A rich life sim, RIMWORLD doesn’t quite reach the stars.
RimWorld is a life sim about establishing a colony on a remote planet. Things go wrong, the unexpected occurs, and your colonists react. Each has drives and needs, ones that are often unhelpful to the mission but which are intended to make them more complex characters. Go in wanting to build a neat utopia, and you’ll likely be frustrated. Welcome the storytelling potential of disaster, and you’ll have a much better time. Your colonists are the main drive behind the game. When you begin a scenario you have to select your team, and they’ll be generated with traits and backgrounds. Some are helpful skills, like hunting or teaching, and some are there to inject personality. There’s a lot of promise in the ideas these characters bring to the table. I had a colonist who, chronologically, was 114 years old, but, thanks to the complications of space travel, was really only 24. The son she’d left behind was approaching his 50s. Her granddaughter was 31.
There are some peculiar aspects to this approach to character generation, though. Each character gets three traits, things like obsessive, lazy, or even misogynist. One of the modifiers is ‘gay’ but ‘straight’ isn’t— that’s just the default, which is painfully heteronormative and outdated for a game about the far-flung future. It also feels odd to have some traits sat alongside each other. ‘Misogyny’ next to ‘ugly’, ‘hard working’ next to ‘psychopath’. These things are not alike, but are placed with equal importance.
While the system gives evocative combos like a bounty hunter who’s lazy and vegetarian, in the end, they all interact in broadly the same way. They don’t speak, in text or otherwise, and so the facets of their identity are declared in a character sheet that’s offered to you through a drip feed of tiny updates. The main issue with the game’s approach to character is that it treats people as the sum of just a few parts. It’s not unreasonable that a game of this scale needs to have a simple system to generate its characters, but the end result is AI that behave in interesting ways but never feel like real people. As long as you’re able to look past that and just enjoy the odd behavior of these robotic colonists then there’s still fun to be had with the unique sandbox.
Once you’re down on the ground it’s all a matter of laying out tasks for your colonists. You don’t get to take control, so must instead lay down blueprints and zones, and stack up tasks for them to complete. The UI is a bit lacking. It’s fine after enough time but far from intuitive and full of irksome inconsistencies like being able to mass-select some objects but not others. Going through an entire field of potato plants to order each of them to be harvested is the kind of busy work that feels needless.
The real fun stuff occurs once you’ve got a competent colony built and can begin to watch your colonists deal with all manner of scenarios. Rivalries develop, in-fighting can happen, and that’s all before you take into account factors like a random faction sending a hunter to my colony with the sole purpose of murdering my dog. The longer you survive, the more bizarre the events. Mind controlling drones and mythical beasts all show up. RimWorld thrives when it’s at its most unpredictable, never letting you get too cosy.
Waiting for your colonists to build or explore is what the vast majority of your time with the game amounts to, especially early on. Things become more complex and varied the longer a colony survives but still, so much waiting around occurs. In that dullness you can’t help but begin to see the gears in the machine. Interesting things happen, but when the characters already feel so artificial they rarely take on the life required to make me believe in the stories unfolding. I’m not watching a drama but a chaotic petri dish. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have its moments or there isn’t fun in its failure to tell engaging stories, but it doesn’t live up to its promise.
Things become more complex and varied the longer a colony survives