Y’know, it feels strange titling this look at Ludeon Studios’ Rimworld as a preview rather than as a full review. It is technically accurate; the game is currently still in beta, with a full release slated for some approximate time in the near future. Despite this, though, the game already contains more content than most full releases the triple-A games industry spews out at us each year. It also has an enormous following and very dedicated fanbase, some of whom’s mods completely improve or change the base experience. If the game was at its full release now, I would still call it one of the best sim games I have ever played.
So what the Hell is this Rimworld thing I keep going on about? Rimworld describes itself as a ‘sci-fi colony sim driven by an intelligent AI storyteller’, which is an accurate, if reductionist, summary. It is set in the far future of 5500 in which mankind has spread out across the stars, but unlike most sci-fi settings, there is no faster-than-light travel. People travel between worlds in cryo-sleep pods but since it often takes many centuries to make the journey, each planet runs itself entirely independently from the rest of humanity.
This leads to a great variety of human societies: there are Glitterworlds, virtual technological utopias, Urbworlds, huge industrial planets with enormous wealth inequality, other worlds that have regressed into the medieval era, and, of course, Rimworlds. A Rimworld is a planet where prior attempts at colonization have failed, leading to the old colonies regressing to a tribal way of life, and it is on these backward planets that the game takes place.
The default scenario of Rimworld involves three colonists crash-landing on one of the titular planets after the ship carrying their cryo-sleep pods underwent some unknown disaster. Having crash-landed, they have to try to make a home in this hostile world and it is up to you to make sure that happens.
The gameplay of Rimworld is very much inspired by Dwarf Fortress, in that you control a group of people with different skills and try to keep them alive from all the horrors that surround them. Like Dwarf Fortress, there is an enormous amount of attention to detail. Each colonist has a specific personality: some are neurotic, some depressive, some optimistic, some have issues with drug or alcohol use, others are psychopaths, some gay, some are straight. They all also have different backstories that affect their skills or which tasks they can perform. You have to manage these people, making sure they keep fed and happy, otherwise they will end up murdering each other.
Keeping them happy is easier said than done, as their needs are affected by a huge number of criteria: are they hungry? Is their bedroom ugly? Have they been turned down for sex? Has their wife been eaten by a bear? Are they suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms? Have they just vomited on their favorite table? Sometimes it all gets frustrating trying to manage it all, but it is this constant balancing act that makes the experience so rich and rewarding. Alternatively, just make sure they smoke enough space weed and their problems melt away faster than their brain usually does.
In order to make life even more difficult for your colonists, the game throws lots of different events your way. Some of these are positive, such as other survivors crashlanding on the planet or a trading caravan heading your way, while others can be very dangerous for your crew. This ranges from heatwaves, which can lead to colonists dying from heat-stroke, raids by nearby pirates or even full-blown attacks from mechanoid invaders.
You have to make sure your colonists are equipped to deal with these threats ahead of time by building defenses and weaponry. Exactly how much of a nuisance these threats will be is determined by two factors: the set difficulty and the AI storyteller. Difficulty is pretty self-explanatory: the difficulty you set will determine just how good or bad the events will be, eg. on lower difficulties you might see three raiders arrive, whereas on higher settings you might see twenty.
The AI storyteller is more interesting, however. In broad terms, they determine the regularity of the different crises, but they have a profound effect on how each game feels. There are three different storytellers: Phoebe Chillax, who makes your game slower paced and spreads bad events out across time, Cassandra Classic, who strives to make a structured story where the threats get more difficult over time, and Randy Random, who gives no shits about your narrative and just throws things at you as he feels.
Personally, I enjoy Randy the most since it is a delightfully insane experience: Just defeated a siege that has left half your colonists missing limbs and covered in disfiguring burns? Have some man-eating lions to brighten up your day.
The graphics for Rimworld are basic but effective at what they do. As you can see from the screenshots, the characters resemble small limbless stick-figures (or ‘pawns’, as the community refers to them), so don’t come to the game expecting flashy triple-A graphics. Still, they are visually appealing, and for anyone coming from Dwarf Fortress they are a massive improvement.
Ultimately, what makes Rimworld such a great experience is in the way it actually makes you feel something for your colonists. They all have different personalities that drive their interactions with one another. Some will hate each other and get into fights at any opportunity, while others will fall in love and get married. You begin to actually care for the people, even with their faults. I remember shaking my head like an amused parent when I caught one of my colonists going on yet another alcohol binge and vomiting all over the dining room carpet.
This means that when everything goes wrong, it feels meaningful to you. I remember the collapse of my first colony: We had built us a nice few huts beside a big mountain and our little farm was progressing well. It was not for a few months that I realized that the caves under the mountain were already occupied by giant spiders. By sunset the next day, my colonists were all dead bar one, who kept dragging himself along the floor, in between passing out from the copious amount of spider-venom in his bloodstream. He died, just out of reach from medicine, next to his lovers’ corpse. It was a pretty harrowing experience, watching my happy little colony turn into a gruesome horror film, but it shows the effectiveness Rimworld has in getting you invested in its narratives.
Something else I should mention is the great modding community the game has. There are mods that make improvements to nearly every aspect of the game, and with the Steam Workshop, they are incredibly easy to download. There are mods that add more clothes, more guns, create a more complex psychology for your colonists, allow you to create better cybernetic limbs and even a mod that adds dinosaurs and allows you to create your own Jurassic Park attraction.
So far, I have had little trouble supporting mods together on my game, and have even seen people posting on fan-sites about having more than a thousand mods running simultaneously. Once you have played for a few hours, I recommend checking some of the wide range of mods out, they can really add to the base experience in a fluid way.
In conclusion, I would recommend Rimworld to anyone that enjoys the base-building sim genre. It is complex, satisfying and has an enormous amount of replay value attached. So far, I have poured far too many hours into it and I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of what it has to offer.
Rimworld is available on PC and you can purchase it on Steam or on the official website here. As mentioned previously, the full release is scheduled to come out later this year.