Rimworld has already done the rounds on PC, spending a few years in early access before becoming notorious for its utterly no-holds-barred gritty colony simulation, which takes the gameplay loop of The Sims and smashes it face first into a Mad Maxian hellscape of complete and utter anarchy.
Ahead of this preview session with the game’s Xbox developer, Double Eleven of Minecraft Dungeons fame, I found myself immediately turned off by the game’s deceptively simplistic visuals. It wasn’t long before I found myself engrossed by the depth of this Antikytheran simulation. It feels like it goes far beyond any other game I’ve played in this genre for complexity and consequence, with AI storytellers that inject a level of dynamism similar games rarely grasp.
Rimworld is heading to Xbox and PlayStation for the first time on July 29, 2022, and is widely regarded among some of the best simulation strategy games ever made. After spending some time checking out the game this week, I’m confident it’ll find its way onto the best Xbox games list of all time, too. I’d like to share with you today exactly why I’m expecting to lose dozens, maybe hundreds of hours of my life to this game in the coming weeks.
I recently caught up with Double Eleven to discuss how the studio managed to adapt this mouse-first interface for Xbox consoles and discover just how deep the simulation goes.
The devil’s in the deadly details
I’d heard about Rimworld here and there across the internet, as players shared stories of their exploits in memes and live streams, but I’d never found the time to jump in to really give it a try given my endlessly expanding backlog. Knowledge that the Xbox edition was in the works, revealed during this year’s E3 season, spurred me to take a deeper look at the game — and I simply had no idea just how deep I’d need to look.
Rimworld is a truly ambitious game despite its fairly pedestrian visuals, with layers upon layers of stimulatory complexity and high-stakes play that makes me lament for other players in the space. I played for hours upon hours this week, unwittingly evaporating the entirety of my weekend in a flurry of cannibalism, drug abuse, and kidnap, and the dire, dire consequences of my ill intentions.
At its core, Rimworld is a colony builder. There are a few scenarios to choose from, but I began with the basic “three random colonists crash land on an alien frontier world, with minimal supplies.” The game lets you random-roll what those three colonists will be like, and despite clicking randomize hundreds of times alone, I never found two characters who were barely even similar, let identical. You could end up with a crew comprised of a gardener, a psychopath serial killer, and a coffee shop worker — and their backstories and skillset can play a dramatic role in your ability to survive the hostile environment planetside.
If I haven’t emphasized this enough yet, even using the game’s “Chillax” AI story generator, the game is punishingly tough — and that’s part of the fun. You can even play on commitment mode, which forces you to accept every character death and every mistake, with no option to “save scum” back to an earlier checkpoint.
In my first attempt at Rimworld, I discovered quite quickly that I’d ended up with three colonists who were absolutely hopeless at shooting. My attempts to gun down deer and other potential hunting prey went completely awry, with bullets missing their marks by a wide berth. In desperation, I fed my colonists a steady diet of berries foraged from the local flora while I waited for my makeshift crop farms to grow, but the crappy food instilled a cocktail of ill mood and malnutrition in my squad, which led to arguments and even all-out fisticuffs, and thus injuries. Eventually, one of my colonists simply went mad and decided to murder his fellows, one of whom simply refused to participate in violence of any sort and wouldn’t even defend himself. After my colonist exited his “berserk” state, all that was left of my budding community was blood-soaked walls and smashed corpses. It wasn’t long before my remaining colonist was picked off by a hungry pack of wolves, unable to defend himself as a loner.
On my second play attempt, I took everything I’d learned about the colonist’s skillsets and attempted to build a more balanced team, clicking through the randomizer until I had someone who was at least competent with a gun, and someone else who at least understood how to grow and farm vegetables. Everything was going great, until I decided to shoot a mutated “boomalope,” to see what would happen. There are no prizes for guessing what happened.
My first Rimworld colony was going oh so well… ;__; pic.twitter.com/k0S248eZCgJuly 17, 2022
As I perhaps should have expected, the “boomalope” exploded, setting my hovel ablaze. Unable to put the fire out quickly enough, one of my colonists once again had a psychotic break. I had to have my one sane colonist put him down like a mad dog, and lock him into a dungeon to cool off, while I desperately tried to save what was left of my pathetic colony. During this, my only other colonist caught fire and burned to death, attempting to fight the flames. My last remaining colonist also wound up having a psychotic break. Defeated, despite it all, the game explained that her diet of raw food had been the final straw.
