RimWorld exists as one of those strange Steam Early Access titles that has been around for over five years but only officially released in the last couple of weeks. In an age where many Early Access games wind up in limbo forever or sitting abandoned, it's refreshing to see one emerge from development in a completed state. In a way, the condition of Early Access can be summarized neatly by RimWorld itself; full of failures, stagnation, and occasionally triumph.
Ludeon Studios has put together a game that can best be described as a cross between Prison Architect and the capricious elements that would throw wrenches into the perfectly made plans of a city designer in Sim City. Players are given a number of starting scenarios on a vast variety of randomized worlds. From there, their job is simple: Survive. Players must build shelter for their stranded people, secure food, invest in decorations, provide for entertainment, and also build up defenses. Neglecting any of these risks destruction from raiders, crazed animals, or internal mental breaks. Players can win their game by escaping the planet via spaceship, but reaching the point of building or finding a ship can be a laborious process.
The learning curve of RimWorld can be a bit steep when first starting out. Though a tutorial mode teaches the basics, nothing quite beats the experience of learning by doing. I went through several settlements while familiarizing myself with the nuts and bolts of the game before I managed to create a sustainable base. On one early attempt I thought I had discovered a successful blueprint for a long-term base, but in an instant it was swept away by a roaring sheet of flame from an errant lightning strike in the dead heat of summer. I could only watch as my colonists slowly succumbed to the heat from the flames they feebly attempted to control. In the end, only one colonist survived to attempt a new life in the ruins of the old base. He drifted toward death ever so slowly until a raiding party arrived and captured him, dragging him off screen to lord only knows what fate.
RimWorld's emergent narrative design leads to these stories of death, but it also creates fantastic tales of perseverance. Sometimes a freak storm can light fires all over the map, potentially surrounding your base with uncontrolled flames. Other times, your most skilled colonist could find themselves dying instantly to a cave-in or a poorly constructed roof might fall on top of your best shot leaving them blind. Pressing on despite the setbacks leads to a great story, a personal story, about winning against the odds.
Of course, it might not be a glorious tale of survival, but players have some degree of control over the pacing of the story when selecting the parameters of their game. Each game has a specific style of emergent storytelling depending on the AI director that players choose during colony creation. Players looking for a leisurely pace or even just a pure building game can certainly find that in RimWorld, while those seeking a story that keeps them on their toes can select the most capricious of AI narrative designers.
Each colonist has a story that builds as you make progress farther into the game itself. It's a story that begins with their short bio page. These pages give some information about where the colonist came from and what sorts of personality quirks, both good and bad, they possess.The next part is, as they say, written in blood. Each colonist can take damage to various internal organs and limbs. Rough encounters can sometimes leave a colonist without a lung or missing one or more limbs. Proceeding farther along the tech tree opens possibilities for prosthetic legs or bionic eyes, allowing grievously wounded colonists a chance to regain or even surpass their previous ability. By the end of my winning run, only one out of my twenty colonists lacked scars, only a handful more weren't missing at least one limb, and my most capable shot was basically Robocop with all but one limb replaced with robotic parts and two synthetic eyes.
Each day, colonists need to rest, eat, experience the outdoors, take in beautiful surroundings, and have fun. Without those things being in order, they will quickly fall into depressive funks and even experience mental breakdowns. These breakdowns can range from wandering sadly around the map to running around trying to set the base ablaze, or even attempting to murder a fellow colonist. If particularly hopeless, a colonist might just attempt to leave. Of course, players can capture them by placing them in jail alongside any captured raiders. Once confined, players can begin the recruitment process to bring a wayward colonist back into the fold.
All of this comes together to form a really interesting package. Managing the temperature indoors and providing power for various spaces like freezers to keep a stockpile of food handy can be a stumbling block early on, but RimWorld has a nice escalation of problems as it progresses. Eventually food becomes less of a problem, but generating enough power to sustain devices like high-tech labs or fabrication benches becomes a huge hurdle - especially when you need to make those parts to replace limbs, build weapons of war, or create a spaceship from scratch. From start to finish, RimWorld was designed to have the player hooked with one additional goal to work toward, regardless of circumstance.
It took me 124 hours of playing RimWorld to see the credits roll. I had a great time trying to figure out the most optimal builds for bases and clever defensive fortifications. It's not a particularly intense experience. In fact, I found it to be quite relaxing despite the insane amount of time I invested into it. That lends itself to this "one more turn" mentality, common in games like Civilization, taking hold. Hours seem to slip by as each objective slowly reaches completion. There are nitty-gritty details to nitpick about RimWorld, like how the AI sometimes doesn't seem to prioritize events or scenarios despite the finest of tuning on the colonists work priority lists. However, the only real request I had was more research options and a faster in-game speed. I played mostly on the fastest speed possible and making progress still felt slow.
Overall, RimWorld is great if you are the kind of person who can sit and imagine interesting bases or are looking for a game that forces you to make your own stories by putting you through trials and tribulations.
RimWorld is now available on PC.