It's like Prison Architect...IN SPACE!!!!

Early Access Preview: RimWorld

PC/Mac •

RimWorld is a colony building and survival simulation game that has everything you’d expect from the genre. You’ll act as the architect for a new colony and guide its residents to ever greater levels of survivability, self-sufficiency, and success. This includes zoning the settlement area for residential buildings, farming, and storage as well as identifying what structures should be built, how electricity should be generated, and what tools of production, furniture, and artwork should be used. There’s also the usual research function to build out a technology tree and open up new options.

What’s cool about RimWorld is not that it hits these hallmarks of base-building and survival games. It certainly does. It’s not that it does it really well or better than most—though this is also true. What really makes RimWorld so good–I had to force myself to stop playing–are two things: a true open-world style and a relatively unique story-infused narrative.

Sandbox Style

Simulation games are meant to be open to a large extent. The whole allure is to be in control of something sophisticated and make it incrementally better, more efficient, more awesome. RimWorld does that. The world is wide open to you to decide how to build and where. You can also decide what kind of a colony, and society, you want to oversee and make that happen. If you want to build up a combative colony capable of going on raids, you’ll be able to do so unfettered by the game’s rules. If you want to live in a society powered by science and progress that too is an option. RimWorld takes this sandbox a bit further, to the very structure of the game itself.

Teacher and Housemate I get. Joywirer? Intrigued.

RimWorld provides a wealth of customization when choosing your starting scenario as well as how the game proceeds. When you start a game you pick from three different scenarios: “Crashlanded”, “The Rich Explorer”, and “Lost Tribe.” Each feels a little different and kicks you off with a different number of colonists, starting materials, available resources near you on the map, and research items unlocked. Crashlanded strands three colonists on a foreign world after a shipboard disaster in space. The Rich Explorer features a single colonist—with a lot of money and a yearning to see the stars and explore distant worlds—though the gun turrets and fancy starting stuff is nice too.  Lost Tribe finds five colonists on the run and looking to rebuild after their tribe was destroyed by “great blood machines sent by the gods.” This scenario starts you out in a much more primitive position. You can tweak anything and everything about these scenarios as to further customize your game, though I recommend sticking to the base scenarios, at least at first.

You are faced with a second big choice when starting a game of RimWorld: your storyteller. There are three different AI storytellers from which to choose and their style affects how the story of your colony proceeds. “Cassandra Classic” adds story elements—pirate raids, resource drops from space, animal attacks and the like—in an effort to add challenge and tension that increase as your colony advances. “Phoebe Chillax” is much more relaxed and gives plenty of time between disasters and other events to recover. “Randy Random” is, as the name suggests, all about the drama at any time or place. The story teller coupled with six different difficulty levels—peaceful, base builder, some challenge, rough, intense, and extreme—dictate how the game jumps in and messes with your carefully laid plans.

The planet is loaded with pirates. Arrrrr!

The last area of customization comes in the form of your colonists themselves. The colonists serve as characters in the story of your colony and definitely have…well, character. Each one has a name and nickname (which you can edit), childhood occupation, adulthood occupation, things they are incapable of, traits, skills, and stats (combat, social, work abilities, etc.). There’s a huge amount of variety in things like traits and they can get pretty hilarious—teetotaler, neurotic, cannibal for example. Again, you can customize all of this via mods but it feels more fun to spin the wheel of random and get to colonizing.

These customization options add a lot of variability to a game of RimWorld. They let both new and experienced players really fine tune the game to their interests.

Story Infused Simulation

It’s pretty rare to say that you enjoy a simulation game for the story. SimCity 3000 Unlimited was an amazing game, one of my favorites of all time, but it didn’t really make use of a narrative. The same thing can be said for Minecraft, although your own personal “Steve” certainly would have some stories to tell. RimWorld is different.

Each colonist comes to the planet with their own story—given life by their traits and other characteristics. Take my game for example—Monza Murcatto is a lazy pyromaniac who wrote stories in her childhood but grew up to become a taxonomist. She is incapable of violence (for those familiar with her namesake, I named her before I spotted this trait) and firefighting but is  an expert at growing plants and working with animals. Omar Little is a mercenary chef who is kind, trigger-happy, and psychically sensitive. He excels at shooting things, cooking, crafting, and research. He also believes that a man’s got to have a code.

The title of this screenshot is “bedroomfight”. Not as cool as it sounds.

