Kenshi Review: Of Swords, Scavenging, and Strife

So you want to be an anarchist...

I know what you’re thinking. Society is overrated. You can’t stand it, but it inevitably insinuates its vile influences into your otherwise perfect life and you know it would be so much better if everyone was left to their own devices to ensure their continued existence. Just you, your friends and various members of your exclusive circle of trust against the world. So much awesome, right? Think again. Kenshi, by Lo-Fi Games is a hardcore survival game based in a desolate, sci-fi world containing various factions, gangs, small groups, religious fanatics and various other splintered shards of society that are bound to explode when societies crumble, and very few of them are of the opinion that you belong in their world. This is our Kenshi review.

Lo-Fi Games is an independent studio that for approximately 6 years consisted of a single part-time developer. Why is that important? Because considering that it was only two short years ago that this still small team was expanded what has been accomplished is quite admirable. Taking in the scope of the concepts and features the game endeavors to tackle shows the ambition of the original developer, Chris Hunt, and his dedication that he pursued this for so long, unfunded and alone. Having acknowledged that, the game is rough. I don’t mean that it is just unpolished, it’s in Beta phase, and unpolished is usually the norm for games in beta… Usually. Kenshi, however, introduces some extreme survivalist difficulty, but not so much versus the environment. Like any well-written wasteland world, it’s the other people that are your true challenge. You WILL live and die by the sword. Mostly die.

How you experience the game encompasses a large variety of preferential gameplay. You can play all by your lonesome, maybe have a dog sidekick, wandering the wastes wronging rights… or whatever, or you can treat this like a base building survival campaign. You can even gather a horde of thugs around you and go about raiding towns. Or you can do all of the above, why settle for a static lifestyle anyway? The possibilities in how you choose to approach the game are definitely one of the good points of the game. At its core, this Kenshi is a survival game, whether that was the intention or not. No matter how you choose to tackle the wastes, you will have necessities that will need to be met and that will require a build up of resources, even if you just intend to sell them.

Starting a game will allow you to choose from multiple, varied backgrounds that will determine whether it is just you vs. the world or if you start with a small group (5) of characters and will also determine whether you have any funds, resources, and the difficulty of your gameplay. Supposedly. Having tried several backgrounds, I found the change in difficulty to be rooted in the minutia of whether or not you were totally obliterated, or if you were just killed offhandedly. Either way, I found death to be an inevitable result. Character creation is pretty in depth, allowing you to modify everything from your character’s species to the size of their hands. Even going so far as to letting adjust various aspects of their posture and idle stance.

Playing the game elicits multiple reactions that become more complex as you persist. To quote from Lo-Fi Games’ site:

You are not the chosen one. You’re not great and powerful. You don’t have more ‘hitpoints’ than everyone else. You are not the center of the universe, and you are not special. Unless you work for it.

That quote, in my opinion, severely understates the level of your insignificance and lack of skills. Granted, you can increase your skill levels, primarily by engaging in the activity that you currently suck at. Do it enough, and you will start to learn and become competent. Sort of. Combat is a beast to get a handle on. No, you don’t have to actually fight for every increase in skill you want, you can make training dummies that are really good at taking punishment. Plus there are several levels of combat dummies that will eke out a bit more skill from you as you graduate from one dummy (no, not me) to another. Learning to create items, is also a bit of a struggle. Some of the items on your Tech research list you can just research. Those are pretty much all on your first level research list. As you progress, and for many of the more complicated items including training dummies, you will need to purchase books in order to facilitate your learning. These are not cheap and can be hard to come by. In point of fact, none of your gear or necessities are cheap.

Gaining money, while not easy, can be made fairly steady through various different avenues. You can be a bounty hunter. You can. Just make sure you’re pretty well trained before you try it or you may just find that swords to your body are the only bounty you’ll get. For a fairly easy, but somewhat time-consuming start, I found that scavenging by hitting an ore vein as close to town as you can to be pretty profitable. Just remember that as you weigh yourself down you won’t be able to run from the blood-crazed psychos in the wasteland.

Another item on the list of things you don’t have that the quote fails to mention is numbers. You are few. Or solo (no, you don’t have a wookie). Various gangs of different sizes ranging from more-than-your-group to triple-the-size-of-your-group and consisting religious fanatics, scavengers, and good-old-fashioned thieves and bandits roam the land on a frequent basis. Most of them would just as soon kill you and everyone you know simply for existing, and any verbal interaction that might happen before they do is simply to practice their speaking skills.  You can pad your numbers by hiring random people from the local town’s Bar, but that is expensive and will take time.

Ah! But don’t despair! When you first pick your specific background, there is an advanced menu in which you can change the likelihood of being killed in a combat encounter, being robbed, the abundance of gang patrols, and various other aspects. So, yeah. You can make it so there is no chance a bloodthirsty gang will kill you after beating you to a bloody pulp, you can even make it so they leave your stuff alone. Heck, your characters will even play dead should they regain consciousness during the battle. So, you can survive! With survival come progress and advancement, so that’s good. But you can be certain that they will be back to provide you with your frequent, doctor-prescribed, butt whooping on the regular. At least this way you don’t lose all your progress towards building your career, your small community, or what-have-you.

While the game contains plenty of tutorial windows and a help button for more information (use it frequently), I found that much of the workings of the world were still unclear. That is, until after a myriad of horrible deaths. Unfortunately, getting a grasp on those workings did little to lessen my frequent gentleman callings from Death.

Again, the game is in a beta state and things are going to change (hopefully for the better) and evolve. As it stands right now, there numerous bugs and glitches that need to be squelched, but unless you are thinking that the games obvious inclination to murder your character is a programming issue none of these are really game breaking. No, the game is not a AAA title. Hello, small, indie developer group. But considering a severe lack of funding along with the breadth and depth of the complexities this game attempts to tackle, I’m impressed. Kenshi is still in beta phase, and my score will reflect that, as well as other issues I encountered, but all in all, I feel like the game has great promise and I look forward to seeing a finished and more refined product down the road.

Compare to:
  • DayZ
  • Ark: Survival Evolved
A hardcore, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi survival game that is nothing if not challenging. Despite being in beta and harboring a variety of issues, Kenshi shows great potential; and its beta status leaves hope that some of that potential will be realized. This is a game that is very difficult to become established in, but that just adds value to your investment of time and strategy.
  • Detailed character appearance editor
  • Vast crafting and training system
  • Decent in-game economy
  • Still in Beta
  • Difficulty levels seem extreme
  • The game engine wants your character dead
Written by
A veteran gamer and story-hunter with a derivative digital-action addiction who endeavors to slake his hunger with every idle moment he can find… unless his kids are home. Then he’s just Dad.

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