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Kingdom (PC) artwork

Kingdom (PC) review

"Breathtaking visuals aren't enough to compensate for Kingdom's flawed gameplay."

Kingdom (PC) image

I was excited for this game for a lot of reasons. I love indie games, pixel art, procedurally generated stuff, and empire-building. This game has all four, but unfortunately, it is disappointing for a lot of other reasons.

Before I get to the bad stuff, let me tell you what's good about this game:

First and foremost, its graphics are beautiful. My god, are they ever. The attention to detail is simply incredible here. Pixel art can sometimes be lackluster, but this game was obviously a labor of love for its developers. From the fireflies flickering in the forest, to the gently trickling creeks and gorgeous gradients of the sunrises and sunsets, this game really pulls out the stops when it comes to visual design. It has weather effects, fog, and things you wouldn't normally see in a pixel art game. The animations of the characters are also quite impressive.

Then there are the controls, which are incredibly simple and easy to learn. Literally you just use the arrow keys to control your king (or queen). You can play the game one handed, if you like! You can also use shift to run, but double tapping left and right does the same thing.

This game also has nice music. While I'm not sure if the soundtrack is good enough to be sold on its own (which they are trying to do on Steam), it is very well composed, quite calming, and fits the theme of the game perfectly.

Now for the bad. Sorry, but there's gonna be a lot of it.

Firstly, the gameplay, while solid in the early stages of each playthrough, becomes tedious and frustrating as your empire expands. Your sovereign takes a while to ride around the map, and this is made worse by the fact that you ride an asthmatic horse who can't seem to run more than fifty meters without running out of breath. It is possible to eat grass in order to give it a stamina boost, but if the procedurally generated terrain doesn't have many patches of grass (and this is common), you are out of luck. You will have no choice but to plod along at the extremely slow walking pace most of the time. In the late stages of the game, this can become extremely problematic, as it can take a full in-game day of riding to get from one end of the map to the other.

On that note, I should clarify that everything in the game is time sensitive and it becomes impossible to win after a certain amount of time has passed. You won't immediately know this, and you may futilely try to continue to build your empire past that point, but you will only be wasting your time. The goal of the game is to destroy all of the enemy spawn portals, but the game only allows you to send eight soldiers out at a time to do this. If the enemies have become too strong and numerous at that point, you literally have no chance to win. The only reason to continue at that point is to acquire achievements. That may be fun for some, but for me, the slow realization that I was doomed and had to start the entire game over again was not a lot of fun (keeping in mind that there is no way to keep multiple save files to rewind your progress).

The empire-building is kind of disappointing, too. You don't have any control over where you can place your walls, farms, arrow towers, etc.; this is all predetermined for you. So, if the randomization is bad, your session will be bad, period. Your only role as sovereign is to determine how well you can manage your resources within those limits, and oftentimes those limits will cause you to fail before you've even started. Shrines, for example, provide power boosts to your minions and can be crucial for completing the game, but they may be very far away from your starting camp. If that happens, you are probably screwed. The same applies to recruitment camps, which are the only way to acquire new minions. If you don't have enough camps readily available, you won't be able to replace your soldiers as quickly as you need to.

The worst part of the game, however, is the minion AI. They plod along at a ridiculously slow pace and will act strangely, particularly at times when you need them to come through for you. Archers, for example, will abandon their posts in the morning and walk miles upon miles to hunt rabbits. If your empire is large, I can guarantee you that they will not return to their posts in time for nightfall when the enemies come. This can be really, REALLY frustrating, and is another reason why finishing the game is often impossible. Another example is the workers and farmers, who aren't intelligent enough to know when the perimeter wall of your kingdom has been breached, and therefore refuse to retreat from their farmhouses. Since you lack the ability to give them orders, you have no choice but to watch them be helplessly slaughtered when the enemies come for them. Replacing them can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

Also, efficiently winning the game requires some counter-intuitive thinking on the player's part. There are certain gameplay elements that should be ignored entirely if you want to win. Arrow towers? They are useless, and consume your archers. Catapults? They provide boulders to the enemies who can use them against you. Both consume lots of gold that can be better spent otherwise. I found that the best strategy was to simply amass archers and leave them on the ground behind my walls. The Steam community tends to agree that this is the best strategy. Since that is the case, it begs the question: Why would the developers include these gameplay features at all if they actively work against the player's chances to win?

This game also has very little replay value. After playing for a few hours, you've pretty much seen everything it has to offer. The only differences between playthroughs come from the randomly generated terrain, and it's all just different configurations of the same stuff. This game could benefit from different scenarios such as snow, jungle, caves, etc., but right now all you have is the same riverside grassland and forest. Don't get me wrong, it looks great, but it does start to look a bit samey after a while.

The game is also buggy. It likes to crash, especially when you ALT-TAB, but also sometimes just for no reason at all. I also experienced continuous frame hitching despite the fact that my PC exceeded the recommended system requirements by a large margin. It didn't seem to matter if the game was fullscreen or windowed, the same hitching was always present.

If you're interested in this game but you're unsure of whether to spend your money, go play the free version on Newgrounds. Its graphics aren't as pretty and some of the gameplay mechanics are different, but it's basically the exact same game overall. If you like what you see and want to take the plunge, I would still recommend that you get this game on sale. In my opinion, the price tag for what you get is a little high.

EDIT, JUNE 2016: I recently reinstalled this game to see if it had improved at all. Some positive changes have been made. Minions now have the ability to run (thank the gods!) and archers are far better about staying at their posts. This can actually be bad in the early game though, especially when you need them to hunt deer to get enough gold to build up your early structures.

Some other bug fixes have been made, too, but this game is still pretty flawed and boring overall. The changes really aren't enough for me to raise my rating. Hopefully the game will continue to improve, but many of its problems are inherent with its design, so I won't hold my breath.


Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (December 05, 2015)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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