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How to Play Starbound, A Beginner's Survival Guide

Starting out in Starbound? Get a few tips and learn how to repair that pickaxe!

By Mike Williams. Published 4 months ago

Well, hello there, intrepid adventurer! It looks like you've gone and gotten yourself stranded out in the cold reaches of space. If you want to get anywhere else, you'll need to head down to that pre-civilized planet and get some resources. Surviving will take some courage and cunning, but more importantly, surviving will take this guide.

Quick Tips

  • Press the E key to interact with objects, like a camp fire, bed, or crafting table.
  • Hold down Alt to highlight interactable objects.
  • How do you repair your pickaxe? Left-click on the corresponding ore and then right-click on the pickaxe add one bar of durability to it! This doesn't work with the Stone Pickaxe.
  • Using your Matter Manipulator or a building block will default to a 2 x 2 square in the world. Hold down Shift to make that a single square.
  • Your character will face and attack in the direction of your mouse cursor. You can use this to run away from an enemy while still attacking them.
  • The L and R slots in the center of your hotbar are your quick slots. Hit X to equip these items on the fly and X to switch between them.
  • Right-clicking on a stack of items in the inventory picks up half the stack.
  • If you pass any different colored dirt in your travels, you should go mining. It could be valuable Ore that you need to build new things!
  • Always have torches available. Torches mean light and heat while exploring.
  • Plant fibre can be turned into Bandages. Bandages heal you, which is also great for exploring.
  • Ore is refined in a Stone Furnace. Plant Fibre can be turned into Fabric with a Spinning Wheel. Petals can be turned into dye at your Crafting Table. Meat needs to be cooked at a Camp Fire to eat it.
  • If you don't have a weapon out, town NPCs may not attack you. Use this fact to steal all their stuff.
  • The Refinery can be used to sell ore for pixels, the game's currency.
  • Dying costs pixels. Don't die.
  • The tutorial quest will lead you to create a distress beacon. Placing this starts a boss battle. You've been warned.

Choosing Your Race

The starting races...
...and their starting ships.

Your choice of race determines what you can eat, the appearance of your starting ship, your starting crafting recipes, and a bit of lore. Otherwise, there's no difference in the race from a basic gameplay perspective. Your Avian can wear the same clothes as any Human, Florian or Glitch.

Controlling Your World

A and D on your keyboard are used for moving left and right, Space is your Jump key, and S makes your character kneel. Your character will always face towards the direction of your mouse cursor, which is important to remember when you get into combat. E or the Middle Mouse button allows you to interact with stationary objects or pick up items around the world. By default, your character will try to interact with the closest useful object, but you can use the mouse cursor to chose a different object. Hold down Alt to highlight interactable objects.

Holding CTRL causes your view to slide towards the direction of the mouse cursor. This will stick until you tap CTRL again, which is helpful for digging tunnels downward.

C is your crafting menu, which can be used anywhere to craft basic goods like Torches or Bandages . If you want to craft better items, you'll need to build crafting stations like a Stone Furnace, Iron Anvil, or Spinning Wheel. J brings up your Quest Journal, so you can see your current quests, and L is the Starbound Codex, which includes all documents in the game.

Hitting I opens your inventory, which is a important part of surviving in Starbound. If you have a stack of items in your inventory, right-clicking on the stack will pick up half of that stack. To use an item you can either drag it up to your hotbar or grab it in your inventory with Mouse Button 1 (left-click), move it out of your inventory and click mouse button 1 again. Your number keys choose items on the hotbar directly or you can use the mousewheel to scroll between them. Shift-clicking on an item in the hotbar moves it back into your inventory. Hitting Q throws the currently equipped item, which will be indicated by a colored outline and one or two gloved hands below the item. One glove means the item is one-handed, two gloves denotes two-handed items.

The L and R in the center of your hotbar are your quickslots. Pressing X will equip the item in the first of these two slots and pressing Z swaps what items are in the L and R slots. You can use these quickslots to equip your weapons or flashlight while you're out exploring the world.

Using the teleport pad on your ship or clicking the Teleport Button (the halo with a down or up arrow) on the right side menu will teleport you to the planet. When you're on the surface on the planet, the same button will teleport you to your ship.

Living In a 2D World

The Matter Manipulator, which you'll find on your ship, is your basic method of interacting with the world. When you first start, it will be your pickaxe and your axe, helping you break down the world into usable materials. Move your cursor over an item and left-click to break down objects in the foreground like trees, the ground, equipment, and walls. Want to move that wheelbarrow or bed? Use the matter manipulator to turn it into a carryable item! Mouse Button 2 (right-click) breaks down items in the background.

You can also place building blocks in the foreground or background by using left-click or right-click respectively. This is key to building your structures. Until you get the hang of it, stick to just placing items in the foreground. The Matter Manipulator or a building block will default to a 2 x 2 square when you use them. Hold down Shift to change this to a single 1 x 1 square.

