Kenshi Review: The Game from Childhood Dreams

So I know my blogging hasn’t been great this year. It’s been odd, the last few months. Between editing three books and my new job, blogging hasn’t really been on my agenda lately. However, I am pleased to say that with SPFBO5 about to begin, I am returning to the author reviews you know and love! But I’m still going to review video games. It’s the one thing that keeps me from going senile.

Even though my job is video games.

Introduction

This has been a game that’s been a long time coming. I bought this game in 2014, and I decided to hold off on it until things became more…developed. With the game hitting 1.0 officially in December 2018, I felt it was finally time to review it.

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As you can tell, I’ve put some serious hours into this game, and I’ve probably seen 10% of the content.

Kenshi feels like a twisted, weird mix of games a child would dream up as the ideal video game. Is it the ideal video game? Lord no, but it does one hell of a good job in many areas.

I am a huge fan of open-ended sandboxes were you can just do what you want, but very few seem to do this right. This was made by a very small development team and I could tell as soon as I bought it that it was a game worth supporting. Even if it didn’t go much further, I could afford to spend 10-15$ on it. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can make a game, particularly in this day and age when there is just so much competition. The indie market is booming and with it a lot of the stigma attached to indie developers is fading, as AAA titles continue to frustrate consumers with their practices. It’s the right time to get into it.

Kenshi’s development was slow at first, and originally I did wonder if it was ever going to reach a stage where I would go into it and play it. Then more and more progress was made…and now it’s just impressive just how much is packed in this game.

The Game

This game reminds me a lot like Mount and Blade Warband, another game which I bloody adore. The graphics look like shit, if you want my honest opinion. It looks and feels bloaty, the engine is buggy and badly optimised,  there is no voice acting and no true narrative exists. What’s shocking is virtually none of this matters when it comes to Kenshi. It should be a bad game with how much it crams in, all these different parts somehow working. Parts of the game make me think it’s still an alpha version, and there’s some serious flaws with it but man. . .I love it. It’s an amazing role-playing sandbox.

You are given a massive open-ended map (And I mean it’s huge. 870 square km), full of varied biomes, different factions, and just given a smack on the bum. Go and enjoy. Make your own story. It gives you almost nothing to work with and the beginning is frustrating. It’s also tough. You will die a lot.

To give you an idea just how large the Kenshi map is, here is a slideshow. The first slide shows the Waystation, with The Hub in the distance. Most playthroughs will begin near the Hub, for it is a good starting area in the game.

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This gives a good indication just how massive the map is in Kenshi.

 

Onto the story element, there is none, or at least no direct narrative. There is a ton of well crafted lore in the game world of course, but nothing for you to follow. You really need to have some level of creative thinking to get the most out of this game. It’s a role playing game at its purest level. You do need to spend a lot of time with this game, it’s certainly not for the faint hearted. You need to have patience in dealing with some semi-broken mechanics, long loading times as the engine chugs on its single-core, and handle a lot of rough elements. What lies under the rough surface is a game of surprising complexity and depth.

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I lost my entire party 10 minutes later to a horde of starving bandits.

However the game’s sheer openness in this case is its biggest strength, with a literal torrent of things to do. It might not be pretty to look at but its mechanics are incredible. I don’t understand how this game manages to fit in so many different genres and play-styles at once like some fucked experiment. Some of them don’t work at times, others are buggy, but for a game to do all this at once, and do a decent job overall, is seriously impressive and deserves recognition. Do they work all the time? No.

You can build your own settlements, hire mercenaries, enslave NPCs to do your bidding, form your own company. The learning mechanics are brilliant, with so many ways to train your characters. You have guilds to join, shit to steal, crops to grow. It’s not so much a game but as a world to craft your own experience, with a story development on par with Rimworld. It has an awesome body system as well. You get fucked in a fight? You will limp around until you can fix it. I get my leg cut off…just read the description here:

A character with a wounded leg will limp or crawl and slow the party down, wounded arms means you must use your sword one-handed or not at all. Severe injuries will result in amputees needing robotic limb replacements. Blood loss means you can pass out, and the blood will attract predators. A character’s stats are affected by equipment, encumbrance, blood loss, injuries and starvation.

This game gives zero shits about you, but it is also surprisingly accessible. While the game is perma death, getting into fights is a great way to get stronger. If you get put in jail, you get healed up and fed while you struggle to break out. Everything you do improves your stats in some way, so don’t shy away from tough situations. The games systems are easy to exploit and easy to break, but doing so will make parts of the game lose its aura.