I’ve got five other colonists each with their own story that informs who does what around the colony, who gets along, who doesn’t, and how they snap when things get rough. That’s right, if a colonist’s mood drops too low they may suffer a mental break. Monza Murcatto, for example, lights things on fire. Not surprising given her traits, but of course, far from ideal. A recent arrival named Anna went on a bender for her mental break. She drank all of the colony’s beer one after another (serious party foul) before wandering around aimlessly and passing out. At one point, her character info screen provided the following:

Anna Defector (she came over from a nearby tribe)
Mental State: Binging on Alcohol
Equipped: Pistol
Carrying: Beer
Drinking Beer.

This is otherwise known as a Thursday night in many parts of the US, but was a bit dramatic around my colony. Maybe it shouldn’t be, because in RimWorld, anything can happen. There are raids perpetrated by other tribes, fires (caused by lightning, electrical failure, and Monza), and much stranger occurrences.  A rabid squirrel left two armed colonists in need of major medical attention until a third managed to bring it down in melee combat…with a steel shiv. A flu epidemic left half my colonists in sickbeds while the other half struggled to tend to them and keep the colony running. A pack of alphabeavers entered the area and needed to be wiped out before they went locust on all the trees. A turtle self-tamed itself and took a liking to Omar.

These are the stories of my colony. They are informed by who the characters are and how they interact to form relationships, marriages, divorces, and bitter enmities. All of this interweaves with more mundane successes and technological discovery to form a historical narrative. It’s not a story like you’d find in Banner Saga or another really good RPG, but it’s a story all the same.

Work in Progress

RimWorld is still a work in progress. It’s on Steam early access and there are places that could use some work, but overall it is a really polished game. The question isn’t so much what can you do in RimWorld as what is denied to you. If you like colony building and management simulation games I’d recommend you check it out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some geothermal power plants to position.

Notable Replies

  1. This game is soo good! I love it. I enjoyed it even more than Factorio, which itself is an awesome game, as your last Preview pointed out.

  2. I will reprint my Steam "review" of RimWorld for you here:

    This is the story of Alex "AB" Bucan.

    When I first arrived at the new colony location with Alex Bucan and Mitch, the later like me was young, it was comforting that AB, the former Galactic Officer was with us. He was as handy with a rifle as he was with a hammer, and I don't know if we would have ever gotten the base of the ground without him. It was just 3 guys, working, toiling and sweating and getting things done. And then the twins came...and changed everything, escpecially for AB.

    Fab came running into camp one day and showed us right away how good he was with animals. He tamed turkeys and rabbits and llamas for us right away, and we welcomed him. But it was only a week or two later that his twin sister, Noriko, came running into camp seeking shelter....with raiders in persuit.

    AB and Mitch grabbed their guns, and I awkwardly grabbed my hunting knife and we went out to meet these raiders head on. We saved her, but Mitch...he took some bad wounds. I tried to heal him, but I just could not stop the infection. He died a few days later. AB took it bad, I think he looked to Mitch like a son. He doubled down into his work.

    He was working on stone blocks a lot in the same room as Noriko a lot. She told me he would often flirt with her, she thought it was harmless, I did not think much of it. But then Noriko and I fell in love, that was when we realized that AB had a serious crush on her. At our wedding later that season, he left right away to go back to his work.

    He was out hunting, recklessly a lot around the time the Alpha Beavers showed up in our lands. Before the rest of us even knew they were there, was already taking them out...until one of them took off his right arm. We did not have the medical technology to help him, and he did not believe in bionics anyway, so it did not matter.

    Somehow he still managed that rifle, even with one arm. And when the raiders came the next time, he was still out there, shooting them down. He took a hit to the arm, but it should have been ok...except we were out of medicine, and it got infected, and if we did not take the arm, it would have killed him. Maybe the hardest thing I have ever done is take AB's other arm off.

    But he lived. And while he had no arms, it turned out he was really good at research. It was a new found passion of his. So much so that he basically filled his days by eating, spending all day in the lab, sleeping and then doing it all over again. We did not know what to do for him, so we just let him go this way. Until the day he went crazy, probably partly from cabin fever, but it was his choice. He somehow managed to strip off all of his clothing and ran around trying to attack us all. But he could not really do anything to us, so we just had to sort of let him tire himself out.

    Now we make him take some relaxation time every day at sunrise and at night to watch the stars. It seems to have helped a lot. He still does not bother to ask for help for things like eating, so he just eats like an animal in the freezer right out of the containers...but we just clean up after him. He keeps discovering all sorts of new scientific improvements for us.

    Noriko died recently in an explosion, and with the new drug colonys I have heard about, I am moving on, but I imagine that ole AB will just keep soldierign on in his lab for a long time to come.

  3. Nick says:

    Yes, it is. Which surprised me because I really like Factorio. If you can only buy one, go with RimWorld!

    Thanks for the reprint of your review. It serves as a great example of the narrative power of the game.

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