I've Played RimWorld for 700 Hours. I May Never Escape

Life is an unforgiving struggle. Eleven years have passed for my rag-tag band of hardened survivors. I’ve spent more than 130 hours trying to get them off this godforsaken rock.

I’ve lost many, many colonies, but I won’t let this one die. I’ve done so many terrible things to keep them alive, yet many have already perished. An alien centipede killed Grim. Bell died of a heart attack this past summer. And there’s no forgetting Waldo, our brave, beer-guzzling grizzly. He died fighting off megaspiders to protect the colony, and when meat got scarce, they ate him.
Welcome to RimWorldThis gritty, dark, sci-fi real-time management simulation is unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It has base-building, survival elements (if you die, you start over), an open world, strategy, and a space-western feel like Firefly. It’s not an easy game to pigeonhole, which is probably why it took a Kickstarter campaign to get it made.

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It has become an obsession. I’ve spent more than 700 hours of my life playing it in the last couple years. A game hasn’t gripped me this powerfully since the days of Civilization II, where I kept taking “just one more turn” for hours on end. But eventually I mastered Sid Meier’s epic, developing reliable winning strategies over time. With RimWorld, I still feel like I’m learning.

The game doesn’t look like much. The 2D top-down art style is simple. The animations, sound effects, and music are sparse. Each new game features randomly generated characters, maps, and events. There’s also no narrative beyond a general struggle to survive long enough to build a spaceship and flee the planet you're stuck on. Even escape is entirely optional, there’s no pressure to leave this place, beyond how inhospitable it is.

Emergent storytelling is a tricky thing to nail, and RimWorld’s hook is that it masters the methods better than most. Stories gain deeper resonance because the gameplay is so brutally challenging and full of moral dilemmas. Do you recruit the raiders you took prisoner, or harvest their organs for profit? Do you save the volatile pyromaniac begging for rescue or leave her to die alone? Should you euthanize your brain-dead dog? If you do, should you eat him?

The game doesn’t judge. If you want to be a slaver and make bowler hats from human skin, you have only your own conscience to contend with. I prefer a strategy that lets me sleep at night. I’ve run breweries, turned out high-end furniture, farmed chocolate, and woven devilstrand clothing from genetically engineered mushrooms. I’ve had colonists sculpt beautiful statues of jade, manufacture masterwork miniguns, and train packs of golden retrievers.

Not that I’m a saint. Some morally questionable strategies are simply too rewarding to pass up. Captured raiders are an opportunity for much-needed surgery practice. You can give your enemies wooden legs, then send them home for a relations boost. It’s perversely comical to see pegleg Joe hobble back into town with the next raid.