Building a settlement is hard. You get to research all sorts of things with a research bench and the right materials, but the game punishes you when you start setting out on your own. You’ll get attacked by enemies on a bullshit degree, factions will come demanding tax money, bandits will demand food or money to leave you alone, and don’t get me started on the Holy Nation. Fuck those assholes. My current 30 hour play-through is dedicated to a group of plucky souls building an army to destroy them.

There are plenty of factions to play with, all with different styles. The Skeletons don’t need to eat, but can’t heal themselves without expensive Repair Kits and are hated by nearly everyone. The United Cities are a corrupt, slavers paradise. The Sheks are a warrior kingdom who look down on smuggling drugs (But you can make lots of money if you don’t get caught by their smuggling checks), while the Holy Nation are racist fanatics with a powerful belief in religion and purity. Seriously, fuck the Holy Nation.

Oh, and cannibals. There are lots of those.

This is one of the most impressive open worlds I’ve ever seen in a video game. You can play it as an RPG, a city builder, a fighting game and a stealth game, and do a pretty damn good job in all of them. I’ve rarely seen that in gaming.

If it sounds like I’m gushing, I’m not. Kenshi has some pretty glaring flaws, and if you’re one of those guys who want good optimisation and things to look pretty then you’re going to have a brain injury if you play this game. It’s buggy, chugs harder than a train on National Rail, ugly, and lacks a general direction, certainly. Do I wish it wasn’t as unstable at times? Yes. Do I regret my time with Kenshi? Lord no.

Nonetheless, I mean it when I say this is one of those endless experiences that deserves a chance. I can see myself writing a new novel just from my roleplaying experiences in this game. With an extensive modding scene, we might see some really impressive things in the future.

I will caution this: while there is a healthy modding scene, the tools themselves are limited. While this is a shame, you can fix a lot of base problems in Kenshi already through mods, and the game has been successful enough for the devs to make a sequel, with any engine fixes and improvements to be made to the original Kenshi.

 

Pros

  • Huge world crammed full of deep lore and lots of things to do.
  • A.I is crude, but it does the job fairly well.
  • Unforgiving learning curve is satisfying to overcome, even if it takes dozens of hours.
  • Some of the games visuals can look good.
  • An excellent combat system that syncs well with the training mechanics.
  • Almost endless gameplay.
  • Despite the limitations of the modding engine, it has a healthy scene
  • A varied mix of factions with their own deep lore.
  • A great choice of weapons.
  • So many genres!
  • A large quantity of mods that add even more mechanics, game starts and factions.
  • The ultimate sandbox game.
Cons
  • Brutal early game and lack of hand holding will turn many players off.
  • Frequent long loading times, even with an SSD.
  • Ugly environments for the most part.
  • Limited in some ways by the creativity of the player.
  • No true story or endgame.
  • Obtuse squad micromanagement at times.
  • Despite an extensive number of mods, the modding tools are fairly limited.
  • Unfortunately you cannot conquer towns and claim them for your own. However, there is a mod in progress that adds this feature!
  • Much of the open world is feature-sparse desert.
  • Buggy pathfinding at times.

 

To close things off, here are some screenshots I took in-game, and a little story to go with it. This is my current play-through, 50 days in (with no fast forward) and 35 hours.

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Khronin and Viro, unlikely rivals turned friends, have a new goal. After Viro was attacked by Holy Sentinels and left for dead, Khronin has sworn vengeance against the Holy Nation.

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Khronin’s skill in battle and charisma begins to grow the army. This growing force of disgruntled Sheks and bought slaves prepare themselves for their ultimate goal – the destruction of the Holy Nation.

 

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With a growing host of skilled fighters, Khronin and Viro take their teams out on training missions against the wild.

 

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Following a brutal battle between slavers, bandits and our protagonists, Khronin finally decides the time is right to begin their campaign. It will begin in the Holy Farms. Too long have these peasants stood against you. No more.

 

FINAL SCORE AND CLOSING THOUGHTS: Kenshi is a hard game to give a score. It has flaws, and a lot of them, but there are few games like this on the market. I’d give this game a 8/10 overall, the bugginess and at times annoying loading bringing down its score. 

The game is not for everyone, but I still recommend you all give it a good go. I play Kenshi zoomed in with my characters, making it more like a close-third person RPG than a top-down strategy game. I suggest you try it out that way as well.

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