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Should I be excited about… Kenshi (PC)

KenshiLoz Dogs presents: A Town Called Hopeless Malady
After spending the very necessary time tweaking the level of visual splendour my poor laptop could handle in the video settings, it was time for a world of bustling towns and side quests in Kenshi. It is, as the tagline suggests, “an open ended, squad-based strategy RPG”. I was prepared to be overwhelmed with the pressures of learning the systems at a pace dictated by designers who know what’s best for us, forced into patronising tutorials with information that most game players would rather discover on their own. That didn’t happen.

On entering a new game I was presented with a first choice. What baggage does our hero bring to this new land of opportunity? Did they do their service to a cause they no longer believed in? Or are they the head of a band of losers just looking for a new home?

2nd trailer, update 0.40 – Indie DB

As a self-confessed turtler in the strategy department, the latter was the obvious choice. Of course there are several histories to choose from which inform the inventory and company the player begins the game with. Taking charge of a rag-tag flock of strays provided the materials needed to begin forming a lucrative new town in what was dubbed: Hope County.

KenshiFor here you are next faced with an almost excessive amount of appearance options, though the choice to champion a female character is unfortunately not yet accessible. Despite any precognitions, there was no startup tutorial and no villagers asking for immediate assistance. The player is free to go, as simple as walking through the front gate. In haste, seven explorers ventured out to find the best arable sandy pastures the frontier could provide.

The expression, ‘all the gear but no idea’ would comfortably sum up the brutality those opportunists faced on the sands in those first days. A series of brief tutorial cards explain that characters are subject to annihilation should they challenge bandits head-on without prior martial training and expertise. A man with more wisdom would have heeded this warning.

KenshiThe health system seems overly convoluted, though not difficult to work out with another handy tutorial card. Health is measured across several body parts for each character with the head, chest and stomach counting as the vitals which dictate the difference between life and death. There is a bleeding counter which feeds directly into a blood bar, then the vitals and limbs. If limbs drop below zero, they become useless and falling below minus one hundred means they are severed. When the vitals hit nil points your little guys faint and will not stir again until they move back into the positive figures. Should they pass negative one hundred, they are irrevocably deceased.

In the first ninety minutes of playtime, my team had taken a severe beating from many bands of assailants, and the noble and executive decision was made to flea back to the safety of Telbooze. Despite the frustration of failing so completely from the word go, it is astonishing how the game mechanics make you identify with these characters, even though they aren’t exactly winning Oscars for their performances. As the first of the warriors awoke to his friends scattered around him, he was instructed to take the medkits from his companion and methodically tend to the rest. This small moment where the team moved on from their tragedy set up the later moments in the game, where there is a deep town building system.

KenshiOnce bitten, twice shy. A more defensible location on a secluded outcrop just north of the town was selected to begin anew with more humble aspirations. The builder, in true strategy game fashion, works through research and development. There is already a large network of structures available and many to upgrade. It was simple to become self-sufficient with no need to eat or sleep. Both of these options are present, which suggests such a limitation will be another issue for the player to contend with in the final build.

One of the main things severely lacking in the town building at the moment is the ability to build walls. On reading through the forums, it seems that they are the next major feature to be implemented. Without this rudimentary defence, the town was subject to countless raids in the early days of what became a town called Hopeless Malady.

Having played such an early build still in its alpha stage, there is an inevitably large stack of features left to be implemented. Walls notwithstanding, crafting is as yet nowhere to be seen, meaning clothing and armour options are limited to those you started with, scavenged or purchased from traders. Thankfully, close quarters weaponry smithing is currently available with a large array of options available with the right materials and skill levels. Other key features missing include fast travel and simple warnings when your people come under assault.

KenshiDespite this, my brief foray into the Kenshi frontier provided a rich experience of tragedy, community and strength as my imagination ran wild with the blank canvas that this world presents. The nature of the design allows narrative architects to use this platform as inspiration for their own creations. The toolset, though by no means complete, is extensive and the world, whilst barren and brutal to the unprepared, presents a haven of literary opportunity.

We leave Hopeless Malady with a budding population, and with two new recruits and a developing crafting quarter. Their tales will continue and we will visit them again when the frontier becomes that little bit more wholesome.

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