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Thanks to RimWorld, I will never look at squirrels in the same way again.

Six hours into my most well-developed colony, a wave of a few dozen man-eating squirrels took to my camp and slaughtered every inhabitant. With no turrets or defenses beyond a few semi-automatic weapons, my poor colonists never had a chance.

It’s easy to see why RimWorld, an outer-space survival and base-building game inspired by cult hit Dwarf Fortress, went from an early access oddity to topping the Steam charts. Unlike many other survival titles, RimWorld excels at telling a great story — even if its dense systems get in the way.

RimWorld’s focus on storytelling is evident from the start, when it asks players to choose their preferred storytelling style. Should there be no disruption, a gradual ramp up in intensity, or pure chaos? Players can also pick the intensity of the interruptions: are the squirrels peacefully bounding around the forest, or eating hapless coloinsts? I quickly got over my ambivalence and turned the difficulty up — RimWorld is more fun when things go awry.

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After choosing a storyteller and difficulty, players’ colonists are plopped down on a procedurally-generated planet and given a list of tasks to guide their first few days on the outer edge of space: build a room, make beds, put everyone to work, and so on.

That third item can be difficult because RimWorld is much more about setting rules and watching it play out than directly controlling the colonists. Sure, there are some direct commands that can be given, but most of the player agency in RimWorld is allowing or forbidding certain types of work. This leaves many possibilities open for humorous anecdotes to occur, but left me feeling frustrated at times.

While I eventually got used to manipulating the work assignment menu to get things done in the order I wanted, it occasionally left me staring at the screen, clueless as to what to do next. For instance, a colonist who was only allowed to mine would walk by veins full of ore while the game nagged me that a colonist was idle.

Surfacing mid-game systems isn’t one of RimWorld’s current strong suits either. I had to go to a wiki to figure out that I needed a special butcher table to process meat, that I’d need to build a freezer to stop meat from spoiling, and that I needed to regulate temperature in rooms to maximize the happiness of my colonists. RimWorld is not short on details or systems, and I expect tutorials to be one area that RimWorld will improve in during its early access period. For now, though, expect to keep a wiki open for constant reference.

RimWorld is one of the more promising, accessible titles in its rapidly-expanding genre. Players can fine-tune the difficulty to suit their goals, and even just the first few hours of gameplay will be sure to yield some funny stories. Once its simulation nature is more clearly explained and helpful resources are fleshed out in the game, I expect it to be a regular presence on the Steam best seller list.

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