Indeed, the game gives you a ton of information to micromanage your colonists, and it forms the basis of play. Paying attention to their conversations, needs, ailments, and desires can help you create more efficient workflows, as your colonists build defenses, research new technology, and battle raiding psychopaths in their bid to survive. It’s quite difficult to fully impress the truly abyssal depths the simulation goes to in real time as you manage every layer of your miniature civilization, while also giving you a huge array of tools and control over methods for survival.
You can have your sims go to quite depraved lengths in their quest for life, and how they react to your depravity will wholly depend upon their personality traits. A sociopathic colonist might have no qualms with selling captured raiders as slaves. A psychotic colonist may have no issue with literally eating cooked human flesh, or wearing a trenchcoat made from their skin. Less unscrupulous colonists, however, may fall into depression from having to resort to such vulgarities to survive — but hey, grow some “smokeleaf” and 420 those painful cannibalistic memories away. It’s your game — there’s no judgment here.
The only “person” really judging your actions in the game is the AI storyteller, of which there are currently four in the game. Each storyteller is responsible for injecting dynamic content into the game’s flow, and each does it in a slightly different style. You can go into full-blown chaos, with utterly random events being thrown at you relentlessly from the get-go. You could go with a more laid-back experience, with events that scale in difficulty more gently, or something a little more punishing, forcing you to stay on your toes as outside threats increase in their murderous efficiency.
I’ve been using the Phoebe Chillax storyteller so far as I try to learn the game, but even she seems brutally intent on slaughtering my colonists in the most horrific ways imaginable. It’s only through repeated plays, researching your logs, and learning the nuances that you perform a little better each time, on your quest to ultimately escape the Rimworld.
Revamping Rimworld for Xbox
Given the complexity of Rimworld, the game has a veritable mountain of systems and content baked into its simulation. Menus for managing colonists’ needs, work schedules, order queues, construction catalogs, research trees, and much more, can seem pretty daunting at first. The game intentionally only offers very light tutelage, eager to encourage you to discover the Rimworld through deadly trial and error.
One thing that shouldn’t be resolved to trial and error are the controls, though. And I have to admit, after playing the PC version last week I had concerns over how easily it would translate to a couchable Xbox version, with gamepad-first controls. It turns out Double Eleven has already done all of the heavy lifting, rebuilding the UI from the ground up specifically for television sets and mouse-free play.
Rimworld on Xbox revolves around a central cursor, which remains fixed in the middle of the screen at all times. At each corner of the screen are contextual controls that also match the positions of the shoulder buttons and triggers, giving you quick access to things like menus, gameplay speed and time freezing, notifications, and beyond. As you move your cursor across the playspace, it’ll present button prompts required to do specific actions like drafting your colonists into combat mode, for example, making it easy to perform actions on the fly or queue up orders while the game is paused.
Double Eleven explained that they’d taken great care to ensure you were never more than three steps away from any specific action you want to take — whether it’s finding a specific menu, a build mode, or setting orders. They also discussed how the game’s UI had been scaled up and oriented for larger displays like TVs where you’re sitting farther away from the screen typically, without compromising the feel and simple style of the PC version made by Ludeon.
Indeed, preserving the original vision of Rimworld seems as though it was paramount for Double Eleven, who also worked on the console versions of Rust and similar sim Prison Architect. Rimworld on console has all of the gameplay and all of the features of the PC version’s base game, including the Royalty DLC. The Ideology DLC will come a little later on, given that it was only more recently released for PC.
Porting games of this type designed wholly for mouse and keyboard play seems as tough as keeping your colonists alive for more than five minutes in the game itself — but from what I’ve seen, Double Eleven has absolutely nailed it.
Rimworld could be your next Xbox obsession
I know a game is special when I’m racing to finish preview coverage so I can go back and bloody play it. I remember starting up Rimworld and not looking up until I noticed that the sun was setting, blowing away an entire weekend tenderly caring for my inevitably doomed colonists. Every re-play, doing a little bit better until some twist of fate led to my sims being blown up, frozen, or cannibalized by roaming raiders.
Rimworld is already excellent on Steam, but if your preferred platform is couch console play, the Xbox and PlayStation versions of the game look like they’re shaping up incredibly nicely. It all goes live on July 29, 2022.