RimWorld: A quirky, genre-defining colony survival sim.
In recent times, we’ve seen a ton of new colony-simulator and city-builder survival games. If you’re a fan of this genre of game, then chances are you’ve at least heard of RimWorld. This classic space colony sim was originally created by Tynan Sylvester and developed by Ludeon Studios.
So what is RimWorld? At first glance, the simplistic-looking UI and cartoony characters might give the impression of a somewhat basic indie city builder. But what hides just beneath the surface of this game’s exterior are numerous overlapping systems and mechanics that require knowledge and skill to navigate successfully.
RimWorld is one of those games with a learning curve that may put off potential players, but it also has an incredible amount of memorable and unique gameplay for players.
With over 350 hours in the game, this review should provide a solid overview of what it offers and hopefully help you decide if RimWorld is a game worth your time.
Story and concept
In concept, this title offers a sort of space-western theme reminiscent of sci-fi media like Firefly and Hardspace: Shipbreaker in all the right ways. However, RimWorld has very little to offer in the way of a premade story. Players seeking a well-written narrative with masterful twists and turns likely won’t find that here. Notice we said “likely.”
The thing about RimWorld is that it’s also all about the story. This game is self-titled as a “story generator,” and in a way, that’s exactly what it is.
To clarify, RimWorld follows the story of your colonists, whoever they may be, as they try to survive and build a colony on an unnamed and scarcely settled “rim world” at the edge of civilized space. Everything else in terms of the story will be written as the player progresses.
Who these first colonists are and even how they arrived on the planet are all up to you. Perhaps they are a group of crash-landed colonists, a tribe of primitive people whose home has been destroyed, or even just a miserable lone survivor, abandoned hilariously naked in a hostile world.
RimWorld actively maps each colonist’s relationships, history, and health during gameplay to create an evolving story. Serious wounds leave behind lasting scars and can prevent colonists from performing certain actions.
The interpersonal drama between colonists can crop up, disease can create stress, and conflict with alien monsters and other humans all synthesize delicious drama that can be a real treat to watch unfold as you frantically try to manage it all. These aren’t just side-notes about how your little colonists feel either, and a messy divorce or dead sibling can hinder your colonist’s abilities even more than a missing limb.
This might sound like a roundabout way to tell a story, but we feel that the constant push and pull between the player’s choices, random events, and the absolute silliness with which your colonists go about their daily lives is an extremely addicting and involving system.
We still talk about some of the absolutely hilarious and bizarre events that have occurred during our playthroughs. You might think we are exaggerating at first, but just wait until one of your colonists accidentally shoots their spouse in the spine and then harvests their lungs to sell for food.
Or perhaps one will decide they’ve had enough of the colony’s terrible food and want to fistfight with the local Megasloth. Finding out what’s going to happen next is half the fun!
There is a bit of background lore and overall theming to the RimWorld universe, with the planet the player inhabits being stalked by human bandits, enormous insectoids, and killer robots. It’s implied there was some cataclysmic battle on the planet, leaving behind ancient ruins and dormant war machines waiting to be discovered (or unwittingly released onto their colony.)
Supposedly there are massive super-advanced planets with utopian (or dystopian) societies. What these thematic elements ultimately mean is left mostly to interpretation, and they take a back seat to the drama of the player’s current colony.
A brief glance at RimWorld from a visual perspective likely won’t impress when compared to the ray-traced graphics of many modern games. That isn’t to say this title isn’t good-looking by any means. In fact, the charming and iconic style of this game’s models and map has been so influential that many other colony sim games have replicated it in one way or another.
Additionally, the simplistic style of the bubble graphics makes this game very light in terms of hardware requirements, despite the impressive and surprisingly beautiful lighting effects.
Everything in RimWorld is 2D, with a cartoony depth to it that makes it pleasant and easy to read. It won’t be obvious exactly what everything is until you examine it, but half of the things living and growing out in the far reaches of space aren’t likely to be immediately recognizable anyway.
Assets are surprisingly diverse, and things like trees and bushes have enough variation to them that they feel more like part of an actual environment than map markers. RimWorld’s art is certainly not lacking in a unique style by any means, and we love that everything visual provides just enough idea of what’s happening to allow the player to imagine the rest.
That is pretty much all players will be seeing, though. Most of the time, characters and animal models don’t even have visible legs or arms, instead floating their weapons next to them when equipped. Most clothing, armor, and weapons are visible on a character’s model, but if you want to see your little colonists swing an ax or pick, you’re out of luck. Even melee combat boils down to the two combatants bumping into each other to simulate strikes.
To be honest, we feel that the lack of certain dynamic animations was more of a stylistic choice than a lack of capability, as the game does have plenty of dynamic animations for things like fire, lightning, rivers, rain, and even trees swaying in the wind that all look great. It’s a great-looking game overall, just in its own unique way.
