RimWorld had us hooked before we'd even looked at a single in-game menu. After downloading the game we clicked through to read a bit more background about the setting of this Dwarf Fortress-inspired sci-fi simulation, and that was the start of a deep dive that took us into a lengthy document full of interesting lore as well as a scroll through a subreddit filled with anecdotal stories and funny memes. The community that has built up around RimWorld over the years it chugged through Steam Early Access is one of the most creative and engaged groups we've come across in some time.
After some initial research, we started clicking on stuff to see what happened and that's when things got altogether more complicated. RimWorld might initially be a little obtuse, what with it being filled with text-heavy menus and intricately interconnected systems, but after leaning on the community and watching some tutorials we were able to start exploring this complicated yet rewarding game and start having some serious fun with it.
Things start off modestly and finding a foothold is one of the game's true challenges. There are a bunch of different scenarios and gameplay settings available, and you can tweak the settings to suit your personal desires and give you the experience you're after, varying the frequency of game-changing events and even the overall harshness of the experience. Beyond that, you can adjust the number of survivors you start with, rolling random characters that'll then join you on the surface of this planet on the far side of the galaxy (and if you equip certain mods, you can even change their personalities and base stats).
Much of RimWorld is about base-building - making a plan and then executing it while also adapting to forced changes of circumstance. Eventually, once you've found your feet, you'll gain access to more advanced materials that you can use to make your colonists even more comfortable. Keeping them happy is the aim of the game, and it's in everybody's best interest to have a group of content, productive colonists living in your base.
This is not The Sims in Space, however, and it's not very long before the you-know-what starts hitting the wind-powered turbine that powers your base. Raiders are a real danger and your home will face regular attacks from would-be robbers, murders, and organ-harvesting villains. Luckily you can arm your people and take direct control during these tense, game-changing moments, although having a tighter grip on the reins isn't a guarantee that you'll be able to keep everyone alive. When death does visit you in RimWorld it's impactful and changes the dynamic significantly, but crucially it's not normally an instant-fail situation - rather it's just another twist in the story that you're helping to guide along.
Speaking of story, RimWorld's brilliance lies in the little details created between the unique characters and their interactions, and the story beats that are delivered via an AI-controlled narrative director that likes nothing more than throwing an occasional spanner in the works. While you can adjust the cadence of the in-game events to a degree, you never know what's just around the corner and what sticky situation might be on the horizon. One thing that you can be sure about, however, is that the stories you experience are your stories and they only happened because of a mixture of your decisions, the personalities of the colonists, and the random stuff that happens to them.
RimWorld certainly isn't a looker and the vast majority of the work that has been invested in this sci-fi sandbox has been spent on coding new mechanics and events before squashing the bugs that will have emerged thereafter. If all you're after is a strange world full of stunning vistas, check out God of War instead. That said, RimWorld isn't without its own peculiar charm and we found the functional visuals strangely endearing, and of course, the sacrifices made on the visual front are done to facilitate a deeper and more convincing simulation.
Out of all the games in this year's top 10, RimWorld is probably the most niche, and it's certainly one of the less penetrable games that we've played this year. On the other hand, Ludeon Studios has crafted a rich and compelling sci-fi colony simulator that offers almost unparalleled depth and a bespoke experience that keeps on providing unique and entertaining narrative strands for the player to pick at. Because of its complexity, Rimworld won't speak to everyone, however, underneath the hard and unforgiving exterior there's a wonderful game just waiting to be unpacked and explored.