balancing to weapons, armor, and flying foes have alleviated the sometimes crushing difficulty of the early game, and should improve accessibility for new players. A simple UI fix for the temperature gauge now has us dying from hypothermia instead of confusion. New gameplay features include weather effects (including acid rain and meteor showers), capturing aliens as pets, requiring oxygen to explore moons and asteroid fields, and varying gravity on different planets and dungeons.
Many of these features have come to light thanks to the amazing modding community that’s sprung up around the game and its supportive developers. The latest issue of the Starbound Chronicle, Chucklefish’s official digital newsletter, highlights many of their top rated mods. If you’re feeling adventurous you can wade through their mod database or go straight to the source at Starbound Nexus. A strong, talented modding community is part of what makes PC gaming so special, and it’s fantastic to see Chucklefish go out of there way to be supportive and nurturing to the community.
While most patches have a host of updates and changes, they’ve also come with wipes, though to Chucklefish’s credit they wipe only what they need to in order to properly implement the fixes. Full character wipes are rare but worlds get wiped frequently. Since one of the genre’s pillars is exploration this isn’t so bad, but losing progress on a character and reverting back to stone and wood equipment can be more than an annoyance. But these setbacks are normal for this early stage of beta and Chucklefish has been upfront about the frequency of both updates and wipes during phase one. They’ve mentioned that there will be another major wipe (including characters) coming in the next few weeks – the final wipe to end all wipes. And in the darkness bind them.
On December 16 Chucklefish revealed their most intriguing update titled “The Future of Starbound.” Here we have a salivating list of hopeful features still to come, and some merely a feverish pipe dream. Many are obvious improvements and features: increased ship size and customization, changeable spawn points on planets, more randomly generated cool content underground, and eliminating character wipes. Others are neat new features, like randomly generated monster parts affecting their abilities and movement (reminiscent of how Spore was originally supposed to work), and race specific armor granting special abilities. We also get a peak at some of the really intriguing concepts like space combat and gigantic spaceship dungeons (think Death Star). I’m not sure if all of these ideas will reach fruition but it’s fun to see the developers being open and transparent about many of their plans for the future, and makes beta participation all the more interesting.
If Chucklefish’s goal with the early beta was to show off the game and prove their commitment by utilizing feedback and experiences from players, they’ve succeeded. It’s a shame that many updates have necessitated wipes, but an update coming soon will hopefully fix the need for any future wipes, and allow more players to get beyond the first few tiers and levels. When Starbound’s beta was first released, it was the number two most played game on Steam behind Dota 2. With an understandable hiatus from updates over the holidays its numbers have fallen significantly. If you’ve been holding off on returning to Starbound or waiting to jump in, I encourage you to wait until the next big update coming in the next few weeks. That final wipe will alleviate the main beta woe of starting over. For now I’ll continue exploring the stars while enjoying the myriad of improvements and updates.