RimWorld is a game you can’t easily categorize, nor can you find many other games to compare it to. A quick look at its simplistic graphics, and it would be hard to fault you for brushing it off as a simplistic indie developer’s pet project. But you couldn’t be more wrong.
Underneath the visuals is a complex game of survival and storytelling. It manages to be both enthralling and stressful, but most importantly, it’s fun. Beware to those who dare enter the rim, for the rabbit hole is deep. Before you know it, you will be over 100 hours in and wondering how you ever will get back out again. The best part is, you won’t want to.
First, the graphics are simple, that much can’t be denied. Yet within its simplicity, the art style invokes its own kind of charm you will come to appreciate. Despite lacking any real animations, the game does a very good job of visually and audibly keeping you informed of what’s actually going on within the game world.
Like most simulation games, you can control the speed of the action by fast-forwarding, slowing down, or even pausing time. So, if you ever require more context you can simply pause and take a closer look.
A Story Of Your Own
RimWorld logs most actions in a variety of menus. Including what your colonists are saying to each other, what they think of their rooms and meals, and what happened during a battle. These details help you weave a personal story of your colonists by adding context to the events of your little survival simulation.
When you begin the game, you choose a scenario, a storyteller, where to start on a randomly generated planet, and your starting colonists. The scenarios ranges from a single rich colonist to a primitive tribe of your own little spear throwing, berry gathering cave people.
The next step is the storyteller. This is essentially a type of AI that’s going to look at your situation and figure out what kind of events and drama it should throw at you. You also choose a difficulty setting to go alongside the storyteller. After that, you pick a spot on a planet with a variety of biomes, then choose from a list of randomly generated colonists, and you are ready to dive in.
Your colonists aren’t heroes. They are generally normal people thrust together on a hostile planet, people that need to work together and survive. They have their own traits and skills, and they interact with each other organically.
You might have a doctor skilled in medicine that refuses to pick up a weapon. Another might be a spoiled pop star who can charm visitors and recruit captives but won’t cook or clean. You might have a pyromaniac soldier who is your best defense against raiders but occasionally sets his bedroom on fire.
If you survive long enough, you have a couple of ways to actually win the game and escape the planet. But in RimWorld the journey is what matters, not the destination. You might fail a hundred times with your base in smoking ruins.
Maybe a raid was too big, your colonists died of the plague, or a fire got out of control. But what lead to each failure was a memorable story of twists, turns, and events. And your next try will be different, new colonists, a new home, and a new story to tell. The replay value in this game is truly staggering.
When it comes to actually managing your colony, you do so indirectly. Your pawns are somewhat autonomous and do things based on their needs and what sort of priorities you set for them. You have to keep them warm in the winter, cool in the summer, fed, sheltered, and entertained all while slowly preparing for whatever the storyteller is going throw at you.
This could be anything from a pirate raid, a cold snap, a giant insect infestation, a rabid hoard of bunny rabbits, or a blight on your crops. Any of which can throw your plans spiraling out of control.
Meanwhile, your pawns each have mental states and can break down if they are too stressed out. If pushed too far a colonist may simply become sad and wander aimlessly. Worse yet, they may start attacking others…or…dig up a corpse and leave it on the kitchen table…for…reasons…
This can cause a domino effect of mental breaks. George walks in and sees his recently deceased wife’s body on the table. Now George snapped and killed the family dog. The dog was bonded to Amy, who then snapped and set the storage room on fire. Which had the medicine the doctor was using to help Walker the plague victim…and so on.
Rimworld can get pretty dark at times. Not all stories have a happy ending, and your own may be lighter or darker depending on what you have your little colonists do to survive. It’s for you to decide how far your colonists are willing to go. Do they patch up captives and set them free? Or turn them into hats to sell. (No, I’m not joking).
Do you risk starvation over the long winter, eat the family pets, or worse…another colonist or captive? Can you take care and feed a colonist who lost his or her legs to a predator, or do you put them in the ground to save resources?
You could min-max your decisions from a purely game perspective. Cannibalism and cruelty have penalties on your colonist’s moods. (Unless they are a cannibal or psychopath, yes, those are possible traits).
You could work the system around it with a lack of ethics. However, It’s better to think of your colonists as people. How they would feel or what they would be willing to do and make a story from that. Rather than what the statistically optimal path would be.
When you play that way, you leave with an experience not found in nearly any other game. That’s something I cannot praise RimWorld enough about. It’s a game that can make you care about virtual little people, that aren’t voiced by a talented actor to invoke the emotions they want from you, that don’t have facial features you can relate to. But you care about them anyway. You care because they are yours, and it’s your story.
The game’s interface can be wonky and unintuitive. You control a great deal of your colony’s day-to-day operations via menus, and it can be frustrating at times to get the results you want. Your doctor may well be ignoring a patient that’s bleeding out to sweep the floor instead because you got one number wrong in that colonist’s specific priority list.
A colonist might have a mental break because they didn’t eat at a table when you clearly have one, but the colonist was too far away when they got hungry. You might have one that’s getting a mood debuff because their clothing is tattered and you have to navigate up to three interfaces to get it sorted out.
The fact that any little issue can quickly spiral out of control can make it frustrating trying to figure it all out and clicking through five ugly menus in the process. A good story example is the following.
The last straw for Jordan was his pants becoming ripped up on this forsaken planet. The colony had a shortage of materials, and it was either wear them or go naked. Jordan couldn’t handle it anymore and decided if he was to be naked as a beast, he would roam with them, and thus Jordan left civilized life behind to run with the wolves. (Yes, I dramatized it, but that exact thing can happen in the game).
A bad story is Jordan set the garden on fire because Gideon couldn’t navigate the right menu at the right time to change Jordan’s freaking pants. The stakes are high in RimWorld, and the game has no problem kicking you when you are down. It can be brutal and unforgiving, so when things unrelated to the actual gameplay stand in your way, it can sour it a bit.
It’s annoying, but it’s an ugly wart on an otherwise pristine face. This review hardly scratched the surface of what RimWorld is, and honestly, after over three hundred hours in the game, I still learn new things.
RimWorld is not just one of the best Indie games you can play right now, it’s one of the best games in the industry, and that is not something I say often. If you are a PC gamer you owe it to yourself to give it a look. And if the game ever starts to get boring, the modding community is HUGE.
It’s entirely worthwhile to learn and navigate the game’s clunky interface to access the garden of Eden underneath. RimWorld is an experience that is rarely replicated in gaming and one worth every penny that it asks.
You might consider checking out my early access review of Meeple Station, a game inspired by RimWorld.
- Simple but charming art style
- Complex and fun survival colony sim mechanics
- High replay value
- Gigantic modding community. (Seriously)
- Frustrating and unintuitive interface
- It will eat all of your time, ALL OF IT.