A sandbox game is defined as a type of game, that gives the player a particularly great amount of freedom and creativity to work towards goals and complete tasks. Except in Kenshi, there aren’t any goals or tasks laid out for you. Kenshi is a total sandbox game. It is this gigantic, detailed, post-apocalyptic Mad-Max-like world, in which you are the author of your own story. And what an epic story it will be. This article will be as much a Kenshi review as it will be a report of my own experience.
As mentioned above, Kenshi plays in a post-apocalyptic alternate world that reminds one of Mad Max except that it will feature swords and melee weapons and have this general feudal East-Asia feeling to it. As crazy as it sounds, it’s basically a post-apocalyptic samurai punk game!
Before you start your journey, you need to pick a starting scenario. It can be as easy as being a wandering merchant with plenty of starting capital, or as hard as being enslaved inside the camp of a faction of supremacist religious fanatics. You can choose your race and whether you want to start out solo or as a squad.
And that’s about it. From that moment on, you are in charge of your destiny and will have to decide on what you want to do. How do you want to survive and what path will your character (or characters) choose? Kenshi’s world is vast and rich in history and politics, but there is no underlying plot and not even so much as a gentle nudge in a certain direction. For reference, in this review I will mostly talk about the experience starting out solo and will only, later on, delve on the topic of playing in a squad and growing it.
Whatever start you pick, your character in Kenshi will always be a nobody with no skills what so ever. Kenshi’s skill system is based on a learning-by-doing principle. This means whenever you perform almost any action, its effectiveness will depend on the type of skill that you have. Running will improve on your Athletics while running with a lot of weight on you will improve your Strength. Your Toughness increased by taking damage, your engineering skill by building something, and so on.
Combat & Controls
Your character moves and performs actions by receiving the orders, usually with a custom click. You can create complex assignments that are based on priorities and have them fulfill multiple individual tasks. In addition, you can set up the behavior of every character in specific scenarios. For example, you decide on whether they should be an obedient slave or rebellious, or whether they should immediately focus on medic duties in combat situations. This makes the gameplay with multiple characters extra intriguing and lends the game an extra layer of depth. Creating a settlement will suddenly feel like a complex management simulation, except that you start from absolute scratch.
Combat feels like you would simply need to right-click on an enemy and slowly watch your character battle it out, but it is a little bit more complex than that. Hit the right timing with your clicks and you might make your character evade attacks or attack at the right moment themselves. Of course, you can also just let them do their thing, but the possibility of micro-management is there.
What’s really cool about Kenshi is the health mechanic. Each limb you have will have it’s own HP. Depending on how you get damaged in a fight, individual limbs might become harder or impossible to use. Lose HP at the wrong body part (like your head or your chest) and you might fall unconscious. Lose too much HP however, and you will either die or lose permanently lose your limb. Depending on where you receive them, some injures might become extremely dangerous and need immediate bandaging.
Many an encounter might quickly become very bloody
Life in Kenshi is what you make of it
Your whole story will always depend on what your focus on the game will be. Do you want to be a warrior and adventurer that fears nothing and delves into the most dangerous areas of the continent? A thief that lurks in the shadows trying to steal his way to fortune? Be a normal worker that wins his bread doing manual labor? Maybe you are going to quickly team up with other characters that you find on your road or in bars. The world of Kenshi is extremely hostile and dangerous. So having each-others backs might feel reassuring in the face of death. Who knows, you might find a good place to set up a base and grow your small camp into a full-fledged settlement.
Perhaps you will not have the luxury of choice, or perhaps that choice will be taken from you way too soon. If you find yourself imprisoned and inside a slave camp, your only dream, for now, might be an escape.
A small example
The best way to explain the sheer endless possibilities of Kenshi is to simply tell the beginning of one of my own stories.
Grim live of a slave
Once I picked out a start as a solo slave, right at the heart of the empire of religious fanatics. This camp was absolutely huge and an immediate escape was pretty much unthinkable. The guards had just beaten me to a pulp and to add to that, they barely fed me enough to keep me alive. Most importantly, I was forced to work the whole day, barely being able to catch my breath. Any deviancy ever so slight would be immediately punished with a heavy beating that might leave me incapacitated for hours.
