The object of the game is to survive in a harsh open world, starting with next to nothing and working to rebuild as the player sees fit. Wolves and bears represent a threat to new characters, but the primary danger comes from other players. There is no option to turn off player vs player combat. In order to survive, the player must craft tools, build fortresses, level up and team with other players. Unlike many other sandbox games, Rust only features a multiplayer mode.
Upon starting a new character, the player will have only a rock and a torch, the former of which can be used to cut down trees and break apart stones. In order to survive in the world, the player must gather resources such as wood and stone and craft tools, weapons and other gear. The player can gather cloth, food, stone, metal ore, sulfur ore and wood by killing animals, mining rocks and chopping trees. The player starts with an initial list of items which they can craft and can learn how to craft new items by gaining experience points and leveling up.
An important element in Rust is the concept of airdrops. These happen randomly, or may be called in by players using rare consumables called “supply signals”. Airdrops are parachute-equipped pallets of supplies that are delivered via a propeller plane, and can be seen coming in over extremely long distances. This causes a rush of players seeking the supplies every time it happens. Players who use supply signals tend to do so inside of a base, to prevent other players from looting the supplies they called in. Combat is accomplished with bows, melee weapons and craftable guns. Bullets and other projectiles travel via a ballistic trajectory, with optional “High Velocity” (HV) ammunition that experiences less drop over distance. Damage is calculated using hit tracking, making shots to the head or chest more damaging than — for instance — shots to the leg or arm. Holosights, scopes and suppressors can be attached to the guns.
The player must stay well fed or they will die of starvation. There are other challenges the player may face during gameplay, such as drowning, hypothermia and attacks from wildlife (primarily from bears and wolves). A prevalent concept in Rust is to form a “clan” with other players. These clans usually create housing for their members, provide items and supplies with each other and partake in organized raiding of other players and looting.