Review: Rule The Kingdom
Rule The Kingdom, from Game Insight, has a difficult task to manage. The developers have set out to make a huge sprawling RPG, that can be played not just for a few days, or a few weeks, but for months. Skipping to the end, they have achieved that, but if you were to strip out the timers that encourage you to pay into this freemium title, you might be able to complete every quest in the kingdom in about nine days.
Version Reviewed: 126.96.36.199
I'll get to the freemium elements in a moment, because I want to talk about the gaming environment that Game Insight have built around this title. While our smartphones might have a very dense screen of pixels, they are still small screens, and that means that there has to be a balance between giving you as a player a lot of information, and keeping the game easy to comprehend.
There are a lot of icons and buttons around the edge of the screen, but they are logically grouped together, the graphics are clear and descriptive, and the handholding/tutorial mode you go through when you start your first game will mean that when you start to play on your own, everything is familiar. After about ten minutes I didn't have any moments of 'pressing everything to try and find out the bit that works'.
Moving around the world is easy. When you are in the isometric map view of a level (be it a village, forest, or your home city) tapping on the ground will see your character head to that mark. If this is a character in the game that you can talk to (represented by a '...' above their head) then you'll be given the dialog on screen. It could also be a ruin to explore for treasure, a building where you can buy supplies or hire soldiers to raise a small party to accompany you on your quests, or many other items you will find. In short, tap on it, and you will interact.
That's a smart system on a mobile screen. You scroll by swiping around the map, and you move with a tap. There are no issues getting in the way here.
Hit the compass icon and you get the world map, showing you your home kingdom, the capital city ruled over by the king, the arena, and smaller villages and areas that are laid out on a linear path. These represent the quests you can undertake, laid out on a level by level approach. This reduces the potential for confusion. It makes for a more directed experience but this is at a cost of diminishing the feel of a connected and living world in the game. The plot and path line is already laid out, and you have little choice but to follow it.
If all you want is a game to snack on, then that's perfect, and given the user reviews it looks like Game Insight have found their market.
As well as exploring, you also have to manage your home kingdom. Here you build the infrastructure, and tend to the lands to build up inventory, which can be sold, traded, and bartered to improve your chances. There are quests in your kingdom (more like 'grow four carrots' than 'defeat the big scary monster'), and you can retreat here and tend to your village while you recover from your battle wounds.
Yes, wounds, because like any RPG, Rule The Kingdom has a focus on combat. The majority of combat will happen in the isometric map view, and will be a simple 'turn about' affair where you hit your opponent, and they hit back, until one of you is dead. This happens automatically when you click on an opponent.
The second style happens during 'boss' battles at the end of quest. Here you can choose to make an aggressive or a defensive play on each turn, adding a very small level of tactics to the combat. To be fair, this is a nice touch to differentiate the end of level fight, but it's not a stunning tactical addition.
To help your ten hearts of health last as long as possible, you can hire soldiers to join your party who will take damage before you do, and generally act like well trained cannon-fodder to help you survive. You also have a wide range of equipment, orbs and charms that will protect you during combat, cause you to strike with more damage, or to weaken your opponents.
And here comes the issue that some people will have with Rule the Kingdom. While you can find many of these items by searching the maps, or picking them up from the corpses of fallen enemies, you will need to spend a long time grinding to have a sufficent level of orbs, charms and buffs, to help you defeat some of the end of level bosses later in the game. Your only alternative to long periods of grinding is to spend gold in the shops around the kingdom to buy them, and if you want a significant level of gold to invest, you will need to buy in gold through an in-app purchase - £6.99 will see you buy 14,000 gold pieces.
As with any good freemium game, there are two currencies. Gold lets you buy supplies, while blue crystals allow you to buy time. Many of the actions in the game force you to wait. You need to wait to recruit new soldiers, you need to wait to heal yourself, you need to wait while your own home kingdom grows fruit and veg that you need to pay the soldiers... everything has a timer. You can either wait for the timers to run down (and when you return to the game after some time away, the amount of time that has passed in the real world is reflected in the game), or you can spend blue crystals. As an example, ten blue crystals will fully heal you of all damage, and 70 crystals to buy will cost you £7.
Bypassing the timers is tempting, but very expensive.
This leads to a rhythm of play in Rule the Kingdom that has seen me head out to do a bit of a quest over breakfast, then wait three or four hours till lunch for everything to reset, and then wait again to quest after dinner. This gives Rule the Kingdom a longevity that means you can be playing it for a month or more, because there is an addictive quality to the game, but it does mean you have to dip in and out... or start paying for rather a lot of gaming.
Rule The Kingdom does give you a choice. Play slow for free, or pay to play and be fast. To be honest, with the amount of money you would need to spend, playing fast is beyond the disposable budget of most people. So I'm glad to say that the timers are not that onerous, and you can enjoy the title at the relaxed pace. It's not a perfect RPG, it's a little too much on rails for my liking, but it is one of the better implementations I've seen for Windows Phone. Very much recommended, with a slight caveat to watch out for the easily avoidable freemium elements.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at