I’m told this is great, but I just got arrested for being a robot.
“Hey, Will, you like RPGs right?” Came the word from Javier when he sent me this code “Here, I think you’ll really like this one”…
I was not prepared for what continued. I’m months away from getting my bachelor’s degree in Interactive Media (Which you can guess by the name is a rather techy affair), and it still took me fifteen hours to make heads or tails of what the fuck I was looking at with this game. This is gonna be a difficult review to write, I’ll tell you that for sure.
Let’s take a step back – ‘Kenshi’ is the debut release of Lo-Fi games, a 4-man team working out of Bristol, and they certainly rushed the whole thing as fast as possible – 12 years this game’s been in development!
It’s longer than it took for NASA to put a man on the moon – If this game had started development a few years into the NES’s lifetime, it could have been released on the N64. That’s the length we’re talking about.
…And you know what? Mad props to them. They started developing the game the same year the glorious ‘Oblivion’ came out, and released it in a working state the same year ‘Fallout 76’ was shat into our lives – They worked damn hard through a difficult time for RPGs, and have managed to release something that ends up being not only passable – but a damn good example of what RPGs used to be – and what they can become again going forwards.
This disregards, of course, that the game looks like fried ass, and isn’t without its fair share of bugs and glitches. It’s a massive design and technical feat by a 4-man team, we can let the shitty graphics and occasionally iffy code slide, we’re here for indie freedom, not AAA polish. Ok? Ok.
So, what is it? What kind of game are we looking at here?
Good question. let me get back to you on that one.
‘Kenshi’ is a hard RPG – Not any of this Action-RPG Dark Souls shit, this is the big boy, sucka. If you don’t actually role play, if you don’t invent a character and pretend to be them, you’re missing out on 80% of the fun. This is RPGs as they used to be – You literally are some random nobody existing as a part of a world with consistent rules, and it’s up to you to figure out what it is you want to do then go out and do it; not as the Chosen Undead or the Nerevarina or the Nameless One; you’re some random fuckwit with an IKEA weapon and no idea how to use it better than the next idiot.
I suppose the best way to describe what kind of gameplay experience I had is to simply tell you a few choice tales – So gather around the fire, young ones, and we’ll begin.
I was presented with a selection of a few different game styles – A homeless dude with a dog, a dude who lost an arm in the middle of the desert, a dude in charge of a small army, etc. I chose the default vanilla option – A ‘Wanderer’ who is spawned in the middle of a run-down town with a cruddy sword and a little bit of pocket change… And this was when I first laid eyes on the character creator.
As is standard for many Fantasy / Sci-Fi titles, you’ve got a few different races to choose from – Humans, insect dudes, dudes with bones for a face, pretty cool and unique stuff, no Elves or Gnomes here – But there was one that I saw and instantly thought ‘Yes. This is it’.
I chose to play as a ‘Skeleton’ – which, in this game, are 1,000-year-old sentient robots with a dry sense of humour – “Yes”, I thought, “I shall play as K2-S0 from ‘Rogue One'”.
I spawned in a wrecked city in the middle of nowhere – Apparently named ‘The Hub’, although no-one anywhere in town would do anything other than selling me food or try to charge me ten grand to join their clubhouse. The place was looking a bit worse for wear – of all the buildings, only 3 or 4 had a working roof – so I decided that it’d be best that I leave dead quick and see what else I could find, lest the eerie, unspeaking stares of the locals give my character social anxiety.
…And so, I set foot into the desert with nought but a plank I’d apparently spawned with to use as a weapon – The world was my oyster, what adventures await?
As I climbed across the hill, and casually strolled across the plains, I soon saw a city off in the distance – What would I find here?
Seconds later, I was arrested on the spot and dragged into a cage in a random building deep in the city.
Oi mate, is it becoz I’m aluminium?
So, I decided it best to reload that save, and re-start with a few friends who could help me out in a bad situation – Behold, the Cockwarts!
The Cockwarts all died minutes later.
In another save, I was told that being hungry was illegal, so I was beaten unconscious and they killed my dog. No, really. It’s illegal to be hungry. And they killed my dog. Fuckers.
Next, I made a pretty decent living stealing and selling random that people left lying around, before erecting a little hut on the hill and living alone among my trophies.
This game is like an old-timey Bethesda release – It’s a story generator, just one where you have to generate all of the stories. The game doesn’t point you anywhere, never explains anything, and doesn’t offer any kind of goal. It’s a complex web of systems that you have to learn all about before you can come to appreciate it. Even 25 hours in, I still feel I haven’t even scratched the surface – this is a tool with which you can make your own fun – but rather than handing you some building blocks, it hands you a pile of sheet metal, a welding torch, and a 600-page textbook and says “Good luck, sucker!”.
Actually, scratch that: there’s no handbook. “Figure it out, mate”! I think this quote from my ‘first impressions’ article sums it up best.
‘Kenshi’ is a game, I think, made for a different kind of demographic than I. I went in expecting something that resembled the original Fallout, or maybe World of Warcraft or Morrowind. What I did not expect was one of the most bafflingly unique opening 10 hours of gameplay I think I’ve ever played, where you’re simply dropped in with no direction and no goals whatsoever, so you’re left with the tremendous goal of figuring out where the fun is. This isn’t a sandbox like, say, GTA where at the very least, you have to option of punching a pedestrian. No, you spawn in a random city without so much as a quest marker to show you what to do. You literally have to set your own quests – which is fine in a game like MineCraft, where you can just say “I want to build a little house” and then do so in the space of 5 minutes – no, to play ‘Kenshi’ you have to learn it, and doing so is gonna be a hard one.
I am not going to end this review with an out-of-ten score I’m frankly unqualified to give it one. This game is not something easy to play, but rather a complex web of systems and mechanics you’ll have to figure out before you can have any fun with it. This game is a niche title within an already niche market, and given how little experience with it I have versus the steam reviewers, many of whom have hundreds upon hundreds of hours, I don’t feel fit giving it my overall final stamp of approval; but I will say this; even 20 hours in, I’m loving it; it’s a game built for people who enjoy a deep dive into really harsh RPGs, and I think anyone who needs some meat on their plate after being offered Bioware-brand lentils for a decade will surely find much to love. That’s all I’m gonna say – I’ll be back after 300 more hours.