Starbound is somehow eight years old, but with its gentle nature, pixelly graphics, and procedural exploration, it hasn’t aged too badly. If it were released today, the biggest issues would be that it feels a little bit empty and underbaked. It needs more things to do, more ships to encounter, more planets to land on. Just more. And that’s what we have here.
How to install Starbound Mods
We are in the confines of the Steam Workshop with Starbound. It does all the work for you, enabling you to click on any mod and it’ll simply be installed. There’s sadly no mod manager in either the game or from the community that can help enable or disable mods, though, so it’s a really good idea to check mods for compatibility before you smash them all into your game at once.
Best Starbound mods
The community has given Starbound plenty of planetary additions since release. A lot of the mods do the job well enough that there’s no need to hope for official implementation. They're good enough as it is.
Frackin’ Universe by Sayter
Ask anyone the street (or in random Zoom calls you’ve crashed) if there’s one Starbound mod they’d install over all others, and they might say Frackin’ Universe. They might also just run away. Doing that sort of thing is a bit of a lottery.
Frackin’ Universe is a complete overhaul of Starbound, to the point where they warn you that it’s a “one-way-trip” if you install it. There’s no going back once you’ve experienced the 13 new races for you to meet and play as, each with their own backstories, dialogue, and fancy hairstyles. The balance of the exploration, research, and experimentation is best experienced after you’ve played Starbound to death and want a new challenge in a comfortable skin. There’s just so much more to do here.
FU’s (aha!) science-heavy additions expand the foundations of Starbound’s progression, requiring a lot of research and items to uncover. There’s little here that won’t require determination to uncover. And time. Lots of time. The rewards are extensive new biomes to uncover, a vast item storage network to build, and plenty of automation options to craft.
A number of other mods build compatibility in for Frackin’ Universe. It’s that ubiquitous.
Arcana by Sva
This relatively new pile of content aims to bring a little bit of wonder to the Starbound universe. Arcana is a magic and technology-themed mod, rammed with 16 new planets, 40 new weapons and the same amount of armour, and 400 new tiles.
Really, it’s here because it’s a gorgeous addition to the game. Each new world is decorated and designed beautifully. If you’re an explorer, the artistry of the Illuminated Planes and the Windswept Peaks are rewarding in and of themselves. Go see.
RPG Growth by Chaika
If you crave the ping of XP, and the ding of stats, RPG Growth is a mod that adds plenty of RPG standards to Starbound’s sandbox.
Each game starts with a class choice of Knight, Wizard, Ninja, Soldier, Rogue, and Explorer, and each class comes with skills, weapons, and more. My personal pick, the explorer, is focussed on movement and mining, enabling gliding, and the ability to transform into a drill.
Of course, those all unlock at various levels (RPG Growth’s new mods drop XP), and you can further expand on your playstyle with statuses, scaling, and four new tech addon per class. It’s a nicely structured mod to streamline your playthrough.
Avali Race Mod
Sometimes you just have to let the modder make the pitch themselves. This adds the Availi race: "Nomadic pack hunters from an iceball world far outside the goldilocks zone of their local star. As such, they evolved with more of a focus on sound than eyesight, as such such have 4 very sensitive ears and, unsurprisingly a culture that values sound and music more than visual arts. Uplifted by another species (albeit accidentally, their 'benefactors' did try and wipe them out), they're now teetering on the brink of technological singularity, and and so display a paradoxical mixture of high-technology, and nomadic tribal culture.
"So, if Avians are 'Mayan Space Birds'or Hylotl are 'Oriental Space Fish', then Avali are 'Nomadic Space Raptors'...they're still super fluffy though."
Fluffy space bastards with genuinely original character design, a thoughtful backstory, and lots of species-specific tech and items. Everything you’d expect from an official add-on, but unofficial and free. It’s so popular that the race has turned up in other game’s mods. There’s one for Skyrim.
Crew Customization + by FelmastProMcLane
If your crew just isn’t doing it for you, Crew Customization + is the perfect mix of HR and complete DNA alteration.
With the mod installed, you have control over almost every aspect of your ship’s crew. Don’t like their name? Change it? Don’t like how they look? You can change their gear, redo their portraits, and more.
Enhanced Storage by Neo
All roads in games like Starbound eventually lead to something like Enhanced Storage. It’s a bizarre phenomenon that all game developers exhibit, making their in-game storage so basic that the community can only ever improve upon it.
More capacity, filtered item sorting, and storage searching with tonnes of options are the most basic additions that’ll grab you. Then there’s the coloured containers and renaming to help you keep track of everything, and it’ll even display the sale value of the whole container’s contents.
And that’s honestly just a small list of changes. It hooks into crafting, the economy, and more. It’s essential to the point that if you install it, you’ll probably forget its a mod.
Pixel Furnishing 2.0 by Pixelflame
Just as all roads lead to storage mods, the sideroads offer glowing neon signs with “Hot Furniture Axxxtion” for you to follow. Pixel Furnishing 2.0 is a crafting and building addon with some lovely art.
As the name suggests, each piece of furniture here is a small work of pixel art. In some cases literally, because there are cutely rendered paintings to hang. Aside from that, you can decorate your ship or bases with perfectly pixellated monitors, beds, shops, crafting stations, and lots more. It adds a lot of flavour to Starbound’s world.
Manufacturer's Touch by Zetzels
Here’s a neat weapons mod that gives Starbound’s random weapon drops a Borderland’s style manufacturer bonus. It adds weapon companies into the game and then gives weapons bonuses based on those companies.
There are nine new weapon manufacturers added to the lore of the game, each with a speciality. Find a Rotik rifle and you know it’ll have a speedier fire rate than any other weapon at the expense of damage, but a Callox will have the opposite effect. It’s a fun way to present some immediate information to the player while increasing the procedural effects.
bk3k's Inventory by bk3000
Another mod that shows just how much a community can turn around a basic function. Bk3k's Inventory adds three times more space per tab in the inventory, more tabs, and organizational elements that tie it all together. For a game that drops so many items, blocks, and more into your backpack, having tabs that let you filter weapons, materials, furniture, decorations, crafting, food, farming, hobby, and vehicles automatically is an absolute godsend. And you have more room for activities.
More Planet Info by Erisss
Exploration is something of a lottery in Starbound. You can make it less so with More Planet Info. It adds server-side details that will contain more useful information about planets, moons, and other system bodies. You’ll be able to see what settlements and objects are on the surface before landing, which is a handy tool when you’re on the hunt.
More NPC Ships by Angry Turret
NPC Ships, aka space dungeons, in Starbound aren’t exactly brimming with variety. More NPC Ships seeks to address that.
With a number of friendly and hostile ships added to the game, you’ll gain space trains filled with Novakids, and flying saucers with angry penguins. There are also a few new encounters to experience, like space merchants to trade with or rogue satellites to wreck. It’s fun if you like to enjoy the space part of Starbound.