RimWorld: Wild west meets the final frontier

As of October 17th, after spending five and a half years in development, RimWorld version 1.0 is finally live. RimWorld is one of the rare cases of Early Access being utilized to its full potential. Unlike many Early Access games that take your money and grind to a mediocre, half-baked halt, Tynan, the game’s developer, really listened and worked with the community to improve the game throughout it’s beta. Rimworld is a true diamond in the rough.

It’s hailed as “sci-fi colony sim driven by an intelligent AI storyteller… [who] generates stories by simulating psychology, ecology, gunplay, melee combat, climate, biomes, diplomacy, interpersonal relationships, art, medicine, trade, and more.” Whew. Basically you take a group of colonists and try to survive on an alien planet by constructing and defending a home base. The game’s AI throws different challenges at you like pirate raids, natural disasters, rabid wild animals, toxic fallout, and roving mechanoid gangs to name just a few.

The game has several different starting scenarios, all of which involve picking through randomly generated characters to start off your colony. Each colonist has a background story that fleshes out their skills and passions in addition up to three personality traits that affect how they interact with their environment. Don’t be fooled by the simplistic 2D graphics, this game has a lot of depth. You will certainly form attachments to a few of your favorite pawns. I cannot count how many times I’ve reloaded a game because my favorite colonist died. I find the random characters help balance the game, as you learn to play with their weaknesses. Instead of creating perfectly crafted super-colonists you really learn to make your characters work as a team. Although you can keep rerolling traits and skills until you get an approximation of your ideal colonist, I find it far more fun to play with slightly flawed individuals as it forces you to play differently.  

RW_gourmand_cannibal
For some reason none of the other colonists wanted Brie to cook for them…

Besides fending off your hostile neighbors and various calamities, you spend most of your time trying to keep your colonists alive and sane. Colonists get certain mood boosts and debuffs from nearly everything in the game. Being nuzzled by an animal, sleeping in a comfortable bed, witnessing a rivals death are some examples of mood enhancers. Having an awful bedroom, encountering romantic rejection, or eating without a table (a debuff that has become an iconic meme within the community) can send your colonists into a downwards spiral. If conditions become too bad, colonists become uncontrollable. Tantrums, drug binges, and even fits of murderous rage can all plague your colony if things get too desolate. The mood system provides lot of motivation to establish something beyond basic shelter. Navigating survival and happiness is the funnest part of early game – when things are especially rough and berserk rages are most likely to happen.

RW_beserk_rage
Fair enough, Isaac… fair enough.

The Good

One of RimWorld’s best qualities is you can literally play the game any way you like. You can create a hipster utopia selling craft beer and alpaca wool sweaters or play as a cannibalistic, organ harvesting slaver colony. Maybe you’re a team of zoologists looking to start a trade in exotic animals. Or a lone explorer trying to hack it on your own on an alien planet. The game lets you pick from three different AI “storytellers” (nice and easy, progressively harder, or completely random) and you can further customize gameplay by choosing a difficulty level (ranging from Peaceful to Savage). It’s completely possible to play it as an zen sci-fi Harvest Moon farming sim if that’s what you’re into. This kind of versatility not only makes it appealing to a broad audience but every game you play can be entirely different… which means the replay value is insane.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is the ridiculous randomness of events and interactions. Having a gang of murderous Yorkshire terriers run amok of your base is equal parts frustrating and hilarious. Watching your colonist snap and go on a food binge because they spent the last 19 hours in a cold, dark room making leather pants does have some underlying comedic qualities. I mean… who hasn’t been there? The sheer volume of random events kept me surprised for months into playing. It is quite easy to become invested in your colony and its development. I am guilty of rage quitting after a few devastating events, but there is always an underlying sense of amusement.

RW_insects_vs_robots
A few events coincided to give us this beautiful insect versus mechanoid battle royale… all while toxic fallout rains down from the sky.

The Bad

Like with many sandbox games, RimWorld is best suited for creative types who enjoy setting and accomplishing their own goals. There is a quest to escape the planet by building your own spaceship by collecting and building various components that does provide an overall end goal, which can be completely ignored if you so choose. Since many user goals revolve around establishing a stable colony – once this is accomplished, the gameplay can be a little lacking. After all one can only amass so many megascreen televisions and engineer so many bionic super soldiers before getting a little bored, right?

Although the game is incredibly customizable this does create a steeper learning curve. And even after learning the ropes it’s very easy to get bogged down in technical details. Between customizing different orders, setting up stockpiles just so, and creating policies and restrictions for your colonists and animals there’s a lot of micro managing that can feel like a bit of a chore. Too much depth and customization is a double edged sword, usually good but potentially overwhelming.

Improvements & Additions

I would love to see a family building mechanic added. Right now colonists can fall in love and get married but a little baby in a bassinet isn’t in the cards for any of your space-faring adventurers. I think running a nursery on an alien planet would be a fun challenge. Baby’s would be a resource drain for the first years of their life but could eventually help out with more menial tasks such as cleaning and hauling before becoming a fully functioning member of your (small) society. The payoff could be choosing or influencing your child’s passions and a permanent mood boost for starting a family.

I have a feeling this hasn’t officially been implemented yet as there are a lot of dark elements (organ harvesting, torture, enslavement) that would make for a very morally disastrous game if children were involved. Not to mention how would unwanted pregnancies or miscarriages (which are already in the game for animals) be handled? After all is said and done it sounds like a can of worms best left undisturbed.

However, I did like one forum user’s solution of having colonists grown in vats. This would bypass the ethical dilemmas posed and still provide an interesting resource sink/reward element… a mechanic that would be especially welcome to help spice up the sparseness of RimWorld’s late game.  

(Of course, if you absolutely can’t live without your colonists procreating you can bet there’s already multiple mods out there making it possible.)

TL;DR

RimWorld is well-balanced game with a surprising amount of depth and absurdity. It remains one of my all time favorite games that is definitely worth a try… just try not to be too frustrated when your colony is wiped out by a roving pack of rabid cats.

If you enjoy…
Firefly, Dwarf Fortress, Prison Architect, Lost in Space, Isaac Asimov, Terraria, Minecraft
…try RimWorld.

Steam Page • Ludeon Studios • Tynan’s Twitter

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