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Kenshi Review

by forgottenlor, 2019-04-02

My troop has come over the mountains into the Floodlands, one of many regions of Kenshi's world. The ruins of Kenshi's glorious past stand below, infested by who knows what dangers and treasures.

My character was an insect drone. For some reason he was expelled from the hive into the harsh world of Kenshi. There he started his new life in a borderland town run by the trade ninjas. But he came with a plan. After all, his people were diligent workers. First, he started mining ore, then he began to weave clothing. With his profits he hired bodyguards so he could transport his goods to the nearby city of Stack. He became an armorer, then assembled a team of warriors to help him travel the world he once feared. He found abandoned factories, ninja towers, ruined libraries, fearsome beak creatures, fire storms, slavers, dangerous robots, and terrible outlaws. Kenshi is a sandbox rpg in an extremely unusual setting. It gives you many paths to success, but no set one. There is no main quest. No real story. Kenshi is a game for players who can get into its world and define their own goals.

The three orange clad robotic skeletons are one of Kenshi's many outlandish peoples. Kenshi is a fantasy game (or if you prefer a science fiction game) reminicent of Star Wars with its exotic aliens, and Space Western feel.

 

The World of Kenshi

One gets the feeling that the world of Kenshi has seen better days. Cities are often a mix of ruined and functional buildings. Their power supplies wane and wax, so at times the artisan sits frustrated by his weaving machine when the power goes out. The world is full of both functional and ruined machines. The wrecks of rusted metal ships can occasionally be spotted along the world's major warterways. Mysterious metal monoliths are impaled in the ground. Could they have once been space ships? Cities, themselves are in constant danger of attack from bands of roaming animals or more seriously bandits and rebels. Still the cities are for the most part fairly safe. After all, outside of the city walls the only defense a character has are ones of their own device.

A typical city in Kenshi. The travel wears store, as the building materials store are unusual in an rpg, but very important in the world of Kenshi.

Kenshi's world has a distinctive oriental flare. In weapon shops you can purchase katanas, scimitars, and other weapons native to the Asian world. Clothing and armor also have styles very reminiscent of east Asian cultures.

The game is also full of peoples that one could imagine in a Star Wars film. There are the insect people of the Hive. There are the robot-like skeletons, the muscular horned Shrek, one culture of people called the Holy who are very religious and prejudiced again non-humans. Also, the United Empire is a culture of humans who have a trade empire (and legalized slavery) in the south and north east of Kenshi's world.

The Holy Nation are willing to tolerate nonhumans, but only in the company of humans. Make sure only a human addresses shop keepers or tavern owners if you enter their lands.

NPCs and your companions will comment on the places you are in and those that are nearby. These give you a sense of the unique qualities, cultures, and areas to be found in Kenshi's world. Each city, for example has its own troop of gate guards. The trade ninjas were relatively lax on that front, and their city got overrun by rebels during my game, and the city bar lost its vendor, a casualty of war. The Shrek are constantly worried you'll smuggle something into their cities. The Holy remind you of their dislike of non-humans, advising humans in your troop to keep their non-humans under control.  The Southerners on the other hand simply waved me into their cities unconcerned who I was or what I was transporting.

The Shrek don't think highly of smugglers.

Kenshi has many different regions filled with their own challenges. In the Borderlands, where my character started, there are dust storms which hindered everyone in combat not wearing appropriate headgear. Also bone dogs wander the wilderness and attack anyone who gets too close. Other areas of Kenshi have much more dire threats. In some areas acid rain falls regularly damaging everyone, especially those lightly attired. One area features fire cyclones, and being hit by one of those is much worse than acid rain. Dangerous beak creatures roam Kenshi's jungles and swamps. The rocky hills of Shun is the home of aggressive white apes. Massive dinosaurs graze across the Leviathan coast.

The Leviathons are mostly peaceful, but still don't get too close if you don't have to.

Despite regional differences Kenshi features large swaths of empty wilderness. You can travel for minutes seeing nothing but the terrain, so much so that finding old ruins or a trader caravan can turn out to be an unusually pleasant surprise. More likely though, just when you stop paying attention, your group will be overrun by monsters, bandits, slavers or fanatics, whom you failed to see approaching.

While there is no story, you can still learn things about the areas you enter from the game's npcs.

Creatures and groups in Kenshi interact with each other just like they interact with you. For example, in one battle I experienced late in the game I was attacked by a troop of dust bandits, who are a moderately well-equipped group of thugs. As we were fighting, a group of slavers walked down the road behind the bandits. They attacked the bandit column from behind, shackling any bandits they had subdued. When the bandits were defeated, they proceeded to attack my group trying to enslave them as well.  As this battle was underway a group of hungry bandits (a different bandit faction) approached across the desert attacking both groups at the same time. So, in the end I defeated three large groups, but also in large thanks to their hostility to one another and their different goals (extorting or stealing money, enslaving travelers, and stealing food.)

Your companions also have things to say about the places you go. Some of their banter can be quite entertaining.

Life In Kenshi

In Kenshi, its fair to say that you start as a noone with next to nothing. You have some rags, a club, and a little money you've scraped together. You at least won't starve right away but taking on even a single bone dog or hungry bandit (the weakest of Kenshi's inhabitants) with your starting skills and equipment is hopeless. And these opponents don't travel alone in Kenshi's world. For example. Hungry bandits usually roam in troops of 6 to 24.

In the beginning of the game, my two characters were no much for this single dust bandit, who proceeded to kick their ass. Time to reload.

Your character does start with some advantages though. For example, you know how to mine ore and you start with a mining pick (which doesn't actually appear in your inventory). Iron and copper ore can be found near most cities and if you keep a careful lookout for wandering beasts and bandits, you have the chance to scrape some money together.

Mining is a mildly dangerous, but highly profitable task for a new character in Kenshi.

Also, your character knows how to build a research bench, which allows you to create blueprints for all sorts of useful things. These in turn allow you to engage in all sorts of possible professions. You can be a thief, hunter, armorer, bounty hunter, weaponsmith, mine owner, farmer, treasure hunter, bandit, or smuggler.  Many of these professions require you to build machines. Even a research bench has to be built. And to build things you need a haven. You can buy a ruined house in a city and rebuild it, but this costs quite a bit of cash. You can also try to build a fortress in the wilderness, but this is quite dangerous. Some of the nicest bandits will actually leave you alone if you pay them protection money. Most however will beat you unconscious, steal your things, and leave you to bleed to death. And slavers will enslave you.

Once you've saved enough from mining you can move on to another profession. In this case I became an armorer.

Kenshi has survival elements. You need to eat to live. Also, while you don't need to sleep, there is no magical healing in Kenshi. Bandages stop bleeding and facilitate slow health regeneration over time. Sleeping, however, rapidly increases healing. You can build beds, purchase sleeping bags for outside civilization or rent out a bed in some taverns. Not properly healing before combat increases the chance to lose limbs (which can be replaced by very expensive robotic limbs) or die in future combat.

Luckily I've found these mountaintop ruins. Two of my characters were knocked unconcious in a battle with a pack of bone dogs. But this place is so out of the way that I can lay out my sleeping bags and wait till they recover. In the meantime the others can scour the ruins and cook the dogmeat.

In Kenshi doing things improves your character. Want to be strong? Carry heavy loads a long distance or engage in heavy labor. Taking damage improves your toughness, but also your melee defense. The best way to improve your fighting skills is to fight. But you can also build and use a training dummy to learn the basics. Being an artisan starts out difficult. Most of the goods you initially produce are shoddy, meaning you might actually be losing money by producing goods. But then you begin to produce standard, quality, and even masterwork goods, which can not only give you a steady profit, but can be very useful to equip yourself and your teammates with.

This is the final build of my starting character. You can see how I have developed him, and what other possibilities I could have taken.

You'll need teammates too. They can heal you, fight with you, help carry heavy goods, and join in mining. You can also train them in various professions. A number of potential teammates hang out in Kenshi's various bars, and once you have the money to buy their services, they join your group. Then just like your main character, you can customize their name and appearance. There are a few unique companions though who tend to be more skilled. Just like your main character every companion needs to eat, and you'll also need bandages for injuries, so maintaining many companions means you have to make sure you have a fair amount of cash.

