5 A.M. GAMING: Starving, Starving, Slashing With ‘Don’t Starve Together,’ ‘The Long Dark,’ and ‘Torchlight’

Having nothing new on my plate to review, my gaming wanderlust has been out in full force the last couple of weeks. Yet, it can be summed up in just three words: starving, starving, slashing. I’ve been doing some teamwork bootcamp with the husband in the spider and beefalo wilds of Don’t Starve Together; dying alone, often, and in terribly realistic ways in The Long Dark; and having some nostalgic smashing fun deep in the dungeons of Torchlight.

Some further thoughts on all this adventuring…

Don’t Starve Together (Klei Entertainment)

I recently found out about the console edition of Don’t Starve Together and threw my wallet at it the very same day. Between the original Don’t Starve and its various expansions and offshoots, the husband and I have probably bought and re-bought this game more than any other, owning it in multiple incarnations and multiple platforms. Why? It’s all about the replay factor, baby. And the addition of a couch co-op mode on consoles only takes that to the next level. No more dragging laptops into the kitchen so we can sit next to each other and play.

The console version of Don’t Starve Together is the game you know and love (or should know and love, if you don’t) with all the foraging, building, fighting and exploring you’ve come to expect, but includes new characters (hello, Webber!), as well as the expansion content, and supports two players in local co-op and up to eight players online. Here, in the land of 5 A.M Gaming, we’ve been a bit hooked on Co-op gameplay, in which you work together to survive, but there are other more fighty configurations for those who prefer conflict and hostility. Additionally, you can choose between Survival, Wilderness and Endless modes (and then go on to completely customize the worlds you create; too many Deepclops or Meese/Geese? Not a problem, just dial back the setting).

The Don’t Starve franchise’s cartoonish survival and magic aesthetic, which demands an unrelenting form of trial-and-error problem solving from players in order to stay alive for longer periods, may be the best in-home team-building exercise ever. Sure, it’s easy to work together and get by in summer and autumn, but winter and spring will definitely test your sanity and friendships, both in the game and outside of it. Whether you prefer single- or multi-player games, if you haven’t played Don’t Starve in any of its incarnations you are definitely missing out. Time to get hungry.


The Long Dark (Hinterland Studio)

After travelling to Mexico (with Mulaka) and 18th-century Europe (with The Council) in recent columns, I decided to play something set closer to home: The Long Dark (2017), which takes place in the unforgiving snowbound hills and forests of the Canadian north. In brief, The Long Dark is Don’t Starve if Don’t Starve was utterly realistic, bereft of magic and had only one season: the dead of winter. I’d actually planned to write an entire column on this game, but it’s bleak and challenging, and sometimes at the end of a long day of toddler potty training I’ve had my fill of bleak and challenging. Never mind that it’s still snowing here in Toronto during the second week of April, and I’m just a bit sick of everything cold.

All that personal griping aside, The Long Dark is a fascinating experience that offers story, survival and goal-based modes, if you don’t mind slow-moving games in which much of your energy is spent gathering, seeking shelter and avoiding unnaturally vicious wolves. The Long Dark is dreadfully skimpy on the tutorial front, so Google is your friend here, but by far the title’s greatest victory is how well it portrays our country’s harsh northern climates and how hard it would be to survive there. Starvation, frostbite, animal attacks, slips and falls, and other injuries are all perils that await you within. I’m only a week into my survival journey, but I expect The Long Dark to continue to be long and dark and full of hunger. For survivalists, masochists, and those who feel the call of the wild(erness).


Torchlight (Runic Games)

Yes, the original. Meeting Gauntlet on the Commodore 64 in 1985 or 1986 as a preteen spawned a lifelong love of dungeon crawling for me, particularly in the form of action RPGs. I’ve played many of them; some of my favourite adventures have taken place in the worlds of Diablo II (2000), Titan Quest (2006), and more recently The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III (2015). Then, of course, there are the Torchlight games, which are among the purest of the Diablo clones and hold up surprisingly well, even six and nine years after their respective releases. The games’ cartoonish graphics age well and the balance between easy and challenging mobs and bosses keeps your fingers clicking and your eyes on your heath and mana meters. Torchlight‘s clever addition of a companion dog that runs your loot back to town and sells it for you helps speed up the adventuring (you spend less time at merchants doing inventory maintenance).

Biggest complaint? As one descends down into the Black Palace, the level builds become a bit samey-samey. But if you are looking to bash some stress out while still being able to listen to a podcast or audiobook while you play, you could do worse than Torchlight (2009). Dipping my toes back into this well has made me eager to dip them back into other action RPGs as well. Do you have a favourite? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @5AM_gaming.

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