RimWorld (PC) review
"Just your run of the mill base builder/RPG/resource management sim/dating sim/roguelike/cover shooter???"
There was a loud thump at the exterior door to the base; a group of invaders were trying to force their way in. The perimeter turrets locked on and fired, their steady three-round bursts echoing across the plains. One of the turrets eventually succumbed to the invaders’ assault, exploding into a plume of fire and melted slag. The other turret managed to take out six of the invaders, but there were still dozens more swarming the base. The colonists hurriedly armed themselves, and when they emerged from the base to fight, they found themselves faced with a ravenous foe intent on feasting on flesh – And only human flesh would do.
When the fighting was over, three colonists had severe wounds. They limped off to the infirmary while the remaining colonists assessed the damage and examined the corpses of their foes. The researcher of the group identified the invaders as a species not native to this planet – Indeed, the creatures were actually native to Earth, the Earth that they had left behind – the Earth that they had been separated from by countless light years and two centuries of cryosleep. These creatures were small and furry, maddened and turned savage by some unspeakable genetic manipulation, or perhaps even cybernetic modifications.
They were… Chinchillas?
Yup, you read that right. I called this the "The Night of the Chinchillas," a terrifying event that actually happened to my Rimworld colony. Some of what you just read came from the fertile soil of my own imagination, but the events happened almost exactly in the way I described them. It all happened within about five or ten minutes of frenetic gameplay. Questions still linger in my mind. Why were man-eating chinchillas attacking my base? Where did they come from? Who made them? For what purpose? What the fuck just happened? These questions still haunt me. It was just another day in Rimworld.
Rimworld is a colony survival simulator that touts itself as a “story generator,” and it’s not hard to see why. It starts off with a simple scenario: A trio of colonists crash land on a distant, lawless planet. Your job is to help them find a way home – wherever home is, wherever you decide it is. Along the way, you will help them find food and shelter, and they will inevitably find new allies – and make new enemies – along the way. Pretty much everything that happens after character creation is procedurally generated, and the events are sometimes so complex and absurd that you could write endless fanfiction about them. It all depends on what the game decides to throw at you on any given day.
You have a certain amount of control over the frequency and intensity of these events, though. The game comes pre-packed with three “AI storytellers” that you can switch between at any time, including “Cassandra Classic,” who provides rising tension; “Phoebe Chillax,” who will let you relax and build most of the time; and “Randy Random,” who is a crazy motherfucker who doesn’t care about your ideas of balance or fairness. Each storyteller has six difficulty levels, too, so if you want a really hardcore experience, that is easily available. Or, you can soften Rimworld’s edges to make it into a sci-fi version of The Sims. It’s all up to you.
But what is this game really about, and how does it play? Well, The Sims is a good starting comparison, as the interpersonal aspect of Rimworld is a foremost feature. Each of your colonists has a set of personality traits and skills, and they also have social and physical needs. They will act autonomously within certain limits, and you can watch them socialize, bicker and form relationships with one another. Two colonists might end up in love and get married, while two other colonists might end up hating each other and become rivals. An unrequited love from one colonist might turn into a situation of sexual harassment. A unique aspect of this system, unlike The Sims, is that each colonist has a personal opinion of the others that is not shared – That is, colonist Sarah might secretly like Joe a lot more than he likes her. This can lead to some very complex, amusing (or awkward) situations. The interpersonal aspect of Rimworld is enough on its own to be engaging, though it isn’t quite on the same level as The Sims – Relationships are only one small aspect of Rimworld, after all – and Rimworld does so much more than this.
The next aspect is the combat. Your colony will be regularly attacked by raiders, and you will have to defend yourself. On the surface, the combat system is deceptively simple. Equip your colonists with weapons and armor, then position them in cover and target approaching enemies. That’s pretty much all there is to it, though underneath is a deep layer of simulation. It is essentially a cover shooter like XCOM – Colonists will gain directional defensive bonuses when they are hiding behind an object, whether it is a tree, a pile of sandbags, or a chunk of rock. Their aim is determined by range, skill, and the amount of light available; landing a shot at night is a lot harder than hitting a target in broad daylight. Melee combat works similarly, though it’s far more risky – Getting close to the enemy is difficult when they’re raining bullets on you.
The enemies are smart, too. They may try to flush you out with grenades, or they may try to distract you by setting fire to your colony. Choices and sacrifices sometimes have to be made. If a raider with a molotov cocktail is heading for your lumber stockpile, will you decide to stop him and save it, or will you focus your fire on the other enemies who are suppressing your front-line fighters? Is the unconscious colonist that the enemies are dragging away to be kidnapped worth saving, or will you cut your losses and defend the others who are closer to your base? Thankfully you can pause the game at any time to give fresh orders; this can be key when things get hectic.
