Review: Kingdom

Kingdom castle

Who knew that running a kingdom could be so demanding? If today’s royalty had to deal with a fraction of the stress your king or queen faces in this unnamed settlement they would immediately forgo their absurd privileges and resign from pretending they matter.

But in this game you carry the burden, you earn the right to wear the crown. In Kingdom you begin with a few coins and must immediately hire tent-dwelling hobos in the woods and turn them into fully functional members of your burgeoning empire. You’ll need builders, archers and eventually farmers as you side-scroll your way across your kingdom in search of lost altars, additional workers to hire and eventually confront the nasty purple portals that keep spewing gold hungry monsters into your domain.

Kingdom hiring day

Before we go any further I should confess that my son and I have put a combined 33 hours into this game. He’s survived to day 49 and after writing my first draft of this review I finally managed to ensure the crown is safe and complete the game.

While our first few games were relatively quick – the first game lasted a mere 20 minutes – they get increasingly long as you manage to hold in there. Although you can save your progress and continue the game later this game has no stages and features beautiful permadeath. Once you lose your crown that’s it, you’re starting over again. And as for saving the game, we barely ever did. It has a “just one more” or “as soon as daytime comes” to it which means the next thing you know you’ve dropped between 2-3 hours. I lost track of time but I think a complete game took approx 3.5 hours.

Kingdom farmers

While the objective of destroying enemy portals seems easy enough it is quite the task building up enough workforce and money to afford the offence/defence for this assault. Because Kingdom is all about economy. Everything costs you – hobos cost a gold coin to enlist, purchasing tools and weapons to equip these new subjects costs you, paying for walls, upgrades, farms, and archery towers for them to guard all cost you.

It’s not all expenses, though. Archers who aren’t stationed in towers will wander around and kill bunnies or deer for income. This bunny money starts slow and grows into a purse-full. Eventually you’ll build farms and hire farmers and then the money really starts to flow, with the coins spilling out of your purse and splashing into that lovely water below.

Kingdom altar

And yet this isn’t some kind of sim. It’s a pixel-art masterpiece where you constantly make small decisions (upgrade that wall? Now or in the morning? Cut down that tree which will also vacate that hobo camp and reduce your source of new recruits but also will allow you to access that rock outcrop to build an archery station?). It’s a repetitive game of optimization and it is shockingly satisfying. The potential decisions at any given point are relatively clear but exactly when to implement them is up to you and the overall strategy you’re going to employ in this road to (your probable) defeat is entirely yours.

Kingdom portal

Kingdom is bleak and beautiful and we love every moment. We love the way pixel graphics have never looked so good, with water that shimmers and constant subtle changes in light with the day/night cycles that you await with jubilation/dread. We love the fog and the moon and the monsters. We love the simple sound effects and music that suit the ever changing tone of the game.

Most importantly, though, we love that how immediately after defeat we collapse into a heap of post-mortem analysis and the irresistible urge to begin anew. That is the mark of a tremendous game, a brilliant game, a game to be reckoned with because it will steal all of your time like so many gold coins. Original designer Thomas van den Berg has created something wonderful here.

Kingdom attack

I won’t get into the strategies, the cumulative effect of all the small, well-executed decisions you’ll make. I’ll save that for you to discover, it’s what makes Kingdom so replayable, so compelling, so essential. This isn’t a dizzying fast-paced tower defense game, this is a moody and devastating experience.

And when we thought this game couldn’t make us any happier, it did. Publisher Raw Fury announced an upcoming addition, New Lands, that will bring us new challenges and new game elements. We cheered out loud. The only thing that would have made us happier would be if there wasn’t a bunch of swearing in Kathy Rain and we could play that amazing looking title as a family as well (we were *so* looking forward to it – go check it out) or if their forthcoming title GoNNER was already released.

But enough of me yelling about how much I love this game, I’ve got a bloody kingdom to defend.

Kingdom end credits

Here’s our let’s play series for Kingdom: