Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Ragnorium is one of the steady trickle of colony sim games we see that wants to be an end-to-end civilization builder. Like many games before it, Ragnorium has grand dreams and shoots for the moon – whether or not it gets there is debatable. To explain what I mean by that, let’s take a look at what Ragnorium does and doesn’t do…
Ragnorium has a few strengths that it builds on. First, Ragnorium presents a clearly defined world with obvious antagonists. The player is cast as a commander in remote control of a group of clone colonists. Quickly, it is presented that there is a techno-religious power in the area that will attack you on sight. This presents a clear motivation for the player to build up as quickly as possible, and unifies your view of the various antagonist units scattered around each planet map.
More tech than you can shake a stick at
Second, an extremely in-depth progression and objective tree gives the player lots to do. Technology and objectives are mostly gated behind a “commander level” stat, which increases as you develop your colony. Progress is incremental, with each technology giving you access to a discrete ‘thing’ – a buildable structure, furniture, crafting recipe, etc. Objectives are unlocked in batches through research options in clearly labeled technology entries. Each objective provides a reward (upgrades, resources, etc.), although there are times where the reward can be hard to see.
Location, location, location
Third, Ragnorium provides a fairly novel landing-site selection system to the player. This system is used both for choosing the initial colony site and for choosing where future supply missions land. Players first use Influence (earned by completed objectives while building your colony) to purchase modules on a supply ship. Once launched, a high-altitude view of the ship allows the player to see the map as the ship flies. Clicking a location lets you specify which of the purchased modules land there, before returning to the normal camera angle. This is not a one-and-done experience as the player can have multiple ships launched to bring additional colonists and supplies. Your limits are solely what influence you saved up to make the request.
Collect -all- the things
Fourth, Ragnorium has a fantastic variety of materials to interact with. These range from the expected early staples of wood and stone, right through a slew of animal products (leather, fats, assorted meats) and special minerals like flint. The game itself is big enough – and slow enough – that after multiple hours on a single playthrough I still hadn’t even reached the point of metalworking.
It gets better
Finally, independent developer Vitali Kirpu is extremely active, pushing out six rounds of patches in the three weeks post-launch. Addressing items ranging from pathing optimization and balance to issues reported by the community, the difference between version 1.0 and 1.06 three weeks later is commendable. In all honesty, the changes flowing out in these first three weeks post-launch have saved Ragnorium from what was shaping up to be an extremely unflattering review.
Can you see me? Can you see me now?
Ragnorium makes some questionable decisions in how the game is presented. Top of that list is the visual style that the developer chose to use. Even at a fairly standard 1920×1080 resolution the game looks grainy and a bit oversaturated, especially when it comes to moving units (including the player’s own colonists). The result of this is that the game felt like I was playing through a poor-resolution security monitor rather than on my desktop that handles beasts like Star Citizen competently.
You can’t use what you can’t find
Close behind is the game’s choice of color palette. A player’s first experience in a game should always be in an optimal situation to understand the user interface (UI), providing enough contrast that the game can quickly train the player on what to look for. Ragnorium, however, uses a generic small white pulsing dot to mark some important interactables even when the terrain in the area is a pale beige that provides the markers with excellent camouflage. Other interactables (collectable stone, for example) are even harder to spot, appearing as just a few pixels of what could be shading.
Slow is an understatement
Third on the list is camera movement. As shown in the image above, the maximum zoom out is frustratingly small and gives very little sense of your surroundings. Although you can pan and rotate, the camera’s movement speed the camera feels like you are pushing through mud. This turns a simple objective like “hunt 3 rabbits” into a five minute exercise in aggravation as you slowly. Pan. Around. The. Map. To. Try. To. Find. A. Something. This doesn’t really add anything to the game, and just forced me to pause while I wasted five minutes or more looking for a particular item or creature
Ragnorium is at its heart a management game, like most other colony sims. That brings with it the expectations of support for successful management: relevant data, when you need it, in a way that you can access. In this respect Ragnorium is weak, with few tooltips that contain relevant information, including some obvious gaps. An early example is missing information on what is contained in some of the supply canisters the game invites you to spend your very limited influence on when launching a ship.
Player management of colonist tasks and equipment is done strictly at the individual level. There was no way to see overall performance, consumption or task assignment priorities across your colony that I could find. Coming from colony sims like Going Medieval and Rimworld that are extremely transparent about how task priorities work, the lack of information in Ragnorium on how the game chooses between equal-priority tasks felt disappointingly opaque.
Death by Difficulty
Pampered gamers have come to expect a certain level of customization in their game experiences. In particular, common practice is to give players a variety of difficulty settings to suit experience and playstyle. Ragnorium bucks this trend, and instead offers three settings on game creation:
While option 1 is ‘extreme difficulty’, option 2 only says that it drops the dynamic event system. Option 3 looks like option 2 plus a tutorial, implying they have the same difficulty settings. I read this as everything being “extreme difficulty”, with my only real choices being ‘dynamic events’ and ‘tutorial text’ on/off.
The ‘extreme difficulty’ that Ragnorium mentions is no joke. This game is one that can be very punishing at any time. Combat objectives frequently limit how many colonists can be sent, creating artificially difficult combat balances, killing your units. Apparently solo NPC resource guards pull in reinforcements from a full screen away. Even a single basic squirrel can beat your armed colonists one on one! There is only one conclusion here: Ragnorium wants you to die.
Mix the combat system with the almost-invisible interaction markers for basic items like water and food sources. Add in collectables like stone or flint that are barely visible as a few off-color pixels. Top this with a lack of any reports to give a sense of how long your supplies will last. Garnish with basic technologies like farming gated behind combat missions and you’ll have a recipe that often looks like this:
I want to like Ragnorium. The game gets enough right that I feel like there is a core that could be very enjoyable to play. The game’s punishing mechanics, lack of feedback to support planning, poor visual choices and frustratingly unresponsive camera stand in the way of this, however. The developer might fix these based on the stream of updates that has come post-launch, but that is just hope currently. In the end, this is not a game I would recommend over other choices available right now.
Ragnorium is an aspirational colony sim that tries to take the player from the stone age to the space age. Promising features like an expansive tech tree and huge variety of usable resources are hamstrung by overly punishing difficulty mechanics, poor UI choices and a camera that is less responsive than some elected representatives.Score: 6.5 / 10