Developed by a small Montreal-based studio team, Ludeon studios, RimWorld is a detailed colony management/survival sim set in a Sci-Fi universe. You start stranded on a far away planet that holds many dangers. Your goal is to build a life and become self sufficient. If you can keep your colony safe from raiding pirates, alien marauders and their own insanity, you might one day find a way to get home.
Early Access, but Not as We Know It Jim
RimWorld joined Steam’s Early Access on July 16th 2016, but has had playable Alpha builds available since early 2014. It is, in our opinion, one of the shining examples of how Early Access can work successfully. The developers obviously have a passion for their product and gaming in general, which is reflected in their willingness to listen to the community. The team have already involved the modding community, even adding variants of their ideas into the main game. The attention to detail that has gone into RimWorld can only be described as a labour of love.
What’s the Story?
The premise of RimWorld is pretty simple. You begin stranded on an alien planet and need to survive long enough to locate a spaceship in order to escape. You know the deal, you start off with next to nothing, and must harvest food and gather raw resources in order to build your base and become self sufficient.
What makes RimWorld a little different to the average survival game, are the 3 unique Storytelling A.I.’s you select before starting a new colony. Their role is to create ‘random’ events as you play. Some will benefit the colony, such as visiting traders or perhaps cargo pods with medicine or valuable resources, while others will challenge the survival of you people. They come in a myriad of challenges such as pirate raids, alien infections, crop blight, crazed animals, radiation fallout, lightning storms….. The list goes on. Depending on which A.I. you choose, the frequency and severity of these events will change and often more than one will happen at once. This makes every colony play-through feel unique whilst giving you almost unlimited re-play potential.
And re-visit it you will, because unlike so many games in the survival genre, RimWorld keeps you engaged and challenged way beyond the point of becoming self sufficient. Just when you think you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour – blam! A solar flare hits, knocking out your auto turrets, swiftly followed by a man hunting pack of boomalopes (yes, exploding antelopes). In minutes your impenetrable fortress is in ruins with all your colonists dead or dying; but defeat is bittersweet because with each failure comes the opportunity to start afresh and do something a little differently.
Deep, Complex and Beautifully Intricate
At the start of each new colony you get the option to either select from three standard or custom scenarios you’ve created for yourself or downloaded from the Steam Workshop. The base selection lets you choose from the ‘classic’ RimWorld experience where you start with three spaceship crash survivors, or as a lone rich explorer out to experience the universe. The final option is to have five tribe members who need to rebuild everything from scratch. Each scenario starts you with some basic resources that fit with the story.
Then you choose your A.I. storyteller and the difficulty level:
Cassandra Classic: Story events happen at a steady rate with an increasing difficulty curve.
Phoebe Chillax: Events are more spaced out but will still be very challenging if playing at a high difficulty level.
Randy Random: Yup you guessed it, frequency and difficulty fluctuate and have the potential to make or break your colony each time.
There are six difficulty levels ranging from Peaceful to Extreme. When combined with a Storytelling A.I., these allow you to create anything from an almost sandbox style of play, to a frantic, stress inducing ‘rogue-like’. You can also play any of the scenarios with the ‘permadeath’ mode on or off. You are given one save file that you can only update upon exiting; there is no revisiting old saves when you make a mistake. This is, in our opinion, the best and most dramatic way to play RimWorld.
Next, you generate the seed for your planet. Select how large an area you want to play on, and whether the planet will have lower than average, average or higher than average rainfall and temperatures. Once generated you need to select where to call home, or go with a random site for a more authentic crash survival feel. There are the usual Biomes with Temperate forest, Tundra, Desert etc. Each with differing topography from flat lands to mountains, with minimum temperatures during winter and maximum temperatures in summer. As you move around the planet you need to take note of the growth periods as well. Pick a barren tundra and you may find you have hardly any time to grow your crops each year.
Will Your Characters Survive?
Finally, before you get started you must pick which characters to take with you to start your colony. The number to choose from differs depending on your scenario. Each character has a Backstory, Traits, Health, Skills and also possible relations to other characters, which means each ‘person’ in your colony really feels like they have a personality.
The skills are simple enough: Shooting, Melee, Social, Animal taming, Medicine, Cooking, Construction, Growing, Mining, Artistic ability, Crafting and Research. All of which affect the ability or speed at which a colonist will do something in the game. A character may start from either 0-20 skill points in each area, but will improve through repetition in the game the longer a colony survives. If a character has a slight or burning passion for a particular skill they will learn either a little or a lot quicker than normal.
Health is self explanatory but also blissfully detailed. A character can start off with, or collect, a plethora of medical problems such as a bruised arm, asthma, brain damage, cataracts, viruses, missing limbs and many more.
Then there’s the backstory and traits. Whether they are a space fanboy who boosts their crafting and research skills, or a child spy, great at shooting but not so hot at research, there is so much variance. Then in adulthood they may become a deep space miner, gardener, or pyromaniac. Depending on their backstory, they may be unable to complete certain tasks. For example an intellectual may be unable to perform manual labour like hauling resources or a miner might not be smart enough to do research.
Each character also has traits, which is essentially the personality of the individual. This can have many effects, maybe someone is particularly abrasive, or a night owl and is happier at night. They might have an addictive personality, or feel the need to have the most opulent room in the camp.
Finally, a character may have an existing relationship with someone else in your starting team, a sister or lover or husband for example which can benefit the colony. They may also have a negative relationship as well which is not so helpful. As you build your colony, yet unknown relationships may cause interesting situations to occur, maybe someone’s husband will ask to be rescued from pursuing pirates that you will need to fend off, of course you want to help but you don’t know how tough the chasing pirates will be. Choosing to save one person might put the rest of the colony at risk.
Each character has a base ‘mental break’ threshold meaning if their mood gets too low. They will suffer either a minor breakdown, which could result in them wandering around in a daze for a while, or a major break where they go berserk and start a fight with other colonists. Not great if its a hunter with an assault rifle! These fluctuating personalities is what makes each colony so challenging.
Not only do you need to create a base that meets the basic food, temperature and defensive needs, but you also need to consider the ever-changing moods of your colonists. Have someone mine too much in a dark ugly environment and they’ll be unhappy, or force them to sleep in a room that’s too small and not well-decorated may make them grumpy. Some things you can’t influence, such as if one colonist gets rebuffed by another, or perhaps a psychic drone event happens which reduces everyone’s mood.
Beauty is More Than Skin Deep
As you may be aware by now, this is not an ultra-realistic 3D FPS survival game, and some might feel that the graphics aren’t exactly pushing the envelope. But the graphical style does a fantastic job of creating a world that you can get lost in as well as giving you clarity as to what is happening at all times. If you’ve played Prison Architect you have a fair idea of what the game looks like and how the controls for construction, etc work. For a game this complex and deep, the U.I. does a fantastic job of giving you the feeling of having control at all times.
Put all of this together, the complex personalities of your colonists and how they interact with each other, the ever changing environment, the storytelling AI with their challenging events and every base starts to feel like a home, with characters like family members. A death means something, as does every victory, and it’s these that create such compelling stories. Even a crushing defeat is bittersweet as the sense of loss is real, but so is the hope of starting a new story, one to tell your friends about. Just check out the RimWorld subreddit and you’ll see what I mean.