After decades of history of gaming and the thousands of stories told throughout, some concepts have been getting very stale: for example, why does it always seem like the entire plot and indeed the world of a game revolves around one character – the player? Well, if you’re tired of these “chosen one” narratives, then look no further.
The gameplay of Kenshi reflects the world that acts as it’s setting. It is cruel, unrelenting, and does not care about you any more than about any of the thousands of NPCs wandering its scorched landscape. Set in a mysterious post-apocalyptic land where humanity has devolved back into an anarchic dark age, the premise a simple enough rags-to-riches scenario. You start alone and pretty much useless, in an unfamiliar and hostile environment. From there on, it’s all up to you. In fact, Kenshi is one of the best examples of a sandbox game in recent memory. There is no set goal or grand quest to have except those you set for yourself, and the sky is the limit.
You will have to train up your skills and gather trusty followers to move up in this world. But the road is tough. So very, very tough. Being robbed of all your belongings, imprisoned forever, enslaved, having your limbs gnawed off by a horrifying mutated beast, or your legs broken and being left to starve in a desert – all of these, and more are quite possible in Kenshi. Act too carelessly, and your character will bleed out, permanently cutting your playthrough short.
The combat is a sort of semi-automated clump of dice rolls in which you direct your character(s) and watch them duke it out with the target. While a bit frustrating at times, the system ensures that absolutely everyone, player-controlled or not, is at an equal footing. Your success in combat will depend on your skills and equipment, and how they match up against the enemy. It also means that being outnumbered is a quick way to end up tied to a stake and cannibalized.
As the game progresses from you being a lone vagabond to a squad and eventually even an empire, it becomes clear that Kenshi is a sort of RPG/RTS hybrid. Micromanagement becomes the name of the game, with you controlling multiple parties of characters with different skillsets.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the graphics. Kenshi is the product of a stunning 12 years of development by a single person and their vision – which explains the situation with its graphical presentation (or lack thereof). It’s rough, simplistic, and just plain ugly at times. The limited palette of murky colors gets tiring very quickly, though I suppose it does serve to present this world as a desolate wasteland it was meant to be.
In the end, however, Kenshi is a monument to the vision and scope of Chris Hunt, lead developer and founder of Lo-fi Games. Every design choice made during development seems to have been purposefully made with the goal of creating a harsh, uncompromising, yet ultimately enthralling world. Kenshi is not for the faint of heart – you will feel helpless, you will feel alone, you will feel frustrated, yet in the end, should you power through all the adversity, you will realize just why this might be one of the most memorable gaming experiences of the past few years.