A wealthy colony simulation that falls short of the stars.
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Review game RimWorld, A wealthy colony simulation that falls short of the stars.
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The best games are masters of deception; they trick you into thinking that a series of instructions and computer-generated scenes are actual worlds or epic tales. Even a game with an abstract presentation and an overt focus on values and numbers needs to persuade you that what you’re witnessing is a living, breathing ecosystem. Though it occasionally succeeds, RimWorld’s attempt to produce intricate drama through its systems never quite materialises.
In the game RimWorld, players take on the task of founding a colony on a distant planet at some point in the far future. There’s a strong Western feel to the scene, giving it a Firefly-like feel. Rather than directly controlling the AI, management and strategy are handled more deferentially in this life simulator, a subgenre of video games. Although its presentation and style are similar to those of games like Prison Architect, RimWorld falls somewhere between The Sims and Dungeon Keeper. It’s a story generator that offers to co-write players a variety of fantastical stories.
The goal here is to create drama, not to build the ideal colony. This implies that things will go wrong, the unexpected will happen, and your characters will have nuanced motivations. They are given needs and drives, which are meant to make them more nuanced and complex but which are frequently utterly useless to the mission. If your goal is to create an ideal small colony, you’ll probably end up disappointed. You’ll enjoy the game much more if you can accept its tendency towards catastrophe.
Your colonists are the game’s primary motivation. When starting a scenario, you must choose your team (or yourself, if you want to take on a more difficult task), and they will be created with a wide range of characteristics. Some skills, like teaching or hunting, are useful, while others are just there to add personality, flaws, and all. Old wounds, a traumatic upbringing, and negative attitudes are some telltale signs that your colonists are not exactly model worker bees.
The concepts that these characters present hold a great deal of promise. In my first game, I had a colonist who was actually only 24 years old due to the strange complexities of space travel, despite being 114 years old chronologically. The son she had abandoned was getting close to reaching his fifties. Her granddaughter, his daughter, was now thirty-one. RimWorld markets itself as a place to find stories, and these peculiar connections are just what spark the creative juices.
However, this method of character development has certain oddities. Players assign three traits to each character, such as misogyny, indolence, or obsession. “Gay” is one of the modifiers, but “straight” isn’t; that’s just the default, which is archaic and painfully heteronormative for a game set in the far future. However, other aspects of queerness are addressed in equally simplistic ways. For example, a character’s past mentions that they are transgender and cites their experience of “dressing up in their mother’s clothes as a child” as evidence. All of which leave the palate slightly bitter. Certain traits seem strange when paired together. “Hardworking” next to “psychopath” and “misogynistic” next to “ugly” Although these items differ, the character generator assigns them equal weight. [Editor’s note: Kickstarter backers helped create some of the backstories of RimWorld.]
Though the system presents you with vivid images of characters such as the ruthless, lazy, and vegetarian bounty hunter, ultimately, all of them interact in somewhat similar ways. They don’t communicate verbally, through text or otherwise, so the details of their identity are presented to you in a series of brief updates on a character sheet.” John and Bob discussed going hunting. ” It doesn’t really stir anything, and it doesn’t give your colonists any sense of agency or significance beyond being mindless workers.
RimWorld never lets you get too comfortable and thrives when it’s most unpredictable.
The way characters are handled in the game, as the sum of their parts, highlights a fundamental problem. It makes sense that a game this size would require a straightforward method to create its characters, and the end result is that although the AI acts in intriguing ways, the characters never feel quite like actual people. RimWorld’s unique sandbox offers fun as long as you can get past that and just enjoy the peculiar behaviour of these robotic colonists.
All you have to do once you’re on the ground is assign your colonists tasks. Instead of taking charge, you have to set up zones and blueprints and arrange tasks for them to finish. To be honest, the UI could use some work. After some time, it works well, but it’s not at all intuitive and has a lot of annoying contradictions, such as the inability to mass select some objects while not others. It is a hectic and seemingly pointless task to go through a whole field of potato plants and mark each one for harvest.
This is mostly the tedious part. The real fun begins when you have a functioning colony under control and can observe how your colonists handle a variety of situations, form bonds with one another, and eventually fall out. Before you account for all the outside influences, rivalries can arise and internal strife may occur. Outside influences, such as a hunter sent by an unknown faction to my colony who seemed to be there only to kill my dog (which we of course shot at first sight), The weirder the events get, the longer you survive. Mythical beasts and mind-controlling drones all appear to take your little colony in completely new directions. RimWorld never lets you get too comfortable and thrives when it’s most unpredictable.
An AI storyteller, akin to the director in Left 4 Dead, is in charge of handling all this potential chaos, though. It examines your game and creates appropriate events based on how things are going. You can customise the game to your desired story type by selecting from three storytellers with differing degrees of difficulty. This can be anything from an entirely relaxed experience with very few dangerous incidents to an endless loop of terror. Naturally, you’ll want to start on the milder end of the spectrum, but with all the busy work in RimWorld, you’ll soon want a scenario where things happen much more quickly.
You will spend most of your time in the game waiting for your colonists to construct or explore, especially in the early hours. To get through the monotony of each day, you’ll be putting the game on fast forward as much as you can. The longer a colony survives, the more complex and varied things get, but even so, a lot of waiting around happens. You can’t help but start to see the machine’s cogs and gears in that dullness. Although thought-provoking events occur, the characters’ lack of depth prevents me from being convinced by the stories as they unfold. I’m watching the mayhem in a petri dish, not a drama. RimWorld doesn’t fully live up to its promise, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments or fun while attempting to tell interesting stories.