It hit me as I was reading Mogworld for the 37th time. Yahzee is a writer! Rust needs a writer. Badly. Hire Yahtzee.
A good story will tell the artists how decayed to make the default structures look, will tell gameplay designers whether humanity is recovering or circling the drain towards the flush of extinction, will help set the tone for music, lighting, the style and operation of weapons and their availability in the world, will give you an answer to what NPCs to place in the game, and more.
Hire Yahtzee. Give him a bunch of money. Don’t tell him what kind of story to write (no offense…) Just tell him what kind of gameplay you want to encourage through the story.
Also read this for easy solutions to common problems:
MUD developers debated and analyzed gameplay design issues and figured out how to resolve problems that modern MMOs and large multiplayer games are still struggling with today. Decades ago.