I've been playing RimWorld for the better part of a decade now, since 2013, when it was an alpha you could only get from the developer's website. Much of RimWorld's success—as of 2018 it had sold a million copies—comes from its power as a story generator. It builds a procedural arc using an AI director that forces interesting outcomes and interwoven relationships. That arc is stapled to a greater backbone with a single goal: escape the RimWorld. There are a couple ways to do that, like trekking overland or building a new spaceship to escape. The new expansion, Royalty, adds a third escape path to RimWorld—with attendant increase in characters, technologies, and a slew of new quests based on them. The AI storyteller interweaves this new material seamlessly with the old.
Here's the tale of how three crash survivors were marooned on an alien world, made their psychopath leader into space-empire nobility, and got hoodwinked into rescuing a terrible drunk who was far, far more useful than they realised.
In the Royalty expansion, the remnants of an ancient stellar empire have fled to the RimWorld. Where previously the only other inhabitants were regressed tribals, other scattered survivor factions and vicious pirates, there's now a certain civilized air upon the backwater planet. While it was once immeasurably powerful, the shattered empire has lost its home worlds, but the remnants of its military fleet in orbit and its advanced technology make its members the top dogs on the rim. If you can make friends with them and rise through their ranks they might just help you get off this rock and give you sweet psychic powers to boot. This is the kind of stuff that has been implicit in RimWorld's lore for years, but is just now appearing in the game proper.
After a space accident, colonists Onesan, Faina, Xiaohan, and their cat Mr. Boots crash-land on an unknown rimworld. They're in the far south of the Sendor Forest at the crux of a dirt trading road and a river, just west of uninhabited White Sparrow Plateau and east of the sprawling desert of the Stingray Mountains. Mr. Boots is eaten by a bear a few days after landing.
Faina is a beautiful drifter who grew up in a cult. Xiaohan is just 21, but he's brilliant—too brilliant for his own good, and annoying because of it. And then there's Onesan. She's good at manipulating things—and people—because she grew up on the street and then became a successful merchant. She wants to be eternally better, stronger, faster, and is a transhumanist because of it. She's fascinated with body augmentations.
She's also a psychopath.
A few days into their trials, as they establish a few small stone buildings beside the river, they receive a message: the Empire of Eternity wants to talk. They've offered a position in their society for one of the new colonists if they can shelter a nearby hapless nobleman who's being pursued by an angry, vicious… snow hare. (Did I mention the nobleman is hapless?)
Naturally, I choose vicious, amoral Onesan as the colony's new de jure noble leader. I welcome in the Baron and Onesan point-blank executes the rabbit with a revolver.
There are some advantages to having a psychopath as a leader. No matter what happens to the others, Onesan won't lose her cool. She won't get mood penalties when others die along the way… which is good because the expectations of an imperial noble are hard to meet on the rim, and that causes mood penalties. Stacking these penalties can lead to colonists going a bit over the edge: throwing tantrums, binge drinking, murdering their rivals. These are not desirable behaviors in a leader. The new path to escape via nobility is hard because I need the wealth to satisfy our noble's desires. But if a character progresses too quickly up the ranks, they will, to put it plainly, lose their shit at the disconnect between expectation and reality. So I put the most predictable person in charge.
In the immortal words of reality TV show contestants the world over: I am not here to make friends, I am here to win.
Things go well for a while. The nobility wants us to let their pets get a break from the space station life, so they send down a pair of foxes for us to care for. In exchange, Onesan gets promoted high enough in the imperial nobility that they send down a psychic enhancement device for her to plug in. She carves herself a throne out of solid jade and I spend a week building a grand marble hall for it to sit in. Over the next year, she never once sits on the throne—she doesn't even enter the throne room. She is very pleased by its grandeur nonetheless. I guess she just likes to know it's available? The mind of the blessed nobility must operate on a much higher level than my own.
Finally, the imperials turn over the quest for the endgame: if Onesan can reach the rank of Countess, imperial Stellarch Adeodata will come visit us. If I keep her happy she'll fly my colonists off-world.
Royalty presents a new twist on RimWorld for me. Previously the game really focused on building up a base of supplies for an overland trek to an established ship, or on a defensible technological base so you could build a new ship of your own. Royalty wants you to thrive rather than simply survive. The colony must become a lucious, luxurious palace. You must accumulate wealth, and the power to defend it, in a sustainable way.
I'm given several more pets to babysit. I apparently now run a doggie daycare for the miscellaneous animals of the eccentric, bored space nobility. A labrador. An arctic wolf. A pig named Carlos. All of the animals arrive injured in some way. I begin to wonder if the good Baron, fleeing from a snow hare, was not simply fleeing retribution for animal abuse of his own. Another noble asks us to build a monument to the power of his muscles. Onesan rises high enough in the ranks that, when attacked by an overwhelming force of the local tribals, she's able to call down a contingent of imperial shock troops to see them off.
I get a message from the leader of a nearby industrialized settlement, begging us to go out and help a wounded friend. It's a two-day trek, requiring all our supply of travel foods. I saddle up a donkey and go, but am dismayed when the colonists arrive two days later. The man I've been sent to rescue is little more than a wounded drunk lost in the desert. He's heavily alcohol-dependent, with cirrhosis and a cancerous tumor on his liver. His only real skill is cooking, and that offers little to our colony. He'd be more of a drain on resources than he's worth. I consider leaving him for dead or having Onesan put him out of his misery rather than trying to stabilize him and carry him home.
Before I do, I absentmindedly click over to his social tab, curious if the game has given him a relationship with the settlement leader I want to please. It hasn't, but the storyteller has kicked up a relationship for him: he's the father of someone called Adeodata Kosmatos. It says she's a faction leader, but not which one it is. Is he the father of the person who sent me here? Why does that name sound familiar?
I burst out laughing as it strikes me: that's the Empire of Eternity's Stellarch. This wandering drunk fathered the empress herself. Suddenly, making it to orbit doesn't seem quite so hard—I just have to reunite a drunken old man with his long-lost daughter.
Royalty is one of those expansions that on the face of it might seem very simple. It adds a bunch of procedural quests, some cool new technological toys, and an interesting new NPC faction. But it's due to RimWorld's nature that I enjoyed it so much. Like a fractal design, these slight increases in complexity lead to entirely novel stories and bizarre new characters. It's a whole new style of game to play with, and I want to play a hundred more hours of it.