Rimworld is a survival strategy game in a vaguely similar vein to Settlers or Dwarf Fortress. Thankfully it’s nowhere near as complex as DF – but it is much more complex than Settlers and is designed more around the idea of ‘how will your colony fail and die horribly this time’, rather than ‘how quickly can you win’.
There are plenty of different game setups, with a different origin point, a different dungeon-master style character who throws problems at you, and a wealth of different starting zones and colonists. You can even get more through Steam Workshop alongside plenty of quality of life mods, but we’ve just been playing with the basic vanilla game for now. The most basic setup is where you have three colonists who have crash landed on a planet. You can choose where they land and roughly what their skills are, then you’ve got to try and keep them alive on the planet’s surface until they can build a ship capable of taking them home.
Of course that sounds much easier than it really is. When you start out you need to provide your colonists with shelter, food, weapons, clothes, entertainment, warmth, cooling, protection from raiders and wild animals, alongside caring for all their other needs. Much like Dwarf Fortress, the colonists’ mental states are very important. So while it might seem like a good idea during a famine to kill the colony’s pet Jack Russell to make an extra meal, whoever had bonded with that dog are likely to fall into a bit of a depression. That might make them a bit mopey or they might go on a killing spree and end everything. Juggling all of these needs is a constantly demanding tasks and the game is good at throwing curveballs at you like a toxic storm that means you can’t go outside, or a potato famine killing your crops, or a solar storm shutting down all your electricity.
Thankfully (and importantly for us in a game like this) a lot of what you’re doing just makes sense. Enclose a generator with a wooden wall and no space and it might catch fire. If it rains, the fire will go out. Colonists can survive some pretty grievous injuries such as having an arm torn off, but then they won’t be as good at doing things that require two arms. Old age can lead to dementia, alcohol can lead to diminished responsibility, beavers can eat all of the trees. Planning ahead is difficult, but unfortunately there does seem to be a ‘correct’ way to build that lets you deal with nearly everything. The fun comes from experimenting with different methods, but once you’ve worked out the right way, the game loses a lot of its appeal. Perhaps it could do with some more specialised scenarios like Rollercoaster Tycoon, or perhaps getting new colonists should be easier so risky strategies are more worthwhile. Whatever the answer, the fun in Rimworld does taper off quite quickly when you know what you’re doing.
Of course there are plenty of ways to make the game much more difficult for yourself, to the point where you can start with no technology in a freezing desert with three people whose only ability is to water plants, but the developers haven’t worked to make sure situations like that are even possible to succeed in. They’re more there so you can see how long you can last.
There are plenty of annoyance in the way RImworld works. Often colonists won’t prioritise jobs that make sense, so when you desperately need some research completed, they’ll go and eat a raw potato, or they’ll start cleaning the floor outside. Combat is difficult to control, with keeping ranged soldiers out of the firing line of each other almost impossible. The biggest issue is simply how long everything takes as you move towards the late game. Unlike Dwarf Fortress where you seem to end up with an exponential number of dwarves, so big tasks become much easier, in Rimworld you tend to keep to quite a low number, the most we’ve had is six. By the late-game you’re fending off fairly huge disasters and raiding parties, so trying to keep on top of that while researching and gathering resource sto build a ship isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s just incredibly time-consuming. You can speed up the game clock (and you pretty much have to) but not by anywhere near enough when you’re spending half an hour watching a potato harvest.
We’ve had a great time with Rimworld. It’s smart, it’s addictive and it’s definitely one of the better examples of the genre. It’s a shame the later game turns into more a grind than an interesting puzzle, but if you’re happy to experiment and don’t mind laughing when it all goes wrong, you’ll find a lot to like in the earlier parts of this game.