Initially released on Steam in late 2015, Kingdom marked Raw Fury’s initial foray into the world of publishing. The game was well received, spawning the expanded version Kingdom: New Lands, which not only added new content but also had its reach increased by being ported to the Xbox One.
Upon booting up I was struck by how little the game offered in terms of direction. A tutorial that’s equal parts brief and sparse represents the totality of the instruction you’re provided, ending with the message to “build, expand, defend,” and leaving you to your own devices. How you feel about that type of ambiguity is sure to color your early impressions.
In truth, Kingdom never offers much clarity, instead providing a simple interface and tasking you with figuring it out from there — you’re literally limited to riding back and forth, collecting coins and then spending them to purchase items (hammers, bow and arrow, etc.), recruit citizens and build or improve structures. That’s the game.
Everything revolves around money, and being flush with coinage isn’t in the cards so you’ll need to carefully consider what to invest in. There’s a trader that’ll make a daily run for a good return, and eventually you’ll be able to farm, but beyond that it’s typically sparse income from hunters taking down rabbits and deer.
You’ll need to venture out to locate people wandering around. Give them a token and they’ll head to your settlement. Buy them a tool and they’ll pick it up to fill a specific role (archer, builder, etc.). Once that’s done your control over them has essentially ended. Sure, they’ll typically move to complete the task they’re suited for, but that isn’t a given.
And therein lays one of Kingdom‘s biggest flaws: your success largely relies on the competence of your A.I. subjects, and competence isn’t always their forte.
At night, enemies known as “the greed” will frequently attack your encampment. At first you’ll repel them with ease, but before long they’ll be banging down walls and waylaying your people, which is due in large to the incompetence of your archers. They’ll routinely miss as enemies bash the walls, and once they move past them they’ll continue staring ahead rather than turning to fire.
That’s just one example of the problems you’ll encounter minus the ability to give direct commands, though rest assured there are others. Under that same umbrella, it seems like actions don’t always lead to the same result when it comes to farming and hunting, two key sources of income.
While checking out some posts and videos online helped considerably, they also exposed that a game that offers almost no direction wants you to progress a very specific way. Could it be done via trial and error alone? I suppose so, but the time investment would be substantial, and given how limited your interaction with the world is it’s hard to imagine that the repetition wouldn’t beat you down.
Assuming you can fend off your enemies long enough you can rebuild a boat and use it to travel to a new island where you start anew, each designed to provide a stiffer challenge than the last. The game introduces new structures and enemy types as you progress, and it feels undeniably rewarding when you set sail.
That being said, I keep circling back to a feeling of helplessness that’s made more acute by the frequent stupidity of the A.I. It made for a rare roller-coaster ride where I initially didn’t “get” the game, started to really enjoy it and then watched my enthusiasm erode each time one of my people did something inexplicably dumb to scrub my efforts and send me back to the beginning.
Kingdom: New Lands has its virtues. The game’s old-school presentation is very pleasant and its simplicity has a certain inherent charm. Unfortunately, its lack of direction and clumsy A.I. led to an ever-growing list of features I wanted to see added (starting with a non-asthmatic horse).