I didn’t know what to think about Kenshi when I first played it. The alpha was buggy and glitchy- my character walked through walls almost as often as he was stopped by them. Occasionally, my high-end rig just vomited it back up and crashed to desktop. In fact, since the last patch, that’s all it’s done. Now, my computer isn’t anything to sneeze at- 16gb RAM, Core 2600l CPU @ 3.40 GHZ. It’s an Alienware, for all that matters now.
Maybe I should start from the beginning.
What is Kenshi? Well, imagine Baldur’s Gate, Red Alert, Jade Empire, and Fallout all had a foursome. It’s an odd, awkward mix of RTS and RPG elements fused forcibly together. There’s stats and a leveling system for your ‘wanderer’ and any companions you recruit. There’s even a Diablo 2 style grid based inventory management system. The combat reminds me of Shogun 2, where your squad circles warily, and then attacks. It’s the same idea, where your hero can get all manner of crippled up. My character lost an eye and ended up bleeding profusely from one leg. Limping back to the starting town with my single follower (the alpha only permits one follower at a time, but as far as I understand it, you can amass an army to fight your battles in the full release) dragging my ass, looking around for raiders as we slogged across the dunes of the forsaken desert. Well, it’s not strictly forsaken…but I have no clue what happened. So far, story is a little thin on the ground in the alpha, but then again, it’s the alpha.
So where are we on Kenshi, as it stands? I see it as a diamond in the rough. Right now, it’s at the 0.24 stage. There’s glitches, the story isn’t incorporated, and the game is basically being tested. Alright, now that you know that, where does the game stand? Well, off on its own, so far as I’m concerned. There are consequences to your actions, at least as far as combat is concerned. Followers die, and that’s it. No unconsciousness, no just-dead-until-the-end-of-the-fight, just dead. So you play a little more carefully with your minions. I reloaded a couple of times when Bob the Samurai bought the farm to get me through a hard fight. It kind of reminds me of that old Warhammer 40,000 game, Chaos Gate. But set in a samurai edition of Dune meets Fallout.
I know, it’s kind of hard to describe.
There are no fantasy elements or sci-fi elements, but there are swords and no guns in so far as I’ve played. Again, I have to stress that as of the alpha, the game looks promising and fun. It is, however, unstable. I have to stress those two points pretty hard, I know. It’s unstable, and not all there, but what I’ve seen looks like it has a lot of promise. It seems to capitalize on the unknowable feeling of enduring battles with someone- and yes, your follower quickly becomes a someone. It’s inexplicable- without dialogue, A$$FACELOL became something of a person to me as I travelled the barren, cannibal-laden dunes. We struck down random beasts and attackers, and he stood by me as I travelled from place to place. It’s like how you grow close to Pokémon, those faceless beasts you throw in a pit to fight like caged dogs. A$$FACELOL became my inexplicable favorite as we put our katanas through the faces of cannibals and whatnot, looking to make our fortune in the world.
There are two major problems in the alpha, so far. First, you’re only allowed to recruit one follower, which defeats the purpose of an RPG/RTS hybrid. Second, there’s no established story. That may fly with Skyrim players devoted to shouting at people, but I’m the kind of guy who loves a model of who I am, and where I came from in a game. Maybe that’s why I enjoy Max Payne so much- a sense of history. I tried creating different characters from the two available races- human and cannibal. Either way, shopkeepers didn’t react any differently to me. No one did. Somehow, I feel like eating human beings isn’t a lightly chosen life choice, and if there are consequences for that, no one seems to notice. It’s weird. If it’s a big enough deal to be factored into character creation that I eat people, you’d think people would, y’know, react to that. If you met Hannibal in the supermarket, wouldn’t you try to brain him frantically with a jar of salsa verde?
The incongruities can be forgiven, I think. Partly, because this is a public alpha test. There’s nowhere near the whole range of the game incorporated, and there’s a lot of bugs, as you’d expect. In this case, like many, I’ll refer back to a piece of videogame wisdom: it is what it is. Kenshi is a partially completed product with a lot of potential. I can see wandering across the desert with my posse, dispatching them to do attendant quests, running the main stories with the greater group, the whole shebang. Like the sweetest combination of the scotch and the Drambuie, it takes work and liquor. I can see a management aspect, and RTS aspect, an RPG aspect all interacting sweetly. This one, folks, is one to watch.