by Marjolein Verheij
reviewed on PC
A King, a Queen
I first lay eyes on Kingdom at this year’s Gamescom and was instantly mesmerized. The pixel art was stunning and even though the game looked simple enough, it was clear that its looks were deceiving. Over the last few days, I learned just how deceiving they really are.
In Kingdom you control a king or queen on horseback – the game randomly generates the character (and horse) when you start a new game – and it’s your job to build and expand your lands. The only ways to move are left and right, so the controls are nice and easy for someone with the same terrible hand-eye coordination as me. The only other key used besides the left and right arrows, is the down arrow. This lets you drop a coin when clicked shortly, or add coins to the build slots when held for longer.
Building a miniature empire
You start with a simple campfire somewhere in a field and then you slowly build and expand outwards. At the start you have access to a bow and hammer market stall, but once your campfire has upgraded a few times, a stall for sickles is added.
The most important thing to worry about, are coins. Without them, you are doomed as you use them to buy pretty much everything, from weapons to tools and even citizens. These citizens are recruited from camps in the surrounding woods. Lured by the dropping of a coin, your new recruits can be equipped with weapons or the aforementioned sickles. Once turned into archers, workmen or farmers, your citizens start to earn money for you which you can collect and use to buy more of everything.
Coins are also used to build and expand walls, archer towers and catapults that help defend your kingdom from the monsters that prowl it at night. Those monsters want to steal your coins, tools and - most importantly - your crown: without it you are lost. The attacks start small, but get bigger over time. When a blood moon moves across the sky you are in for a slaughter.
At night, the little monsters overrun the walls, knocking them down, and steal the bows of archers and the hammers of your workers. Archers defend, but are often overrun and robbed of their weapon. They will pick up abandoned tools or search for a replacement at the market stall or walk around your keep if none are available. Even if the last of your archers stand and manage to kill the remaining monsters, your lands are in ruin. When the attack is especially ferocious, your archers, workers and farmers will cower in fear and wander off into the woods, back to their original camps, leaving bows and hammers lie scattered in the grass.
Early on, when you have enough coins left at the end of the day and get enough coins from the treasure chest in the morning, it is easy enough to recruit the wandering ex-citizens and get them back to building and defending. Coins are plentiful and it will be a while before the next big attack. You blissfully expand your lands, building more and stronger walls, farms and defence towers for your archers. You explore the lands beyond your walls and discover statues and sometimes even a treasure chest with coins. You upgrade your keep and may even manage to recruit some knights but you will have to be quick about it. Later on in the game, a large attack won’t leave you with enough archers to defend your keep or even enough workers to rebuild the collapsed walls.
A night will come when the monsters gain the upper hand and even outrunning them on your trusted steed will prove impossible - they gain on you, steal your crown and leave you with a game over screen that reads: No Crown, No King/Queen.
Even though Kingdom can be very frustrating at times - especially in the beginning when you have no clue what to do or what to expect - it’s also one of those “sucks, I died AGAIN. Let’s just try ONE more time!” games. Each time you play, you gain new insights and eventually you stick to a strategy that seems to work and realize just how much fun this game brings on top of that frustration.
I couldn’t get enough of watching the different night skies go by. Not one night was the same. Cloudy, rain, full moons, it’s all there and all looking gorgeous. Shadows, different types of weather during the day, the reflexion in the water – it’s just so well done. Add the soundtrack to the mix, which sets just the right atmosphere, and you end up with the little masterpiece that is Kingdom.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a kingdom to run and monsters to defeat!
Beautiful pixel art! Simple controls.
Takes some time figuring out what to do.