I like RUST and I think it’s one of the most innovative and exciting multiplayer survival games out there. Simple game design gives way to a relatively robust desert isle experience, this combined with the intersection of systems helps lend RUST its compelling campfire story qualities. If you haven’t played it in years it really is a vastly different game now and worth another go, but the game still has.. problems, a lot of them.
Despite now being out of early access, studying the RUST development blog and roadmap will lead you to a lot of confusing design choices and lack of vision. Yes, it’s a much more functionally complete game and yes, there is plenty to do with an advanced metagame that has sprung up around clan raids, yet something still feels… off. RUST often comes across like a game still stuck in the pre-production phase, leading to a lot of exciting elements and ideas added to the sandbox without any regard for the coherency of the game flow.
Instead of the game adding a better server browser and filters, it instead focuses on new gadgets, vehicles, and visual polish. The game suffers from problems that have been present since the early days of development without any indication of whether or not they will ever be addressed.
Vehicles are a perfect example, horseback riding teased long ago in the day then years later, suddenly, car concept art alongside the introduction of a driving entity. This may indicate to you the developers are about to add cars, but the game now instead sports (in order of release) a hot air balloon and, bewilderingly, a minicopter. While the game is richer for both of these well-executed vehicles being introduced, especially with the minicopter changing up the solo / duo meta immensely, it’s a very winding design path to any outsider or player.
Weather too was suddenly introduced to the design without any warning. We now have lunar cycles (that greatly affect lighting conditions) and foggy days, both of which lead to gorgeous visuals that offer set-piece mood building, yet there is no sign of rain, true wind (despite hot air balloons AND windmills relying on them.. yes, windmills, there’s electricity now.) or seasonal changes with snow or heat being restricted to isolated unchanging biomes on the map. Those biomes also act as a control for where people spawn, the most forgiving of these being the starting locale for new players which inadvertently creats an endless meat grinder chokepoint for the inexperienced as high level players prey on poorly built homes and newbies alike.
One minute, the game is Conan The Barbarian, the next it’s Mad Max, and other times it’s trying to be a strange Fallout-adjacent game. Elements that come across as late game content are balanced with priority over aspects that plague the low level gameplay, causing RUST’s notorious toxicity to snowball even harder.
On the topic of toxicity, RUST is one of those games I am both thankful for in how it lacks the rigid restraints now found in many games such as matchmaking or over-designed anti-griefing mechanics (I’m looking at you, Fallout 76) where flexible PvE options would suffice. However, it is the host of a very bizarre set of player demographics that can’t decide if they’re high level e-sports players, anti-social bullies (that often prey on other bullies), good samaritans, innocent bystanders or …. role players? That isn’t to say I necessarily have a problem with any of these groups up to a point, but the inconsistent mixture of these archetypes leads to server experiences that range from amazing to horrific and nightmarish.
In a forthcoming article about how toxicity crops up in multiplayer games, I will be establishing a more in-depth analysis on how I believe it to propagate and turn into a serious issue. Like any environmental ecosystem predatory aspects of entities play a massive role just as much as the balance of acidity, sharks eat other fish and acid breaks up organic matter as a facet of decay. But if the entire ecosystem is out of equilibrium, the system collapses, and RUST has that issue on far too many servers with no way to gauge the environment other than dipping your toes in the shark infested waters.
The strangest part of the toxicity issue is how, surprisingly, some servers are an absolute dream, I’ve had some of the most empathy-building humane interactions during my time with the game. There’s plenty of gameplay footage out to establish just how earnestly wonderful people can be on the often hostile Hapis Island. I have laughed, felt more emotion and more tense thrilling adventure than almost any other game I’ve played in the past few years, but it would be nice to make the investment a little less steep for those of us without the time to poke our heads into 30 servers for the inevitable “good” experience.
The game’s outright hostility, both socially and mechanically, can often drive away new players unaccustomed to the acerbity, which causes it to lose the fresh blood it needs to keep servers active and healthy. There are so many unspoken elements of RUST that have to be learned through sweat and tears that strike me as unnecessarily difficult, especially when so many good players are incredible mentors. RUST could really use a server option for a reputation system, an optional way to counter-balance the perpetual betrayals and open sadism that choke out enjoyment like so many thorny invasive plants.
Then there’s the time cost, the bewildering mind numbing time investment to get to a point of even *thinking* of experimenting with the game’s newfound electricity system. Finding the parts to begin with is a mess, as is gathering the resources necessary to research and manufacture the plethora of gizmos and gadgetry that can be a real game changer, particularly for solo players. Most of us interested in this aspect of the game find themselves forced onto easier, modded servers that either just give you everything or make resource gathering a lot more effective so that we can learn how any of it even works.
RUST doesn’t have to be this way, group limits could be a server variable that restrict teams system side. Servers could be given style tags that establish what kind of gameplay elements they feature, or the local wipe cycle intervals, and integrate that into a filter instead of leaving it in the server name. There are no standards for consistent vernacular among the community, and as much as that can make for an imaginative sandbox it can also hold the game back immensely. I don’t want RUST to change it’s formula, but simply change the approach it has in polishing the game for the general public.
The new roadmap that the devs set aside for 2019 seems very compelling, and generally very focused. The planning seems to be getting more coherent by the day, and the changes seem more relevant with each step, I can only hope that in time this will help patch up RUST’s rough edges and allow it to shine as one of the best games I’ve ever played.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice