As someone with 600+ hours in Kenshi, and it being my favorite game on Steam, i can say a few things about this.
Firstly. PE and Kenshi are quite different. They do both have the idea of running around and gathering units to build a colony, but that is pretty much all they have in common. Kenshi's outpost management is far more complex and thorough than PE, but it is limited to preset structures..
The ground is not harvestable (it doesn't have a destructible environment map)
All units you recruit are your playable characters, but you can give them permanent tasks as jobs to carry out their own processes. You can assign them multiples aswell, and depending on the order will determine how effeciently it all works out. If they can't carry out a task in their list, they'll move onto the next one, and the list cycles indefinately. So you can have one person carry out an ultimate task that would require several different smaller tasks, like making a piece of clothing. You'd need to harvest hemp, use a fabric loom to make hemp into fabric, and then take that fabric to a crafting table and craft the clothing. This can all be done automatically by simply assigning them to work at the objects. Then they'll happily go about doing so until for some reason everything in the list becomes undoable, or you simply dismiss all their jobs.
Everything you do in kenshi raises stats as you do them. There is progression, but no exp levels. It's all gained through simply doing.. Even running a lot increases your maximum running speed. But you are right that Kenshi is a slow progressing game. Both in gameplay and developement even (Very small dev team.)
Crafting.. Fighting.. Town management. It's all there. But the current world is literally a featureless square desert of sand, with mountains and very few scattered towns. (living up to that title of sandbox game a little too literally) That is fortunately in the process of changing. The new map is supposed to be around 800 square kilometers in size, complete with different biomes.
The game is a challenge at first. You'll get beat down over and over again, but the great thing is, getting beat down just makes you stronger. The only setbacks you get in this game is having your equipment looted by bandits (but you can still get them back, obviously.), or if a character happens to die. Every failure is still a success in a way.
This game is centered around combat, and solo play is usually reserved for the more skilled players. It isn't something you'll be able to pull off without knowing what you're doing. Either that or you will be reloading A LOT...
Kenshi is a very brutal game. PE is a walk in a flower-filled garden in comparison, as this game does not by any means hold your hand or help you. You're just a tuft of dried grass in it's eyes, free for the kicking around.
I would absolutely try out the demo that's been posted before buying it..