Burn is one of the game's recruitable characters.

Combat in Kenshi is relatively simple. You have melee and ranged weapons. But no magic and no particular combat abilities. Also, while you have bandages, they are only practical to use until after the fighting has ended. Kenshi uses a realtime with pause combat system. Kenshi's combat reminds me very much of a real time strategy game, since you are often fighting with a large squad. The outcome of combat in Kenshi is usually relatively clear. It was rare that my group engaged with enemies of equal strength. Death is common early in the game, and in Kenshi I reloaded quite often.

Kenshi's battles may involve a large number of individuals but in principle they are fast and simple.

One of the very rewarding things in Kenshi is to overcome challenges that seemed out of reach hours before. Whether its forging your first suit of high quality armour, or defeating your first group of bandits, there are a lot of ways to visibly see your progress in Kenshi's harsh world.

For this reason, Kenshi caters to players who can resist the potential frustration of starting off broke and powerless. 

I've been ambushed by fog people who move invisibly through their home terrain.

 

Presentation

Kenshi is to put it quite mildly not a pretty game. There is some pretty scenery from time to time, but this is the exception. Kenshi spent a long time in development and it honestly looks visually (very) old. The character models look like generic 3d models, the towns look pretty much the same and have sort of a building block feel. The music in general is ok, though some of the game's sounds can at time be grating. Kenshi is not a game for those who put a lot of value on graphics.

Kenshi's night sky is a highlight in an otherwise graphically spartan game.

 

State of the Game

I occasionally ran into bugs in Kenshi. Trying to dispose the bodies of dead bandits from one of my houses caused the game to crash. Also, once one of my characters got stuck in a building somehow. Reloading solved both of these problems. Pathfinding in Kenshi reminds me to some degree of that in other real time with pause games, like Pillars of Eternity, Baldur's Gate, or Pathfinder: Kingmaker and I don't mean that in a positive sense

 

A Single Player MMO?

Before World of Warcraft, many MMOs started your character off so weak that engaging in some sort of trade or craft was a good way to prepare a character for actual adventuring. Kenshi is almost like an old fashioned MMO with no other human players. It doesn't care about you. It lets engage in all sorts of professions. You can do what you want and be who you want, if you can work your way up to it. You can go where you want when you want, if you can survive that long. Almost every object in Kenshi can be crafted by the player.

 

Summary

I found Kenshi highly addicting. I often lost track of time when I was playing it. I was so driven in achieving whatever goal I had set myself. The game is rich in atmosphere and I was interested to discover what the world of Kenshi beyond the Borderlands looked like. Normally, sandbox games have limited interest for me as you end up replaying the same generic quest a ton of times. Sometimes you even have to grind generic quests to push forward the main story, which I personally find boring. Kenshi gives you the freedom to do all sorts of things and I was surprised that it held my interest much longer than many open world RPGs have. I invested 53 hours in Kenshi, which is comparable to how long one playthrough of Skyrim took me or how much time I put into the original campaign of the Witcher 3, and quite a bit longer than I invested in games like Risen 3, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, or Fallout: New Vegas.  Obviously, the lack of story or quests (outside of bounties, if those can be considered quests) will disqualify Kenshi for a lot of players. Also, Kenshi's presentation looks old, indie, and not very attractive. If you can get into it though, Kenshi can consume many afternoons and evenings.

 

Box Art

Information about

Kenshi

Developer: Lo-Fi Games

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Steampunk
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced

Regions & platforms
Internet
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2018-12-06
· Publisher: Lo-Fi Games

More information

Summary

Pros

  • Unique setting and atmosphere
  • Take on many roles, supported by game mechanics
  • Addiciting game play
  • Harsh world gives great feel of progress
  • Rewarding exploration and crafting system

Cons

  • No story
  • No quests
  • Old looking graphics
  • Sometime annoying sounds

Rating: Very Good

A very good game that is just short of being excellent, because of one or more minor issues that reduce the level of enjoyment a little bit.

Review version

Steam