By – Thomas Faust

Kingdom Review He

Congratulations, your highness.  You are now a king.  Perhaps a queen.  Regardless, let us assume the former for the sake of brevity, your excellency. As befits a ruler of your stature, you must raise a proper kingdom. Why don’t you start over there, by the fireplace? That looks like a nice spot to build a castle. Here, have some coins. And now go, and build your legacy. This is basically how Kingdom, a 2D strategy and city building game by Dutch/Icelandic gamedev duo Noio and Licorice, starts.

Your quest to build the perfect kingdom is a long and arduous one, with many a hardship to be encountered along the way. As monarch, it’s hardly befitting to get your hands dirty like the common rabble, so your interactions are severely limited: you may move around on your horse and spend coins. This is literally all you can do, and what appears like a restriction actually works in the game’s favor. Now the tricky part is how exactly to spend those coins. You can recruit townsfolk to do your bidding, have some tools or bows made, reinforce your castle, or order new buildings to be made. Your citizens will automatically grab the things they need and get to work for you. Huntsmen and, later on, farmers will earn you some more money, while workers extend your village with new buildings and walls. And thus, your kingdom slowly grows from its humble beginnings to something majestic and befitting your station.

Now, this would make for an enjoyable, yet boring experience, so of course there’s trouble brewing beyond the borders of your kingdom. Monsters gather to strike your village at night, attacking your people and stealing your riches. Walls and watch towers can protect your from this onslaught, but every so often your defenses are not enough to stop the pillaging hordes. As long as the invaders don’t get your hands on the king, all is well. But woe to the ruler who lets his crown get taken, because a king without a crown is just inconceivable – in other words, it’s game over for you. Rebuilding your kingdom after such a big raid can be stressful, as you never know when those creatures will strike again.

Kingdom Review He

The game builds up a lot of pressure the further you get. You’re constantly on the edge of your seat, hoping that your builders will be done in time and your farmers and huntsmen will be back home before nightfall. What’s worse, you’re also forced to explore the dark woods beyond your kingdom’s borders to recruit more cititzens, spend your money at wondrous shrines, or go treasure hunting. It’s a weird contrast, then, that sometimes there’s just not that much you can do, so you basically have to wait for the game to get on with it. This is particularly an issue in the early game, and it makes this part feel like a chore sometimes. Starting a new game, which is definitely something you will be doing a couple of times, always feels the same, with only minor variations, in spite of procedurally generated levels. However, once things get tense, you’ll forget about these early days.

The lack of UI is both a blessing and a curse. It allows you to admire the glorious pixel graphics, but at the same time it forces more backtracking upon you. Did you have two builders and four archers, or was it three builders and five archers? Better patrol your kingdom once more, my Lord. Like a peasant! Collecting coins works the same way, with you going from citizen to citizen, hoping for some tribute. An indication if your workers are carrying some money with them would have been appreciated. Everything else is deliberately inscrutable. You have to figure things out by yourself, and you will make mistakes in the process. It’s all part of the learning process, though. Don’t be fooled by those pretty pixels. Kingdom is a hard game, but progressing feels very rewarding.

While character models lack detail, the world is just a gorgeous display of what good pixel art can do. Kingdom is oozing style and has a striking attention to detail. Lighting, weather effects, or the way everything reflects in the water suffuse the game with atmosphere. For instance, you sure as hell don’t want to venture into those dark woods, because they are genuinely scary! The lovely soundtrack emphasizes this heavy reliance on atmosphere. Long stretches of silence accompany you on your quest, broken up by pieces of music that range from forlorn to ominous and occasionally even hopeful. Kingdom’s presentation is top-notch, and unless you’re completely averse to pixel art, this is a case study of how to fill your game with life.

Kingdom Review 3

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

I cannot remember the last time I completely lost track of the hours while playing a game. Kingdom has that effect on me every time I load it up. The game manages to be relaxing and enthralling in equal measure. While its hands-off gameplay and the retentive early game might turn some players away, its hidden depths will lure you back and the minimalistic, mesmerizing gameplay will keep you glued to the screen. It also happens to be surprisingly tough, so if you’re up to the challenge, Kingdom has a lot to offer!

Kingdom Technical Summary:

Kingdom Review Sum

  • Time Played – 5 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – Xbox 360 gamepad not recognized
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard, Gamepad
  • DRM – Steam, None if purchased via GOG.
  • System Specs – 3.5Ghz AMD FX-6300, AMD Radeon R9 270X, 8GB RAM
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, GOG, Humble
  • Demo – No
  • Saved Game Location – C:/Users/YourUsername/AppData/LocalLow/noio/Kingdom

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