Behind this are complex calculations, available to be viewed in a verbose combat log. In fact, the machinations of Rimworld's combat are so dense that it even accounts for every individual body part of your colonists. My hunter got his finger shot off by a raider once – just his middle finger, nothing else (probably because he was flipping them the bird, my imagination tells me). In terms of mechanics, this permanently reduced his ability to manipulate objects with his hands by a certain percentage. That's not a huge deal, but because he was a tough son of a bitch, he kept fighting the raiders to the bitter end. Then, when he got back to base, he kept working on projects like nothing happened. I didn’t notice he hadn’t gotten himself to the infirmary right away, and the dang idiot contracted a serious infection. I had to restrict him to a sterile infirmary bed and use some of my best medicines to get him back on his feet. My other colonists also had the unpleasant task of cleaning up the blood trails he had tracked through the colony.
This level of complexity also applies to the base-building and resource management aspect of Rimworld, which is the main attraction. Whenever you’re not fighting or watching your colonists parlay with one another, you will be struggling to keep them warm, fed and comfortable. You do this by building up your base, farming crops, hunting animals and giving them ample time for recreation. Random events will keep you on your toes – catastrophic events like power failures and cold snaps might cause your food stocks to spoil or your crops to fail, so you will need to ensure that vital resources like food and spare parts don’t run out. A heater breaking down in the middle of winter can be devastating for your colony if you don’t have parts to fix it, and preparing in advance will save you a lot of trouble in the long run. You will also need to keep an eye on things like your base’s overall temperature, air flow and efficiency. Keeping relevant resources stored near your workshops will ensure that your colonists will not have to travel far to fetch them.
Tiny details also matter. If your colonists are working in perpetually dirty conditions, they will get sick, or they might at least end up in a foul mood. Forcing colonists to work with people they hate will also rub them the wrong way. If a colonist’s mood becomes foul enough, they might have a “mental break”, which will cause you to lose control of them for a while. They might sulk in their room, or they may abuse drugs or alcohol. Angrier characters might decide to get into a fist fight to let off some steam. The mental health of your colonists is just as important as their physical health. Everything in Rimworld is interconnected, and it feels like a truly living, breathing world.
The real way to “win” at Rimworld is to design a colony that operates efficiently, where everybody is putting their skills to the best use. You do this is by assigning priorities to tasks, such as mining, cooking, hunting and so on. A convenient chart – accessible from the bottom of the screen – allows you to assign a number between 1 and 4 to each task, where 1 is the highest priority and 4 is the lowest. You set these numbers for each colonist, then unpause the game and watch everything proceed accordingly. It might sound like a lot of dull jiggery-pokery, but this the core of Rimworld – And it can be extremely satisfying when you get it right.
For example, let’s say you have a character who has a wide variety of skills, but you only want her to focus on one task – Research. You can bump her research priority to 2, keeping it one point below more urgent tasks like “bed rest” and “fire fighting”. Then you can set the rest of her skills, to a lower priority, which will ensure that she will only do those things if there are no active research projects available. She will still take self-directed breaks to eat, sleep and socialize, but otherwise she will carry out the orders you’ve assigned to her. Rimworld is sort of a “set it up and watch it go” kind of game, one that you can pause and re-direct at any time. Again, there is that parallel to The Sims, and entirely in a good way.
All of this is laid out with a surprisingly intuitive interface. The aforementioned menus, accessible from the bottom of the screen, control every aspect of the simulation. Most of them are optional, unless you want to direct the finer details of your colony. If you want your colonists to have supper together at a specific time each day, you can set a meal time for everybody. If you want some of your colonists to work day shifts and others to work night shifts, you can arrange your colonists’ sleeping times accordingly. If you want to restrict the movements of your colony's tamed animals, you can assign them to specific areas of your base, which is useful if you’re trying to keep them safe or breed them.
Honestly, there’s so much to Rimworld that it’s hard to sum up in a single article. I was still discovering new things after I had sunk over 100 hours into it, and I didn’t even notice the time had passed so quickly. I literally never got bored once. Have I mentioned that this game was entirely coded by one guy? It totally is. That’s an impressive feat on its own, especially considering that Rimworld has always had an “overwhelmingly positive” review score on Steam. It also continues to have a healthy playerbase, despite lingering in Early Access for over five years. As I write this article, 13,000 people are currently playing it. It has never gone on sale once, and apparently it doesn’t need to. That speaks volumes to Rimworld’s success right there.
The only real criticism I have is with Rimworld’s graphics, which are “just okay”. The rudimentary sprites are not very sophisticated. In fact, colonists and animals just kinda slide around without much in the way of animations at all. It feels kinda cheesy at first, though the artwork does have a certain charm of its own. This is really the only thing that turned me off from Rimworld initially, but I was able to look past it once I got into the game. Rimworld might not be able to hide the fact that it’s an indie game, but it's still indie gaming at its finest.
Regardless, Rimworld is a masterpiece and you owe it to yourself to play it. Even the most casual, unengaged PC gamers owe it to themselves to play it. The game offers so much to such a wide audience that it’s unlikely to let you down. Even if it does, there is a massive library of mods available to tailor Rimworld into the game you want it to be. Honestly though, I haven’t felt the need to do this, and I’ve logged over 150 hours into it already. Don’t wait for a sale, there won’t be any. Just go and buy it full price – It’s worth it.
Community review by Nightfire (October 05, 2018)
Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access.
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