Early Access Preview: Kenshi03 May 2017 1
Much like real life, the open-ended, squad-based world of Kenshi is filled with friendly faces and devious criminals. It's all about survival of the fittest out here. The world and its people just want to live. If they achieve that by pillaging your corpse or charging 3000 coins per day for the privilege of accompanying you on your adventures then that's what they'll do. You're out to make a life for yourself in a harsh world and you'll need to play your cards right every step of the way if you're to stand any chance of surviving for more than 10 minutes at a time. The experience can stretch on for a lifetime or end just as quickly as it began.
The 'core' experience of Kenshi is handled by selecting the first available character pre-set. You'll still create a character with its gender, race and body structure totally up to your own preference, but the role you select at the start will determine whether you're shoehorned into taking up the life of a merchant, builder, bodyguard, brawler (etc) with the items and capital provided on a silver platter to see you safely on your way. By disregarding these handicaps, however, you'll take up Kenshi on its preferred gameplay method - simply winging it.
Dropped into a remote town on the edge of its current half-sized game world, you're given about enough cash to grab a sleeping bag and a tiny ration of food. 1000 doesn't get you far in this world, so you'll have to figure out a game plan. Starvation is a very real thing. There's a building supply store beside the lively bar, but you're certainly in no shape to build a place of your own right now. Your only real choice is to grab a few provisions, steel those nerves and venture out into the real world.
With little more than a stick on your back, you'll likely not put up much of a fight out in the wilderness. Within my first 10 minutes, I ventured over a few hills before being spotted by a pack of bandits with every intention of stealing what little my life was currently worth. Thankfully, the guards back at the outpost were likely being paid to keep the place safe. Sprinting back to where I carelessly abandoned just a few minutes ago lead to a sizeable brawl culminating with the town's forces chasing down the sole survivor long enough to shove him back into the dirt. For me, it was a near-death experience. for them, likely some welcome exercise. I lifted the goods from the corpses now littering the ground of an otherwise peaceful town and sold them for next to nothing. All I'd really achieved was an vastly increased heartbeat in the process.
If anything, the whole ordeal was enough to quickly convince me that I was in way over my head already. Do I aim for fame, fortune, both or neither? Maybe just make a living as a crook and walk the path of the bandits that chased me over the hills. Kenshi doesn't hold your hand in any way, shape or form - and that's exactly what makes it such a breath of fresh air.
The 'Early' Bits
But let's look at some of the current draw-backs. Graphics aren't one I typically like to delve right into, but for an ambitious, large-scale tactical RPG set to leave Early Access in 2017, the visuals of Kenshi do nothing of justice for the game. The world is bland, repetitive and boring to look at no matter where you are or how far you venture. It's an ugly game and it's unlikely to end up looking much better in the future. Of course, visuals don't mean the world in video games; but if you're expected to spend copious amounts of time within its world, it needs to not look like something from the early 2000's.
Likewise, it still manages to feel a little too much like a game from the era its trying to hearken back to. The menus are cluttered and complicated, icons are difficult to distinguish from their actual use and even just navigating the world feels cumbersome. Having multiple levels of 'fast-forward' help speed things along, but I found myself strugging to perform simple tasks like clicking on nearby items or navigating indoor areas before the auto-mapping had my character running up a nearby staircase rather than leaving the bar.
Things can only get better - but performance, graphical fidelity and over-all usability need a good boost to make the right impression for launch.
Having been in development since at least 2013, you'd expect a fairly sizeable amount of content to be present at this point. And you'd be right. Kenshi is a near-endless experience whether you're just strolling around looking for loot or setting up an outpost for you and your followers to call home. It's a survival RPG that's deep enough to warrant some thorough tactical decision making to pay off.
But, being pre-release, Lo-Fi Games isn't done with it. We've already mentioned, but Kenshi is aiming to make an official 1.0 debut in the coming season with the already monumental game world doubling in size when it does. Faction diplomacy is a key feature aiming to arrive around the same time with plenty of culled bugs and general balance fixes thrown in for good measure.
There's a long, long list of changes from over the years, so you can expect a vast amount of changes to come as time goes by. There can't be one sure-fire way to victory in Kenshi, and there's no doubt any life lived within its confined country won't be without its dangers.
Kenshi isn't a tale told a million times before, nor one we'll likely hear again. In fact, there's little to no story whatsoever - and that's likely the best decision Lo-Fi Games could have ever made. There are no distractions. The world reaches out far in front of you and it's up to your own courage and dilligence to figure out where to slot yourself into society.
From the get-go, Lo-Fi Games have known exactly which route to take Kenshi. It's a fantastic achievement even in its current state and a solid testament to the focus and resolve of its creator's ideals as a designer - a hardcore RPG that feels like it's travelled from a bygone era to remind us how games have gone off the rails when it comes to their decreased difficulty. There's little in the way of tutorials, and it's UI - while admittedly messy - reminds us that life itself needs constant, meticulous monitoring.
After being in Early Access for many years already, it's likely a safe bet to recommend anyone even remotely interested in a fresh take on the tactical RPG genre to take Kenshi for a run either through its free demo or Early Access offering. Waiting for the full release will result in a world twice as big as the Early Access offering to explore from the get-go, but it's big enough already to spend dozens - if not hundreds - of hours traversing for your own gain.
Kenshi has been in Steam's Early Access Program since March 2013, and is due to leave in Summer 2017. A price increase is expected. You can place yourself onto a mailing list to be emailed once the officially launch happens.