The only thing I had going for me is that in their weird twisted logic, they would always bandage me up and make sure I didn’t just bleed out in my cage. Since I wasn’t able to escape immediately, I created an elaborate plan requiring a lot of patience and an equal amount of preparation. I had virtually no skills, so I would need to practice in the evening hours when the guards were sleeping.
A daring escape
I practiced my Lockpicking skills on my own shackles and cages when I had the time. At night, I trained myself in moving stealthily around the camp. Of course, in the beginning, I often failed and got caught. After some time however, I had the skills to move through the shadows unseen. Next, I stole food from containers and kept it hidden for the day I would attempt my escape. My lockpicking skills had slowly improved to the point where I could quickly open many locks, and my food reserves were high enough to get myself to a decent level of strength. The occasional beating I had received would prove helpful as I had acquired a new level of toughness and was able to tank more hits before I would fall.
One night, I prepared by eating to my heart’s content from the food reserves. Subsequently, I set out to free as many slaves as I could in the camp. Some just set out to leave themselves, some were too broken to even attempt an escape, and others stuck with me and followed me. The commotion I had caused was the perfect situation for me to sneak as close to the gates as possible and make a run for it the second I was seen.
A branded ex-slave with aspirations of revenge
My plan had succeeded and I found myself outside of the camp. I even had managed to shake off any trailing guards. However, I was still a branded slave. Consequently, anyone inside this land of fanatics would spot me from a mile away. Any thoughtless movement might quickly turn into a trip back to the slave camp, so I had to be careful. My food resources weren’t limitless and I had to find the way to a land where ex-slaves were not hunted. I departed for a journey that was treacherous, but my life in the camp had left me with a set of thievish skills that should prove useful.
To cut things short, I ultimately managed to get into the land of the Antislavers, a faction that was dedicated to fight the slavers. Unfortunately, it was also hated by all the factions that used slaves. No problem for me though, because my character hated all slavers. I trained in martial arts, banded up with some other folks, and set out to get revenge on the camp that made me suffer so much.
Basically, I told you only of the beginning of the playthrough I had with this slave. But even if I tell the whole story of how I eventually raided the Slaver’s base, killed multiple leaders of the theocracy, and permanently altered the state of the world, I would be only telling a fraction of what is possible in Kenshi. There are so many factions, places, and secrets you can discover, and every path you take will be different. It is truly a unique world that invites exploration and rewards you by creating a unique experience.
The base building and management elements of Kenshi were already hinted above, but it basically is a seamless integration into a new type of gameplay. One that will focus on macro-decisions and resource-management. Your challenges will suddenly change and you will have to solve a whole bunch of different problems.
Now, it will be about providing enough food for your squad. Produce, harvest, or mine the materials that are necessary to expand your base. You are going to have to think of ways to make money and finance your operations. Expand your squad and find books and artifacts to research new technologies that might give you an edge. Perhaps you might want to create a second squad of trained warriors to explore the world and find relics or hidden artifacts.
But do not forget to allocate enough resources for defense. All types of dangers lurk out there and you will have to prepare for a bandit raid as much as for an inspection of the local authorities.
You can start with simply house and eventually create a huge city
While the graphics of Kenshi might not be mind-blowing and might even deter someone from trying it, I urge you to look past it. It is an indie game after all, but it will not stop the game from sporting a unique and daunting atmosphere. The whole world is not just extremely deadly and dangerous, but also hostile and crude. It is truly dystopian, in a way that wants you to explore all its facets. Just for example, if you find yourself in the realm of the United Cities, some nobleman might just attack you because he enjoys hunting poor people for sport. Or perhaps you might be caught by a group of fanatical robots called the Skin Bandits. The name sounds as bad as it is because these fellas are about peeling off human skin and wearing them for themselves. Eerie doesn’t even begin to cover it.
You can safely bet that these guys are not looking for a nice chat
Kenshi is a beast of a game.It that is a truly unique experience that will probably be different for every player that tries it. One that challenges you to explore and experiment, surprises you with the weirdest scenarios and will give you a one-of-a-kind story to tell. It is about survival and there is not much more to tell about Kenshi in this review, that will not be just another way of saying what I have already explained above. Just try it. It’s a one-of-a-kind type of gem. Whatever you decide, I can promise you, you will never play a game like Kenshi again.
Pick it up at the Humble Store right now. Or read more about it on the Steam page.
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