Kenshi is a game where you start off feeling small, incapable, and alone. From the get go, you are basically a nobody; just another face in the crowd, another cog in the machine, another meatbag for the grinder - but it's not what you are, but what you would rather be, and how you get there that makes this game enjoyable. The journey to the ultimate destination of your own choosing is where the fun lies. Will you be a lone trader, looking to accrue the greatest mountain of wealth the post apocalyptic world has ever seen? Or a wandering swordsman who hides their true strength to dispatch armies with relative ease? Perhaps a general at the head of your own personal body guard? Or the mayor of a little tiny village just beyond the next dune? Regardless of what your goal is, it is exactly that - yours.
When I started playing Kenshi, the one thing that first struck me was the graphics. Relatively blocky, and a bit funny to look at in some cases, i.e.: buildings clipping in a sand dune, or walls built at unreasonable angles. But, I don't play a game for graphics; to me that's just a secondary benefit. What I'm after is the gameplay, and what I was in store for really put a smile on my face.
My character started out in a small town on top of a mountain range. I could see another down off in the distance, and figured that I'd walk there after exploring this little fortress in the sky. Did I mention that the towns are more like fortresses? I didn't? Well, imagine a town surrounded by walls taller that the highest in-game building, with a group of 20 or so very heavily armed and skilled guards for it's protection. That's what constitutes a town in Kenshi. 'Relative' safety, but I'll get to that in a minute.
Heading towards the other town, I noticed that a group of bandits had started charging up the hill at me. I thought, "A group of bandits? Looks like fun, let's try out the combat!" and to my astonishment, I was obliterated. Beaten to within an inch of death, bleeding out in the beating sun, unconscious. My stomach had taken massive damage, and one of my arms was pretty much useless. I had been surrounded, beaten up, and left for dead. And my assailants? Took off to raid the town. Luckily, the city guard switfly dispatched them, but I was left on the hill. So, fast forward about half an in-game day, and I limp back to town (of course, I looted those bandits that attacked me and left them
for dead; take that!). After patching myself up sufficiently, I take to luring bandits to town to enjoy the fighting with the guards and levelling myself up.
Now, speaking of levelling up, skills are sorted into multiple sections: dexterity, strength, the various weapon skills, just to name a few. You gain proficiency by performing the tasks. You get stronger by carrying heavy objects around, not by killing a few rats like some other games, but not like there's anything wrong with them. You develop your character through hard work and dedication. Want to become better at running? Take off your heavy equipment and do a few laps. Don't know how to swing your weapon? Engage a training dummy or another person for all that matters. Even your ability to widthstand pain can be increased. How? By losing. That's right, you are rewarded for losing. Those bandits didn't kill you when they had the chance? Sucks to be them, because now not only are you angry, but you're also more accustomed to the pain. The next time you see them, they may well be on the losing side of the fighting. Kenshi rewards you for survival and practice, much like the saying: whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.
So back to my little tale to attempt to capture the game a bit more - After fighting a couple of fights with the city guard as backup, I tried luring a group of bandits back to the town only to my surprise - the guards at the gate weren't there. Either they left on a patrol, or were fighting another battle elsewhere, I had no time to check. The bandits were hot on my tail, and the only chance I had of survival was to either lead them away from town, or take refuge and hope to escape while they killed all the civilians. And in that moment, I saw a few brave men - shop guards - rush from the protection of their walls, and stop the bandits in their tracks. A bandit or two slipped by, and I gave chase. Unfortunately while I spent a good while fighting one, the other slayed an innocent civilian, and I was happy to see that the population count in the town had actually dropped. Protecting the towns actually has an incentive - no population = no trading. The bandits dispatched, the guards returned, and I resigned to head off towards that other town in the distance.
Now, as I could see the town, it didn't seem far. Plus, I had enough gold to recruit a new person to my little gang of righteous corpse theives. With some new equipment, a little bit of extra knowledge of how the world works and a new companion, I set out for the town. I travelled for at least two in game days. Two
. I saw the sun rise, and set, then rise and set again. Such is the scale of Kenshi - the world is an open sandbox (quite literally at this point - no grass, just sand and rocks), and things that look far off in the distance are
far off. And as I mentioned before, zooming out - I became a speck in the desert. The only that that kept my position known was the damn name tag floating above my head.
Kenshi may not be a game for everybody, but if you enjoy a bit of realism, and quite a bit of freedom, it may be worth it. It's still early access, which means that there are quite a lot of glitches, issues, bugs and crashes (I haven't encountered anything severe however), you may want to pass the game until it's more stable and developed decendant comes about. What appeals to me the most is actually two things: one, you are rewarded for winning, and are rewarded for trying. So long as you aren't dead, the game isn't over. It makes for one heck of a story if you keep little notes about what happens to your character when you play. The second thing is the scale and immersion of the game. Beyond the glitches sometimes breaking the immersion, I actually felt like a lone survivor in a desolate world, where people preyed upon the weak, and civilization may take days to reach on foot. Since I just recently bought the game, I can't say much about the developer, except that from reading what their vision is, it really is a grand one and has a lot of potential. Kenshi has lots of potential, but it also has lots of work left to be done. So pass it if you're looking for a more fleshed out game, but definitely get it if anything in this review has a major appeal to you. As for me, I'll be wandering the desert with my small group of companions trying to make a living in a world where death can come from even a small group of ill-trained, ill-equipped people. Afterall, you may know how to fight, but if a knife cuts you, you'll still bleed.