This is gonna be a hard one.
So, ‘Kenshi’ has been in development for 12 years. Work started on this when I was nine years old, back when I was happy playing the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Pokemon Ruby- the same year the likes of ‘Oblivion’ was released!
So here I am, in the precarious position of having to rate over a decade’s worth of work, something conceived before I knew the first thing about game design and before I could even make a spreadsheet, never-mind play a game like this.
‘Kenshi’ is, to put it bluntly, an open-world RPG reminiscent of older games like PlaneScape Baldur’s gate, with even a hint of Dwarf Fortress stirred up in that pot. Your character spawns somewhere in a gigantic overworld- and I mean gigantic, it’s almost as large as Daggerfall’s map- with a few pennies and a basic weapon, and it’s up to you to navigate a world where you’re not the hero; where you’re a random dude who is just as strong as all other random dudes stuck in the middle of a hostile and unforgiving situation. A single enemy can and will kick your ass, and not in the ‘Dark Souls’ way. This is not a game about skill and quick reactions- my dude, this is a goddamn role-playing game. Not RPGlite, not RPGfps or Action-RPG. This is a hard PC role-playing game.
‘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.
‘Kenshi’ isn’t what I’d call a video game, straight up- it certainly doesn’t have the levels of polish, ease of use, and inherent moment-to-moment fun that the word ‘game’ implies. That is, of course, not to say it isn’t fun- it is, just not exciting at single points, rather more of a long-term fun experience.
No, this is a game made for the kind of people that enjoy model trains, except way less dry and grandad-y. It’s a big old web of systems and interlocking mechanics that, from the outside, seem utterly impenetrable. Certainly I, as someone who’s used to a bit more pizzazz in their game, was instantly uncomfortable with what I was presented- this is a game for programmers, for tinkerers, for the kind of people that play EVE Online. You can go anywhere and do anything, but don’t expect it to be simple- most of your time will be spent trying to figure the damn thing out and the rest will be spent running for your life. In lieu of picking a class, you simply choose what state your character starts in- some are marked ‘RPG’, and others marked ‘RTS’, that’s the flexibility of the game system they’ve built here. The game could be ‘Planescape: Torment’ to one person and ‘Total War’ to another.
It’s not visually pretty- much less, despite some very stunning concept art it looks like fried shite even for a game started in 2006- and it’s not accessible. If you’re looking for a bit of casual fun, this is not it. This is a time sink for a single dedicated segment of the gaming subculture. This is the Niche of the niche of the niche.
The game doesn’t offer any direction, whatsoever. No main quest that you can default back to once you’ve finished wandering off. No introductory cutscene or dialogue, not even a proper tutorial (It’s all pop-ups, sadly). And this isn’t a ‘Minecraft’ style sandbox- there’s no dicking about in ‘Kenshi’. You can’t just plop down and enjoy a zen-like state, you can and will be jumped by bandits, leaving your character for dead before you’ve even figured out what it is you actually want to do. This is a game you earn the right to play. This is not a sandbox, it’s a system you will learn to exploit over time. For me, that meant stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down and then selling all but the best loot back to its original owner, because I couldn’t figure out any other way of generating cash.
I don’t want to say the game is bad, though. Certainly not- simply that my first impression was ‘Wow, this is a bit out of my depth’- and this is from someone who’s been playing games longer than he’s been capable of reading. ‘Kenshi’ is a thinking man’s game, and I can tell that, even though I’ve currently spent a good 20 hours playing around with it, I will have to spend 100 more before I’m able to give a full review.
So yeah, keep your eyes peeled for at least 2 more articles on this topic- my official review, and then some kind of re-review after I’ve grown a beard and been declared legally dead.
See you soon, my dudes.