"The Fabulous Bakery Boys look up to their diminutive leader in more ways than one. Not only is Chaplin fierce, cunning, and scrupulously fair, since 14.30 this afternoon he's been suspended in mid-air 100ft above his base."
Lo-Fi Games' Kenshi combines RTS base building and research with RPG party recruiting, stat cultivating and wandering. What I've seen so far reminds me a bit of Mount & Blade. There are faint echoes of Men of War and The Settlers discernible too. Purchase the £11 alpha and your first day's play may go something like this...
After lizard-scuttling through the admirably concise tutorials and playing enough of a preliminary test session to realise that the life of a post-apocalyptic travelling salesman possibly isn't for me (The game's desert world is striking, but, the lack of meaningful flora, fauna, or weather, means it's fairly sterile at present) I choose to commence my first proper Kenshi campaign using the 'Freedom Seekers' start option.
Picking this premise rather than 'Wanderer', 'Survivors' or 'Holy Sword', means Chaplin, the leader I name and sculpt using the half-finished body-morph interface (female character are impossible at present) sets out with six companions. Two of these - Old Soldier and Skins - know how to handle a blade. The others - Carp, Zepp, Pin and Thoke - carry rucksacks lumpy with building materials.
The plan is simple. We wave goodbye to the bright lights and high prices of Black Scratch and walk out into the desert until someone - me, probably - says “Right, this spot looks as good as any. Start digging”. Nearby waterhole, date palms, or ore seams? Unimportant. It seems food and water consumption aren't modelled, and farms and mines can be built just about anywhere, as long as 'anywhere' is a reasonable distance from an existing settlement.
Shadows are beginning to stretch like hot toffee by the time the base building gets underway. In sight of Black Scratch yet partially screened from prying passers-by by a small crag, a reinforced concrete shack takes shape in complete silence. All activities in Kenshi are silent right now. Audio is on the way...
Until it arrives I recommend filling the void with classy Bedouin tunes.
If any of the labourers are wondering why the lowest tier dwelling isn't a cheap, portable tent, then they keep those thoughts to themselves. As the walls rise, not far away a band of threadbare bandits run into a party of dapper Holy Empire soldiers. Swords flash in the gathering gloom. The sparrows are trounced by the peacocks. If Kenshi had jackals or vultures they'd be eating well tonight.
At 23.30 the shack is complete, and work on a research bench begins.
After a night and morning of ceaseless toil, Excalibur Cottage (our shack) now has R&D facilities, a well (essential for agriculture) and a wheatstraw farm. I'd be researching fences, guard towers, and zeribas next if the tech tree's 'defences' tab wasn't strangely empty. Have I missed something fundamental or is this another half-finished feature? More importantly, is that group of katana-carrying canaries heading towards us from the west, likely to cause trouble?
The impressive Imperial Lords swagger through the base without so much as a "Nice weather we're having" or a "May I use your latrine?". It's the two masked strangers that turn-up a couple of hours later that have murder on their minds.
Identified by a scarlet context-sensitive cursor as 'sand ninjas' I can see that one of the approachers is injured. He's limping and his stats reveal he has a nasty abdominal wound. One and a half professional killers versus three mediocre swordsmen and four farmhands - I'm not sure whether to feel alarmed or alacritous.
Kenshi doesn't exactly abound with tactical controls. Characters have a toggleable defensive stance, but there appears to be little I can do to shape the coming skirmish except gather my party in one spot and place Chaplin, Old Soldier, and Skins in front. Excalibur Cottage is soon surrounded by darting bodies and swishing blades. Slashed Thoke slumps onto the sand at roughly the same time as the wounded ninja that felled him does the same. The second intruder proves a doughtier adversary. Seeds of panic are beginning to sprout when, without warning the screen fills with helpful yellow uniforms. The Imperial Lords have returned and they plainly detest sand ninjas.
I'm preparing to pull back my enthusiastic amateurs and let the pros deliver the coup de grâce when, from the heart of the melee, Chaplin's body suddenly soars skyward. Explosion? Spell? Mighty uppercut? Whatever caused the ascent, it's soon clear that my pint-sized hero isn't in any hurry to come down. While first aid is administered and bodies are looted, Chaplin floats in the air, deaf to every instruction.
I wonder if they sell ladders in Black Scratch.
