Rimworld: A game of survival, hope, and human leather

Rimworld occupies a special place in my heart and my Steam library, being the only game to currently exceed 600 hours of gameplay, and I’ve spent many more hours dreaming up base designs, stories and efficient methods of kidney-harvesting. I came by it in a Reddit post and the game quickly consumed all my time and creative output as I built bases, fought raiders and bolted on mods to add more types of solar panels, bionic arms and methods to torture people.

It is a game fairly unique in its ability to bring out the psychotic worst in people. I introduced my sister to the game, and was soon inundated with tales such as “I harvested this guy’s lungs and heart, turned his skin into a sofa and sold them to a pirate merchant in exchange for drugs”. The same sister who dotes on three rabbits, has two dogs and tends to do non-psychotic things like buy milk from the corner shop and work a regular job without skinning people alive and selling their spleen on the black market.

A top-down “colony simulator”, Rimworld is often described as “Remember Dwarf Fortress? That game that you needed to spend days just learning the UI, and a degree in ‘What the goddamn hell is an asterisk and why is it tearing my dwarf’s limbs off’ to figure out the convoluted systems, but ultimately produced the most in-depth, crazy stories? Imagine that, but actually accessible.” *

A classic play through starts you off with three random survivors of a space shipwreck, who can be anything from assassins and lawyers, to fashion models and janitors with skill sets to boot. The soldier who knows how to break a neck in a dozen different ways will be pretty good at hunting for food, the engineer will probably be decent at slapping together some wood to make shelter, and the model will be excellent at being cannon fodder for the first raid that wanders along.

On top of this, each person is deeply simulated biologically, with stats for individual bones, organ and mental acuity; maybe Fred has a bad back and a collapsed lung which means he will be pretty slow at doing everything and gets cranky whenever anyone suggests he get an artificial lung because he hates bionics and also thinks Becky is a waste of oxygen because he’s a misogynistic ass hole, but everyone puts up with him because boy, he can cook a mean beef stew.
All these stats, buffs and afflictions make for interesting dynamics and emergent stories as your survivors attempt to adjust to life in this barren world whilst avoiding the ever present and mostly inevitable march of death.

Death is a concept you have to get used to and accept pretty quickly, because it takes shape in hundreds of ways and doesn’t understand the concept of mercy. A well-placed bullet from a raid can remove a limb or a head, a hungry bear can chew on an ill-equipped colonist’s torso, or a small cut from tripping over can turn into a crippling and lethal infection that robs your colonists of the sweet nectar of life. 
It is a constant struggle to juggle your colonists’ base needs for food, the external threats and events that can kill them in a multitude of ways, and their mental stability; ignoring the last factor in particular can cause a stressed colonist to grab the closest hatchet and bring to an end nearby colonists, squirrels and furniture with a few flailing swings.

Despite the unending praise and boundless amount of time I can heap onto Rimworld like so much manure, it has its flaws. Deep, ravaging flaws.
The outcome of a surgery involving the amputation of an infected leg before it kills the patient is decided via a combination of the surgeon’s skill, the room’s sterility, and the all-powerful random number generator. This can result in several outcomes:
- The leg is amputated, the infection is gone and everyone can crack open beers and celebrate, or
- The surgery failed, and somehow resulted in severe cuts to both lungs, destruction of their left kidney and the removal of their head

This is understandably frustrating, as are many aspects of the game where the Random Number Generator lends its influence, such as how your level 15 soldier, hunkered behind a wall of sandbags, armoured to the hilt and in possession of a mint condition sniper rifle misses every shot, but has his brain impaled by a spear thrown by a naked guy a hundred metres away charging over an open field.

The raider AI is much to be desired, as they tend to be deeply offended by any chairs left outside your base, and will run through hails of bullets, grenades and mortar fire just to kick your furniture to bits, completely ignoring the giant hole in your wall and the neon sign that said “all our money and worldly possessions are right here you guys”.

Ultimately however, Rimworld is a deep, beautiful piece of art covered with scratches and chipped in places. It can be frustrating and difficult, but is absolutely worth it for the depth of the stories it weaves, the sense of progression and victory at 5am after telling yourself “just one more day”, and the ability to force feed cats beer until they get drunk and vomit all over your rug.

Rimworld is available to buy on Steam for £22.99 / 27.99

* actually only I described it like that, now, in this article

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