As a multiplayer-only video game, Rust puts players against each other in a harsh, open world environment with the sole goal of survival. Animals, such as wolves and bears, act as a looming threat, but the primary danger comes from other players (in PVP). Most maps are procedurally generated, with the exception of Hapis Island & Savas Island, both pre-built maps. When playing in Player vs player (PvP) mode, combat with other players is accomplished with bows, melee weapons and craftable guns. Bullets and other projectiles travel in a ballistic trajectory. There are a number of different types of bullet for each gun, including high velocity and explosive, thus allowing for more diverse strategy. Hit tracking calculates damage, for instance, shots to the head are more damaging than shots to other parts of the body. The use of weapon attachments, such as holosights, can provide an advantage over opponents. To survive, the player must forage for supplies, labor for resources, craft tools, build bases, and it is almost a requirement to team up with other players on a PVP server as there will certainly be groups of players who will make your life hell. (no joke)
Players may also choose to play in Player vs Environment (PVE), where their goal is to survive on their own terms against the world around them against thirst, starvation, predators and the occasional helicopter patrol. During PVE game play, players cannot kill other players, however can still steal from those who do not securely store their precious loot. All of the other survival aspects of the game remain the same in PVE.
When beginning, a player spawns completely nude, only having a rock and a torch to get started. The rock can cut down trees and break apart stones. Cloth and food can be gathered by killing animals; mining provides stone, metal ore, and sulfur ore; and chopping down trees provides wood. The torch provides light at night and warmth against the cold. To survive in the world, the player must gather resources and use them to craft tools, weapons, and other gear. To craft items, the player must have a sufficient amount of all required materials, with advanced items needing more obscure components scattered around the map. There are limitations imposed on the amount of craftable items, with blueprints allowing the creation of more advanced items. An important element in Rust is the airdrop. These are parachute-equipped pallets of supplies delivered by a prop plane. They can be seen over extremely long distances, sometimes resulting in players running towards the airdrop. There are also other entities that drop advanced loot, including an attack helicopter and the CH-47 Chinook. These travel to a random zone on the map, attempt to kill players, and then drop a supply crate that opens after a length of time, inviting PvP interactions. There are player-operable vehicles in Rust. Boats are used to traverse long distances across water and reach valuable loot. Hot air balloons can also be used to explore the map quickly. Spawning randomly, they can be used once fueled. Unlike the helicopters, balloons can be destroyed by surface-to-air missiles that players can position outside bases.
The player must stay well fed or they will die of starvation. There are other challenges the player must overcome during gameplay, such as drowning, hypothermia, and wildlife attacks—primarily bears and wolves. Specific locales around the map are radioactive. There are four levels of radiation: minor, low, medium, and high. The correct armour or clothing must be worn to enter these areas; failure to do so can result in death. Upon death, a screen with an option to respawn at a random location or at a sleeping bag placed prior appears. Respawning resets the player's inventory to the basic rock and torch. The main concept of Rust is to form a "clan". Clans usually create housing for their members, give items and supplies to each other and partake in organised raiding and looting. Safe zones, called Compounds, provide players with a place to trade resources, overlooked by automated high-damage turrets that fire on anyone who draws a weapon, discouraging betrayal. Additionally, these treacherous players will be marked as hostile for a predetermined amount of time.