A Harsh, unforgiving, brutal and relentless world. Welcome, to the world of Kenshi. Developers Lo-Fi Games has created a dystopian wasteland filled with Mad-Max style bandits that roam the desert, wielding Japanese katanas and giant over-sized meat cleavers as they raid, loot, and capture unsuspecting victims.
The objective of the game? Survive.
Kenshi is in a sandbox open world that you are free to explore. I was given a free Steam key for review to share my thoughts about what the game is like.
A new update was released for the experimental build that has added consumable supplies, malnutrition, as well as a ton of other features, but this review will be for the main stable build of Kenshi that is currently out for the public, so I won’t go in detail about those newer features. Kenshi is an amazing game, but it also has some major flaws. So before I tell why the game is so cool, let’s first talk about the issues you will mostly likely face.
Kenshi Beta Pitfalls
Kenshi is still in early access beta, so as a result, the game is chock-full of glitches. The graphics are actually quite nice and matches the art style of the game; that is, if you can run it with the settings on high. But for an indie game I rather like the way the world and environment looks. However, there is constant ground tearing and it happens quite often, there is an option to fix it but it didn’t actually fix it. If you quick load your game it makes the pictures disappear on your character bar, so you can’t see who you are clicking on, and sometimes it also makes the textures vanish on buildings to show an error message that the texture is missing.
The main menu runs at an amazing 115 frames per second (FPS), however once you start the game and enter the city it drops down to about 3-5 FPS in the city. It was so unbearable that I had to quit the game to see if it was a common problem, and yes, it is. If you can make it out to a small town or village then you will consistently get about 12-15 FPS, which makes the game playable. You can get up to 15-20 FPS when you go out in the wild and there are no other NPCs around. I’ve heard rumors that certain PCs can run the game quite smoothly.
If a large group of NPCs gather around the FPS will drop to non-existent. I probably gained about 500 points of real world patience from playing this game from the constant sluggish gameplay, but I eventually got used to it. I have to say that the FPS is the worst part about the game. Perhaps they should rename it to Kenshi: The CPU killer?
The game eats up processing power and requires a ton of RAM in order to play smoothly, so you will need a super computer if you want to run without any problems. But again, it is an early access beta that is still ironing out the optimization, so you have to keep that in mind. The good news is that this is where all the flaws end, so from here on out you just get an amazing game if you can get past the FPS hiccups. I was close to giving up because of the FPS, but with a bit of fiddling with the graphics and distance settings I was able to find something that was playable.
Gameplay and Combat
If you are familiar with the Mount And Blade series than you will probably pick up the concept of Kenshi without any problems. Aesthetically, it is very similar. You can trade supplies to make money, play as a bounty hunter (the easiest job), a slave, or work your way up and build your own community where you farm and make weapons. The main difference between Kenshi and Mount And Blade is the world map and combat.
The world map and battle sequences are all the same thing in Kenshi, there is no instance area combat and no special town zones. The loading screens are far and few, it just pauses for a bit and streams in the next area. At any time if you want to travel faster or not wait all day for your characters to finish an action, you can also speed up the game using its time-lapse feature buttons. See a town in the horizon? You can run there and enter it. Did you get stopped by a group of bandits on the way? You’ll fight right then and there in real time.
Did the bandits follow you into town? Even better, lure them to the police and have the NPCs back you up in combat. You can also leave a squad there and run to the next town, and at any time you can click between both areas, which will trigger a small load as it jumps to the different locations on the map. This means you can have different squads stationed at different places, all doing different things all at once. See now why it has FPS problems?
The entire world is a massive desert, with clothing and buildings that looks like they came straight out of Mad Max. The twist is that everyone in game has a samurai theme going on with the armor and weapons, but they also have a modern day diesel-punk dystopian theme going on as well with their clothing and technology. What I mean by this is that they have Katana swords or giant two handed meat cleavers, but they wear modern tattered cargo pants.
There are also some strange alien creatures called the Shek, that roam the desert and live among the humans. Combat is pretty much point and click, with a few specialty options to tell your members to defend, be passive and ignore combat, chase enemies, use ranged weapons, or to try to sneak and use stealth. There are also a few more options to command your members to act as a medic to heal everyone that is wounded. The one thing you will do more than anything though, is run!
This now brings us to a fun part about the game. You can be injured in a variety of places. Your legs, your arms, your body, your head. If you take too much damage in your head, stomach or body, you will go into critical status and began to bleed to death, if your life reaches -100 your character will die. However, if your arms and legs get injured it will cripple you from fighting or cause you to limp around and move slower.
Kenshi uses the Havok engine to create rag-doll physics, so it is quite funny to see someone fighting with a broken arm and it goes limp and just starts flopping around, or when an enemy dies and tumbles off a cliff.
One really cool aspect about combat is being able to pick up fallen enemies and bring them to the police to collect the bounty on their head, or pick up a fallen teammate to bring them back to town to heal them (which I had to do on several occasions).
Kenshi also has a decent variety of different creatures to fight and bandits that will attempt to raid you, so combat never really gets dull and still feels fresh. The combat is pretty simple because you don’t get many options and you can’t directly control your character like Mount And Blade, but the system is well put together and works. It is very similar to managing your team in the Knights Of The Old Republic series.
Character creation and leveling up
Your characters pretty much starts off as a hobo. At the start of the game you can choose several different game types and careers, each with their own perks and difficulties. You then can create your character using a very detailed system, ranging from skin tone, to beards, to a boob slider (you can even choose how perky or droopy they are), to customizing their facial features, height and weight. A few options feels a bit lackluster, but I found it enjoyable and I didn’t mind the options they had in place. You can also choose to play as either a male or female, as well as a Human or Shek, so there are quite a few options there.
Leveling up in this game is very different from other adventure RPGs. In most games you adventure, you kill enemies, you go to the next town, rinse and repeat. In this game, not so much. If you see a group of bandits you better run, and run fast. Let another group of bandits kill them for you and loot their bodies, then sell the gear for money. You can spend over 100 days in game time and still be a weakling in this game.
You will need to train at the local mercenary guild on the practice dummy to get your sword skills up. If the town gets raided (and it will eventually get raided ), flee and move on to the next town to find safety. Save up your money, get a group, and just try to survive. That’s really what it boils down to. The process of leveling up each skill is slow and tedious, but it is also logic based, so it is also very rewarding. Want to learn how to pick locks? Pick a difficult lock and keep going until you figure it out. Want to learn to sneak? Then sneak past that guard and try not to be seen.
Want to get better at fighting? Practice on the dummy. Want to carry more? Carry more items to build your strength up. With trial and error and a lot of patience you will eventually build your characters up to be stronger, and I found myself becoming addicted as my team grew and we started to build our own community and actually become somebody. We worked from being a small group of nobodies, to becoming a united group of bounty hunters. Just like in Mount And Blade, you can recruit and hire more allies in the tavern or by visiting the Mercenaries guild, but it will cost you a heft fee to do so.
Kenshi has an amazing musical theme song when you first enter the game, but the rest of the music is more like ambient, Asian inspired background music that plays a few simple tunes while you adventure around.
Graphics are acceptable but nothing mind blowing, and they have a lot of glitches and bugs which ruins the immersion.
Gameplay wise, Kenshi is extremely addictive and a blast to play. I racked up close to 30 hours without even realizing it. I can honestly say that I enjoy playing this a lot more than Mount And Blade because of the amount of freedom it gives you. However, the framerate and poor optimization really kills this game, and there aren’t many quests or story missions, you just survive and make your own story *and most of mine were pretty epic I might say). So for that, I can’t recommend Kenshi for everyone to spend money on this game in its current state for the public build.
$19.99 is a fair price point for all the features it has to offer and it is an amazing game, but Kenshi is also still VERY incomplete. If you would like to buy the early access version purely to support the developers, please do so, because this game will really give squad based games and real time strategy city management games a run for their money when it gets closer to release, but you need to be aware of its flaws. Hopefully the next few patches will help to even out the optimization issues a bit more to something playable.