As part of my research for this review, I have been playing Kingdom non-stop for approximately two weeks. I’ve barely eaten, slept, or even thought of things that aren’t Kingdom during this time. My family are concerned that I’ve abandoned them and I’m concerned I may have developed a wasting disease, rickets and multiple RSIs. It was totally worth it.
This is a review of the base game. There are some newer and more exciting versions out there (Kingdom: New Lands, and Kingdom: Two Crowns), but the original version is a good starting point for honing one’s skills. Kingdom is the sort of game that feels impossible to complete when you first start playing, but it will seem incredibly easy by the time you’ve mastered it. And once you’ve finished this game it retains its enjoyability, but you will likely get tired of it. So that’s where Kingdom: New Lands and Kingdom: Two Crowns come in—they have lots of additional features and more complexity, requiring the player to continually learn and update their strategy.
But I’m here to tell you about the first game in the series, plain old Kingdom. It was originally conceived as a Flash game, but is now available as a download for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 through Steam. You can also get versions for mobile and Nintendo Switch, so you can take this addictive time-stealer wherever you go.
I love Steam, there’s so much random stuff on there. It makes it a lot easier to discover new games if you don’t like visiting gaming stores, or if you want to do a little research before purchasing something you’ve never heard of. Also it dispenses with the need for physical copies, freeing up valuable shelf space for all sorts of other crap (mostly books in my case, which, yes, I know can also be purchased digitally. But what can I say—sometimes we find comfort in things that are old and familiar).
Occasionally (more like all the time) I daydream and imagine all kinds of bizarre theories. One of my favourites is to consider what it would be like if the simulation hypothesis was found to be true, and that primitive simulations consist of the worlds within video games. What would the world of Kingdom be like? The most important person in this society is burdened with the task of carrying a priceless object to safety, and to establish a settlement in a land plagued by scary monsters that are trying to mug them for their gold and jewels. Oh, and they exist in a two-dimensional universe with 8-bit graphics, and they are only able to run left and right and pick up and drop coins. Thankfully our universe exists in 3D and has more commands.
Of course, the character has no free will (But do any of us? How much of our world is “real?” Are we nothing more than brains in jars?), because all of their actions, and their ultimate fate, are determined by the player—who is probably going to screw it up the first few times they play it (it took me around 20 goes before I managed to win). But at least they’re not one of the NPCs, I suppose.
Below is a video of me playing the first minute of Kingdom, which shows the player how to perform basic actions. The principles shown in this clip are everything you need to know about the mechanics of the game—but you’ll still need to learn how to use them most effectively and to devise strategies for survival and victory.
This is the first day of the rest of your life playing 'Kingdom':
In this game you play a monarch on a quest to keep their crown safe while exploring a new land and building a settlement. The landscape contains trees, streams, and these weird portals that contain a link to a sinister alien world (you want to avoid these). As shown in the video above, you use just three keys to move around your kingdom: the left, right and down cursors; or if you’re left-handed you can use A, S & D. If you’re playing it on a console, it’s left, right and the action button (‘X’ on the PlayStation, ‘A’ on the Xbox).
You’re going to need to recruit some wandering travelers to help build and protect your settlement, and you can buy / bribe them with gold coins. You get a free chest of gold coins at the beginning of each day, plus you can harvest them from farms or by hunting (they’ve cut out the middleman in the supply chain—we’re not here to manage the economy as well as building a new kingdom). The settlers will do your bidding, although they interpret commands in a strictly defined way—they follow the letter of the law and not necessarily the spirit…
Because of the eerie roaring of those portals, you’re constantly reminded of the inevitable attacks on your settlement, and on you if they get through your defences. You’ll need to ensure you have enough structures and soldiers to fight off an onslaught from the creepy monsters that come out of those portals, but to do that you’ll need to put in some graft and earn the gold to go on a building spree.
A little like the monarch’s cosseted existence, the land is bounded and restricted by howling cliff faces at each end of the map. Yes, you read that right—the cliffs are made of black rock and literally howl at you to signal a warning that there’s some bad stuff contained within. You’ll need to expand your settlement in order to build all of the things necessary for a thriving kingdom, although you are confined by the topology and terrain. All will become clear as you start to play.
If you don’t have enough gold, you’re not able to do very much—which gets a bit boring, until you die (and your character will die without lavish riches to spend on artillery and palisades). So you need to think in the short- and long-term. Your construction methods can also screw you over in terms of using nearby land for other uses like farming or hunting—so don’t be too extravagant with your curtain walling. Of course if you don’t build enough walls you’ll get mobbed by freaky dripping creatures and die. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere, but it’ll infuriate and compel you to find it in equal measure.
That is the beauty of this game—the actual techniques and rules are extremely simple and the game can be learnt in minutes. But while the setup and commands are basic, the player must plan ahead and develop a decent strategy to defeat the enemies (which are seriously weird—one variety of bad guy gives birth to new baddies out of its face). This part of the game is going to be by trial-and-error, and is partly governed by what you’ve prioritised in your settlement.
It’s worth cautioning you on the amount of hours you will end up devoting to this game. Basically you’re going to need to clear your diary for the next three weeks, and maybe book some time off work and also cancel any plans you had for sleep. This game will take over your life. And if you find it too easy (this will happen, fairly soon after you’d been frustrated at how difficult the game is—it’s all or nothing with this game), there’s always Kingdom: New Lands (out now) and Kingdom: Two Crowns (due for release in late 2018).
There’s a small thing that I really liked about this game—your character’s gender and ethnicity are randomly generated at the start of each new game. In spite of the (deliberately) primitive graphics, it does feel good to be represented. Your monarch’s coat of arms and royal colours are also different in each game (I’d love to know which ruler would go for the armadillo crest in real life). And the graphics are kinda fun: it feels very retro, as if we’ve stepped back in time to the late 1980s. But Kingdom was first released in 2015, and I’m still enthralled by it.
Kingdom: Classic is simple, elegant and beautiful. Visually it’s made up of giant pixels in a high-def world. But it’s just so lovely, exploring this magical kingdom and discovering all the delights it holds. The retro style reminds me of early Nintendo games, or something in a similar style like Braid. It will change your life—you’ll never procrastinate in quite the same way again.