Sound and atmosphere
The background music for this title is an interesting combination of Western Country, and Americana tracks with a bit of synth thrown in for flavor. The soundtrack is somewhat dynamic, switching to more intense songs during combat.
Otherwise, though, the music of RimWorld is relaxing, catchy, and atmospheric. This title’s great soundtrack really helps keep players involved and immersed in the daily lives of their little colonists and helps sell the atmosphere of running a space ranch out on a deserted planet.
The game has an ample variety of sound effects, all of which are fitting and satisfying. In fact, almost every action a colonist can do has some unique sound effect, even if it is minor.
Colonists will make sparking sounds when mining, sizzling sounds when cooking, and even nasty squishing sounds when performing surgery. These sound effects add an entire layer to the immersion of running a colony, making it much more satisfying to watch your busy little pawns at work.
Combat is the only scenario in which we felt the sound effects were lacking, and even then, only rarely. Gunfire sounds loud and satisfying, and melee combat makes thudding and scratching noises from impact. You can even see sparks from bullets or blades deflecting off of metal armor or energy shields.
Gameplay is, by far, the most difficult part of RimWorld to explain. At its core, RimWorld is about building a viable and thriving colony. The end goal of that colony is variable, but to survive long enough to achieve that goal, players must manage food, temperature, medicine, equipment, animals, power, defenses, and much more.
The UI itself is easy enough to navigate, but only for players who know what they’re looking at. Most of the player’s interaction with the game will occur through micromanagement and the giving of general orders, similar to games like Dwarf Fortress. The real challenge is figuring out how to get your colonists to do what you want.
There are many overlapping restrictions, rules, and determining factors for each player’s “pawns” (colonists) that determine what they will and won’t do at any given time. Players must set schedules to ensure colonists aren’t overworking themselves, assign work so the most qualified will perform it, and much more.
In a way, managing every aspect of your pawns’ lives gives you an extreme degree of control over what they do. On the other hand, it can often be extremely frustrating to get your colonist to do exactly what you want and to prevent them from walking directly into deadly situations.
Unfortunately, learning to navigate all of these restrictions, menus, systems, and unspoken rules can be a real turn-off for more casual players or those who prefer to be in control. Once you are past the learning curve, however, there is a TON that RimWorld has to offer.
Players can build their own colony in endless ways: From a more standard space ranch to a colony of cannibalistic organ traders, the options are astounding. Players can grow crops to feed themselves, hunt wildlife, raise cattle, mine ore, fight off bandits, clear land, build structures and machines, and so much more.
There is also an extensive research tree for players to invest in and improve their technology. Whatever you think you might need to run a real-life colony, you’ll probably need it here.
Along the way, your AI “storyteller” will cause random events to occur, and you’ll need to react to them. These events are the crux of where the player’s reaction comes from and may range from enemy raids to solar flares and storms to sudden fires and disease or even an approaching pack of man-eating guinea pigs.
Players will need to properly prepare and react fast if they want to survive these disasters, and fortunately, the game allows players to pause at any time and “draft” colonists for combat and other situations to control them more directly. Combat is rather simplistic and focuses mostly on balancing ranged and melee fighters and ensuring your shooters are behind better cover than your enemy.
Pretty much everything worth seeing will be happening at your colony. Of course, there is technically a whole planet full of other settlements and factions to contend with. You can make friends and engage in trade or go to war and raid settlements. Traveling is difficult, dangerous, and takes forever, so exploring isn’t encouraged.
RimWorld is an extremely replayable and highly addicting game. The first few colonies a player attempts are likely to fail for any number of reasons, but it never really feels frustrating and instead encourages trial and error, which is a big part of the game.
Long after their first success, though, players have more challenges waiting for them in the form of different AI “storytellers” to direct the random events, increasing difficulty levels, and different starting conditions.
You can even design your own starting scenarios with an in-game menu. Between all of this and the randomness of colonists, events, and conditions, no two runs will ever be the same.
For players looking to add even more to an already massive list of content, RimWorld also boasts several DLC packs that add entirely new systems, thousands of new items, more factions, new ending conditions to reach for, and so much more customization to play around with. That’s not even mentioning the incredibly active modding community that has created alterations and overhauls to make your game exactly how you want it.
Final thoughts on RimWorld
It certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s hard to deny just how fun and satisfying it is to create a successful, thriving colony in RimWorld. We’ve spent far more time playing around and creating weird and interesting scenarios in RimWorld than we should have, but that won’t stop us from returning for another run.
This is a title that has been learning, expanding, and growing for years now and has amassed a cult following along the way. It’s not always the most exciting game, but every time we think we’ve seen everything in RimWorld, something completely unexpected happens, and we love that about it.