So, what’s it like? Rimworld, 248 hours in.
Once upon a time, there was a game called Sims 2. A family of sims lived on a lot which they could improve, and they could also develop life skills to become more proficient. Naturally the player over time became invested in the fortunes of the sims. One memory stands out. I’d been playing for a while and one of my sims, tired after a long shift at work, tried to fix the drinks cabinet. She took an electric shock and died at once. No appeal, no do-over; the sim was gone. Her companion never got over the loss and died shortly afterwards of a broken heart. Yes, mass-market gaming really was that harsh in the old days of 2004.
Rimworld is basically the same thing – mood and random events – only more so. The sims (‘pawns’) start with a few minimal skills and not much else. The game has a Western vibe so the standard lot is a frontier cabin, which the pawns have to construct themselves, in the middle of nowhere. At this stage, the game is about base-building and farming, with a bit of mining, and trading with passing ‘caravans’ thrown in. There are many opportunities for things to go wrong, generally with dire results. This part of the game is driven by ‘storytellers’- selectable in-game to produce a variety of flavours to the events.
If and when the pawns become established, their new-found prosperity attracts ever-escalating attacks from an unending series of raiders. The frontier cabin evolves into a fortress with layers of defence. Combat can be moderately sophisticated, but it’s generally safer to dig in behind walls and blow the assailants apart at a distance with mortar fire.
The game also has a science tree. One way it can end is by the pawns developing the technology to build a space-ship and fly off, presumably to repeat the same process somewhere else.
A vast number of mods are available for Rimworld; over time, many of their features have been incorporated in the core game itself. The game is designed to accomodate mods and interfaces very smoothly with them.
Another game I played extensively recently was XCOM2 with the Long War mod. The common theme with Rimworld, and for that matter, the Sims series, is investment in the fate of the various pawns. In my first game, Sammy the octogenarian with a coronary condition, survived repeated heart attacks to become a powerhouse in medicine, shooting and crafting and eventually led her entire colony into space. In the second, played at a higher difficulty, Mason the trained triceratops defended his keeper valiantly against numerous attacks but finally succumbed to a nasal infection, to universal mourning, while Parker the pyromaniac barkeep shacked up with the colony’s leader the Baron for a while but dumped him and finally had to be executed for her sins. Crystal Silver, the Baron’s daughter, and Longshank the family retainer, got hitched early on and formed the nucleus of a successful colony, despite Longshank’s occasional infidelities with Nicole, the runaway dancer. At that level, I think Rimworld is a real success.
At the management level, I have a few reservations. The farming/crafting etc. options are quite thin and the trading side is very basic. These issues can of course be addressed by mods, but they could do with some fleshing-out in the base game. The pawns have contact with the other factions; why order ‘a caravan’ when with a single sentence they could add ‘What we really need is 4000 steel and 250 components…’
At the tactical level, I have a few more reservations. There isn’t the trap-setting complexity of a Dungeon Keeper or Evil Genius, and the reckless savagery of the attacking hordes more or less negates positional placement – a doped-up raider with twenty gunshot wounds and missing a leg can, apparently, still dash forward and toss a grenade into the player’s defences, wiping out half his pawns. In essence, the player is fighting the inadequacies of the combat system, rather than the system itself. If the game in its later stages is to be ‘about’ fending off these attacks – as seems to be the case – then these shortcomings need to be addressed by a research tree that offers more military advances than a basic mortar and an improvised turret. Again, there are mods that offer additional options; again, the base game ought to offer more in this area.
Overall assessment: Great game, could easily be greater still.