Somehow, RimWorld has managed to completely pass me by for the last few years. I had assumed we were dealing with a standard colony sim, of which I’ve played scores, so had never been all that interested. Turns out the internet was right: a little research goes a long way. Because RimWorld Console Edition isn’t a “standard” anything. What it is, point of fact, is a “story generator”, and as such it remains unique in a sea of superficially similar titles.
It begins with you generating a seed for the rimworld you’ll be colonising. This is created from a random word chosen either by you or the AI. Any time you use that same word to create a new world, you’ll get the same geographical features. After that you can adjust things like temperature, population of rival factions, and topography.
The game has a splintered approach to difficulty, with multiple layers of challenge. Firstly it matters how many colonists you go in with. Three is just right, but one makes everything super hard and five gives you too much to manage when you’re starting out. Then you’ll pick what kind of world you have in terms of danger and resource abundance. Finally, you pick your AI Storyteller from a choice of three. One is chilled, one is balanced, and one is determined to reign terror on you for the hell of it. This AI Storyteller determines what kind of tale will unfold by assigning random events that affect your colony in both tiny and cataclysmic ways.
If you go into RimWorld Console Edition treating it like a standard colony sim, where you build a base, farm resources, and fend off attacks from rivals as you work towards a singular goal, you’ll find yourself restarting or straight up failing over and over. This is more about the lives of your colonists than the growth of your colony. Its focus lies in the minutiae, the relationships between your colonists, whether their pot plants have enough sunlight, or whether that rabbit they tamed is going to suddenly go feral and rip someone’s throat out. Seriously, this can happen.
See, you don’t assign jobs to individuals. Rather, you queue up jobs that need doing and assign colonists the duty as a group, but if they don’t like a job or can’t do it they’ll probably flat out refuse and you can’t force them. If you’re lucky, one of the other colonists will have the relevant skills. I went into my first playthrough with three colonists who were opposed to violence and watched them get mauled to death one by one by a rogue hare on a rampage.
You’ll need to focus on every aspect, from construction and research to medical care, hunting, cooking, diplomacy, metalworking, and dozens of others. You can have a colonist sit and make everyone cowboy hats if you like, though you’re going to be severely underprepared when the game suddenly starts throwing catastrophes at you. Bandit raids, animal attacks, meteor showers, illness, illicit affairs and crimes of passion; maybe you’ll disturb an ancient evil in the nearby ruins or be set upon by timberwolves.
But while this sounds exciting – and indeed it is – it’s not the whole game. See, in between these massive events, ages can pass where bugger all happens. And RimWorld is deliberately obtuse. Just as you can miss vital personality flaws if you don’t study each character carefully before beginning, it’s very easy to sit and watch your colony do naff all while the world ticks on, before it suddenly blindsides you with an alien organ thief.
Because you can build a full on colony if you want to. You can attract new settlers, or capture prisoners and turn them to your cause. You can create vast networks of power and information, and even build a ship to explore the stars. There’s loads you could do, but once the tutorial is over, you’re on your own.
It’s also a victim of its own complexity. In RimWorld, every personality trait is important, but all colonists come ready-baked with three intrinsic traits. These are randomised and can sometimes contradict one another, and they’re often more rigid than they should be. While a character may be “incapable of violence”, most people would at least try to fight off a bunny as it devours them feet first.
Likewise, because you don’t have direct control over each colonists actions at all times, it’s difficult to feel fully responsible. You can tell them all that wood needs chopping or food needs cooking, and you can assign them roles like guarding, hunting, etc, but sometimes they do whatever they like and that’s it. The story sometimes unfolds without your direct agency, which is nice to watch, but when your colony suddenly catches a disease or all die of a freak case of timberwolf-face, you can’t help but feel a little cheated.
There’s no doubt that RimWorld Console Edition is a unique achievement. It does something no other colony sim does, and tells multiple engaging and surprising stories that genuinely captivate the imagination. But it’s also kind of singularly grim. It might have colourful little button people bobbing around the map, but it’s callously cruel with them all the time. That said they can fall in love, although being gay is a “personality trait”, which feels more than a little weird and inorganic in 2022.
The included “Royalty” DLC must be activated on the menu screen and adds a chance that you’ll be visited by the “Empire”. This intergalactic Sovereignty will come to your RimWorld to seek refuge from a distant war, and will immediately start lording it up. You can complete quests for them that reward royal titles, but like all things in RimWorld, nothing happens on a set trajectory. The story unfolds organically and you’ll be called upon to make decisions that affect the future of both the Empire and your colony. If you do well enough they might even share some of their advanced technology and psychic abilities with your people, which can have both good and ill effects.
Porting it to consoles can’t have been easy though. There are menus on menus, with multiple click-throughs that would be smoother and faster with a mouse and keyboard. For the most part everything works, but you can tell it wasn’t originally designed this way. Analogue sticks lack the precision of a mouse, and you’ll feel it now and then.
In many ways, RimWorld feels like it belongs on PC, while at the same time, I kind of want it on my Switch. It’s a chilled, relaxing game, until suddenly it’s not – and if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss where the changes happen. RimWorld Console Edition is not without its faults and flaws, but there’s nothing else out there quite like it.
Constantly surprises you
Feels engaging and unique
Potentially endless possibility
Periods of dullness
Can feel incredibly unfair at times
Doesn't give much direction