Kenshi: A Grinder’s Early Access Review
We Been Spending Most Our Lives Living in A Grinder’s Paradise…
Preface Note: Game was purchased by the reviewer, not provided by the developer.
Kenshi is available on Steam, for $20 USD and is presently in an alpha state. Anything featured in this article may change with new updates. This is using the current stable (mostly) version of 0.69.2, with an option to jump to the experimental (And unstable) 0.70.x, or 0.71.x, or 0.72.x. It is developed by Lo-Fi Games, by a six person team at present, with the music by Kole Audio Solutions.
Kenshi – Grind or Die
Kenshi is a game of overcoming failure. Mainly, failure that you seek out; in the game I am presently playing, my character has been beaten up and left for dead in over one hundred battles. Her win:loss ratio would make the Raiders feel better about themselves. Unlike the eponymous football team, losing makes the character better. Each blow suffered makes you tougher. Each failed defense makes your character’s mêlée defense grow higher. On the same hand, each use of an attack does the same for one’s mêlée attack. Strength requires either using a heavier weapon in combat (I switched to a fragment axe after grinding out Dexterity with a katana stolen off the corpse of a dead sand jounin), or dragging hundreds of kilo of materials across the sandy wastelands to become stronger.
Live by the Sword..
My character started out as an old soldier, having served for years for the United Cities as a captain of the guard. Competent, but not invincible. After days of time investment and grinding, she is capable of carrying 87 kg as a light load, able to move nearly half a ton (1200 lbs!!!) on her own, has crafted a fragment axe that is capable of killing three men with a single blow, is fast enough to block the attacks of nearly a dozen attackers, and is able to outrun all but the most trained of opponents. Not that she has need to do so, as she is capable of taking on entire squads of Dust Bandits by herself. She has constructed the entirety of her base by hand, after mining for the materials herself (And with the help of about 10 others), and has manufactured everything she has worn personally. The grind is rewarding, since she came from a fairly humble beginning.
.. Get knocked Unconscious Repeatedly by the Sword
All of this is earned through hours, upon hours of grinding. I must embolden this. Kenshi is not a game for the light of heart; the grinding will try your patience, and the music, while atmospheric, is ambient and tends to get grating after a while. Blood will be spilt. Arms will be broken. Tears will flow. Salt will accumulate.
There are presently only four styles of attack (Five if you include harpoons) available to train in as well as craft. Hackers, which are odd square sharp planks of metal, Cleavers which are curved cutting swords, heavy weapons which include clubs and the fragment axe my character uses, and a variety of eastern katana, and wakizashi variants.
Thankfully, this is all mitigated, in part, by a speed up function that speeds up the world to further reduce real crafting time, which is still somewhat slow for the reviewer’s liking. But this is just how Kenshi do.
A Tale of Savage Enemies, Creation and Survival
Enemies in this stable version are, now, few and far between; being mainly made up of Starving Bandits, Dust Bandits, Sand Ninja, and Cannibals. Roughly in order of difficulty, one will end up fighting these enemies over and over, until your skills are good enough to defend yourself and your allies. Depending on start, the other notable factions (United Cities Samurai, Mercenaries, and Holy Nation) will be your enemies as well, presenting a higher difficulty for your characters as they are highly armed and dangerous.
The wound system is one of ad hoc survival, with the game tracking wounds to different parts of the body. Parts, notably being the head, stomach or chest area, are required in effort to stay conscious . The other limbs present a combat malus in the form of inability to use the limb or slowed down running, which may make fleeing difficult. Kenshi is unforgiving in this respect.
Base creation is RTS style, requiring building materials, time, and someone to build the building. The overall process is like weapon and item crafting as above, with a number of buildings available for crafting or research.
The game’s research and science is, again, merely an issue of time; Purchasing blueprints is a matter of heading to stores that sell similar products. Researching requires leaving a team member behind to chip away at a workshop table to uncover forgotten construction secrets.
Graphics and Technical Bits
Now, considering the game is in alpha, it’s unsurprising that the models start off kind of dumpy. However, this is made up by the ability to manipulate and change the character’s features to something more flattering or to your approval, with the ability to manipulate everything from height to weight to much more intimate details. This all comes with a warning; at present, many of the combat animations do not work with some of the more extreme body shapes, with super small or super tall, or super wide characters having difficulty meshing with the animations. This presents mostly when using female models, which were recently added.
Graphics are another issue as well; the game’s atmosphere is one of post apocalyptica and due to this, the surrounding environments are various shades of brown. The occasional greenery from still living shrubbery/trees pops up from those plants that survived the unexplained death of society.
Many things have changed since I purchased Kenshi originally (somewhere around version .56) with changes and updates coming roughly every month or so. With new updates come new clothing or clothing replaced, or models slightly changed. Game saves are invalidated between versions; however, there is an option to Import characters from earlier saves, allowing incompatible but high stat old characters to be brought into a new system.
There are also quite a number of bugs, mainly to do with path-finding or other oddities. As this is an alpha, expect lots of this to pop up.
I mentioned the music. Kenshi’s music is an ambiance track, that does not seem to match to any event or action within the game itself, and is entirely random. At present, however, there is little to recommend, as it has a number of eastern inspired additions, and little else for the moment. More music and more ambiance tracks are promised to match further expansions of the map and the surrounding environments.
As stated before, Kenshi is not for the light of heart, as many things are time investments. Grinding is the norm for everything. I have spent many an hour making each member of my character’s group into one-woman armies, if only because that is the only way they will survive.
After 85 hours of gameplay, there is still something to Kenshi that has drawn me back again and again to it’s blood soaked badlands. The game offers an exemplary amount of personal freedoms, idolizes a pattern of continuous personal growth. It’s a game of growing numbers and seeing their impact in a world that is filled with danger. It is also a game that is easy to get into, and to play with nothing more than the mouse, which makes it easier to play for those with a busier schedule. It thrives off of swift and brutal combat with only the best surviving to the end, and the weak being cut down dead; the mediocre laying unconscious. It is unforgiving, and at the same time, for those who are willing to put the time into grinding a character out, rewarding.
The grind is the draw of Kenshi. It is a vicious and simple game, that can be casually put aside (It has a full save/loading system) and started up again immediately where one had left off. The grind is punishing; enemies constantly challenge you to grow and adapt, to survive, and eventually conquer those around you. Yet it is just lenient enough for your characters to survive; though often there were moments I thought I had almost killed her with the struggles I was forcing her through. But it was for the better, with each moment of work ensuring she’d survive the next battle a bit better off than she was in the last. Making her harder, better, faster, stronger. So that each group of bandits is not seen as merely a challenge, but a reward in itself whether whether she won or lost.
Overcoming weakness and trading it for new strength is fulfilling, and after trials and combat, this old soldier walks around the badlands, a walking goddess of death.
Buy Kenshi at full price if:
You enjoy long term sandbox games with a high degree of adversity, and games that focus on building character skills and equipment.
Buy Kenshi at a discount if:
You aren’t willing to invest as much time, or are frustrated easily.
Don’t buy Kenshi if:
You are not a grinder at heart, or you do not have time to spare.
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