The rising sun warms the prosaic and the preposterous with equal enthusiasm. Zepp and Thoke - now fully recovered from yesterday's fracas (Kenshi is unexpectedly merciful where mortality is concerned) are constructing training dummies (it's clear my labourers need plenty of combat practice) while Skins researches, Old Soldier draws water, and Pins and Carp reap wheatstraw. Above, hovering like a fleshy kestrel, Chaplin the Aviator, Chaplin the Frozen, Chaplin the Utterly Useless.
The plan for today: Old Soldier and one of the backpackers treks to town to sell wheatstraw, and visit taverns in the hope of finding a replacement for Chaplin.
In Black Scratch the first willing warrior wants 5000 creds as a deal sweetener (out of the question). The second will join for a modest 700c and is quite happy to be renamed 'Fairbanks' and have his physique pointlessly remodelled. The recruit doesn't have to wait long for his first taste of action.
Close to Excalibur Cottage, the returning threesome are intercepted by a mob of sorry-looking ruffians. Skins, Zepp, Thoke and Pin, drop invisible tools and rush to assist their comrades.
After five minutes of balletic kendo, Old Soldier and Pins are the only ones left standing. They use the group's remaining med kits to revive fallen friendlies, then systematically strip boots, trousers, shirts and weapons from the corpses of vanquished foes. As the pair rifle, my thoughts turn to rifles. After audio, firearms and other missile weapons are surely the feature Kenshi needs most urgently.
Another trip into town (this time to stock up on med kits). Another eventful tramp home.
Old Soldier arrives back at Excalibur with bandits hot on his heels. Hours spent sparring with practise dummies don't appear to have had much effect yet; all but the returner are swiftly cudgelled or cut from the combat equation. In the end, the desperate ex-serviceman, dressed in an outfit that I suspect I may have purchased by mistake during an earlier shop visit (inventory management isn't as elegant as it could be), sprints for the safety of the shack. Frustrated attackers gather at the bolted door, then - oh God - that door begins to slide open.
A unit of Imperial Lords slaying sand ninjas to the north of Excalibur, ultimately save the day. Running for his life, Old Soldier manages to engineer a meeting between the two parties. While the unwary outlaws are cut to ribbons, the sly manipulator engages in some opportunistic looting.
A few hours later a stunned sand ninja wakes to find himself swordless and debagged.
A morning of blood and panic morphs into an evening of sweat, progress, and promise. Beneath a sandstorm of stars the Fabulous Bakery Boys (Studying the tech tree I've decided to turn Excalibur into a wayside rum and bread shop) put the finishing touches to a grain silo, a retail counter and a generator.
Two dust bandits strayed into the camp in the early hours and paid for the trespass with their lives. Even with backpacks, my party is starting to run out of inventory space. Time for another stroll into Scratch.
Then again... The bandits seem especially thick on the route to town this morning, so I redirect my shoppers towards a smaller trade post atop a hill to the north-west.
No taverns means no chance of expanding the gang, but sacks of flour and pilfered equipment are redeemed, med kits are acquired. Maybe this trading business isn't so tiresome after all.
Skins and Thoke bring the building materials necessary to finish the stove. Soon the camp is filled with the aroma of hot bread. Somehow this moment feels every bit as important as the battlefield victories that preceded it. The Fabulous Bakery Boys wayside boulangerie is now open for business! (Or it would be if I could work out how to man the shop counter.) Today: bog-standard wheatstraw wholemeal. Tomorrow: focaccia, barmbrack, brioche...
Though still baffled by the fact that I can't build fences or thorny barricades to help keep bandits out, and still annoyed by my inability to staff my shop, I decide to devote the day to solving my increasingly pressing building materials shortage. Footings are dug for a stone mine and a stone processing plant. Naturally, work grinds to a halt a little later due to a lack of a building materials. As Chaplin looks down on the stalled project, something in his calcified countenance seems to say “I think Kenshi's economy would be more plausible were it built around water, food, scrap, weapons and power. Why can't I scavenge for building materials as well as digging for them? I want pack animals and sand yachts too.”
Or maybe I'm projecting.
A miracle! After quickloading for the first time, Chaplin, like a migrating swallow whose bead-sized heart has just blown a gasket, plummets to earth. The Fabulous Bakery Boys have their boss back! Surely nothing can stop them now.
Nothing except bandits, bugs, and the irresistible lure of the far more visceral, polished, and plausible Mount & Blade.