Let's Build

The Matter Manipulator might be your starting pickaxe or axe, but you don't want to use it for very long. Put your cursor over the base of a tree and hold down left-click to chop it down. It'll take a long while, but you'll know it's working when you hear a chopping sound and the tree shakes. When the tree falls it turns into Unrefined Wood that you can pick up. Now to go find Cobblestone, which is the abundant grey stone in the ground. It takes longer to dismantle than dirt, but you need it to build a Stone Pickaxe, Stone Axe, and Stone Hoe (in that order). Once you've collected enough Unrefined Wood and Cobblestone it's time to upgrade yourself.

What Starbound's starting Ore types look like.

In your Crafting menu, you can turn 1 Unrefined Wood into 3 Wood Planks. 35 Wood Planks can then be made into a Wooden Crafting Table. Using the Wooden Crafting Table you can then make a Stone Pickaxe (10 Cobblestone, 20 Wood Planks), a Stone Axe (10 Cobblestone, 15 Wood Planks), a Stone Hoe (10 Cobblestone, 25 Wood Planks), and a Stone Furnace (25 Cobblestone, 1 Camp Fire). You'll need these for mining, collecting wood and plant fibre, farming, and refining ore respectively. In the case of the first two actions, the pickaxe and axe will be considerably faster than your Matter Manipulator. The Stone Pickaxe also digs in a 3 x 3 square, making excavating much easier.

Manifest Destiny

You'll start with a two-handed weapon, which you will want to put in your hotbar quickslot. Not everything in Starbound wants to kill you, but you'll be able to tell what does rather quickly. Left-click to swing your weapon. You'll swing in the direction of your mouse cursor, so you can use this fact to attack and run at the same time. Your swing timing is important, because you'll knock monsters back a bit when you attack and you want to be able to have enough time to swing again before they get to you. Killing monsters with your sword will drop pixels, the game's currency. Killing them with the second weapon you'll get, the Hunting Bow, will drop meat and leather.

The Hunting Bow is crafted using the Wooden Crafting Table with 1 Plant Fibre and 10 Unrefined Wood. Plant Fibre is found by chopping down the vines that hang in caves. The bow is different from your starting weapon. For one, your arrows are physics-based, meaning they have trajectories. Second, the strength of your bow shot is determined by how long you hold down the the mouse button before releasing. It's harder to kill monsters with the bow at times, but it's necessary for getting meat and leather for cooking and crafting.

Gimme Shelter

A humble dirt home. I stole the doors.

Worry about the Stone Pickaxe and Stone Axe first, because you'll need to build shelter before night comes. The first place you teleport to is your only spawn point. If you die, you'll return to your ship and teleporting down to the planet returns you here. So, this is where you want to put your initial base of operations.

Night brings with it more monsters and freezing cold. If you're lucky, there'll be a camp ground nearby. Use your Matter Manipulator or pickaxe to break down the tent/wheelbarrow and camp fire and move them to your spawn point. You are not safe from the monsters in a tent, so take some dirt and build a small structure to protect yourself from the night. Interact with the wheelbarrow and tent to sleep and regain health if you need to. The camp fire brings heat. When it gets cold, a thermometer will appear at the bottom of your screen. If this drops to its lowest point, you'll die from hypothermia.

If you were unlucky, you'll need to use your Torches for heat. Torches and camp fires are starting heat sources and can be built in your basic crafting menu. Torches require 1 Coal Ore and 1 Unrefined Wood, which makes 2 torches. A Camp Fire requires 1 Coal Ore and 5 Unrefined Wood. You'll need the camp fire for the heat and for cooking, which is the last aspect of surviving your first night in Starbound.

Let Them Eat Cake

As you play Starbound, a bar on the bottom middle of your screen will deal with your hunger. Like the temp gauge if this falls to the bottom, you die. There are a few ways to get food. You can kill monsters and hope they drop meat, you can find fruit randomly in the world, or you can farm.

To cook raw meat and make it edible, you just need to interact with your camp fire, drag the meat into the lefthand slot and click 'Cook'. Then you can take the cooked meat out of the righthand slot and eat it.

For farming, you need flat land, a Stone Hoe, and some seeds. You should've grabbed the seeds from your ship, so they'll be in your inventory. You can flatten land with a pickaxe or your Matter Manipulator, so all you need to build is the Stone Hoe. Once that's built you can use it on the flat land to create farmable land. Then equip the seeds and place the resulting plants on the farmable land. Tip: Don't go with wheat, it grows quick, but you can't eat the resulting wheat without recipes. Try corn or the other seeds you received in the beginning: these will result in something you cat eat. To collect your harvest once it's ready, interact with the crops using the E key or Middle Mouse button. If this does nothing, that means the crop isn't ready. You'll destroy the plant in doing this, but you'll get the resulting food item and a seed. The seeds make farming the easiest and most sustainable way to keep yourself fed.

Those are the basics that may keep you alive for your first night in Starbound. After that, it's about exploring, crafting more, and repeating. Good luck and have fun!

The best community comments so far 6 comments

  • Scimarad 4 months ago

    "... the appearance of your starting ship..."

    Starting ship? You can get more ships?!?

  • Frosty840 4 months ago

    In the farming section it'd be helpful to add the most important tip of all: Mouse over the crop and press E to harvest. I kept clicking on the crops, which simply destroys them and returns the seed you started with.

  • MHWilliams 4 months ago

    @Scimarad They're talking about adding ship customization in the future.
    @Frosty840 I'll add that!

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