Game Review: Rimworld
A Story Generator driven by "Intelligent AI"?
Rimworld is an indie title developed by Ludeon Studios, founded by the game's designer Tynan Sylvester. The game made its debut on Kickstarter under the working title of “Eclipse Colony” in late 2013. It had sat in a state of early access for five years, until finally in October of 2018 Rimworld was considered feature-complete and released its 1.0 update.
What is Rimworld?
The game has two main pillars to its design and gameplay, the main being that of a colony simulation, management and survival game which encapsulates the traditional start, where you control 3 survivors of a crashed ship, with limited supplies and equipment. You build up a base and grow your colony with the aim to escape the planet you crashed on.
The second being that of a “Story Generator” which is achieved through the AI Storyteller which you select when creating your game. These storytellers generate events for the player to manage and overcome, which can vary between raids from rival factions to outbreaks of infections or disease as well as environmental changes such as a sudden drought or harsh winter.
These conditions make for dynamic gameplay in which new players are constantly learning of new events and having to improvise solutions or suffer casualties at the hands of the storytellers. Unfortunately, for experienced players these events can become quite predictable and routine; which is where the games mod support becomes vital, allowing for additional combinations and difficulty, providing a wider range of replayability than what would be possible otherwise.
The core gameplay of managing colonists and in particular combat is quite basic, in a good way when it comes to the day to day activities and work in your colony, but to the game's detriment when it comes to combat. Ludeon studios seem to oversell their combat AI, stating: “The AI plans and executes tactical moves like flanking while trying to stay out of the enemy's line of fire. It uses a number of heuristic algorithms to analyze the battlefield and use the space effectively. It works with allies and avoids bunching up.”. It falls far short of this description, with this element of the AI only being used after an initial, basic pathfinding process, which is open to abuse as a gameplay mechanic, utilising something like a kill-box to trap and funnel enemies who do not intelligently avoid such traps.
The events, which in some cases can be ridiculous; such as being attacked by fifty manhunting arctic foxes can also be quite brutal in their consequences. Colonists can lose limbs and organs as a result of certain attacks, meanwhile, the player also has the ability to manually take away these body parts through medical operations. For example, a common strategy is to take away prisoners’ legs, in which case it becomes impossible for them to escape.
Audio & Graphics
The variance between the brutal and yet sometimes bizarre events make the art style for the game fit rather well. These events, injuries and procedures can be portrayed in a relatively simple manner, in which it is clear what is happening, although it is not so graphic as to have too much impact on the player’s enjoyment of the game.
The sound design also contributes to this. There are some grunts and cries of pain but beyond this, you don’t have colonists begging for their lives or screaming obscenities at you, in which case you are able to disconnect from what is happening and focus on managing your colony the best you can.
The Big Issue
A big issue with Rimworld; as well as other titles in the PC gaming industry, is the design and structure of its DLC. The game has two DLCs, Royalty and Ideology. Royalty focuses on expanding combat in the form of psionic abilities (called “psycasts”), quests and a new ending to the game. Ideology adds features that have more of a direct impact on your colony, both for storytelling and for colony management as it adds (as the name would suggest) ideologies for your colonists to follow, impacting their desires, likes and dislikes as well as how they interact with characters from other ideologies.
When DLC first started to be commonplace in the industry it was usually in the form of additional content; maps, weapons and aesthetic elements such as skins which players could easily go without obtaining if they didn’t see this as worth it. However, recently there has been a trend, mainly in the PC gaming space, of adding functionality to the game through DLCs. Functionality which appears to be important and game-enhancing functionality is locked behind a paywall, one that is quite high for anyone who doesn’t already know they enjoy the game, meanwhile the base game is lesser due to the lack of this content.
Examples demonstrating a good approach to this would be games like Terraria or No Mans Sky, where additional functionality patches have been released long after their initial launch, bringing them more in line with the original vision or expanding upon mechanics in greater detail. Each of these patches essentially acts as a re-release for these titles and bring old and new players into the game, generating renewed interest each time. When you consider the fact that ReLogic, the developers behind Terraria have made this a commercially viable strategy with a game sold at just £7 with no DLC, this goes some way to ruling out free functionality updates are not commercially viable.
This becomes an even greater problem for Ludeon Studios, whose game’s key distinguishing feature from other similar titles, is its “intelligent ai storytellers” which are essentially nothing more than random number generators with modifiers thrown in to compensate for colony strength and the impact of previous events.
Disregarding some of the bold claims made in the game's marketing I think that the game sits amongst some of the best in the genre with the functionality from the DLC included, I would be quite comfortable to give it a 7/10 for its interesting mechanics and potential when combined with easily accessible, user-created content. The issue is, the functionality of the DLCs isn’t included and combined with the base price becomes too much for me to recommend. If this game goes on sale, jump on it and enjoy, otherwise I would pass on this one.