For the King
A few years back, I got into the wonderful world that is Kickstarter. It’s a beautiful little place where you can throw money at a project, and after several years of delays, you might end up getting something resembling the project with which you threw money. In my case, I backed this nice little turn-based roguelike reminiscent of D&D. Now, that phrase back then nearly sent me to the moon. Everything I loved, all in one place? Sign me up! I even managed to snag my Closed Beta copy without too much delay, so I figured this game would be pretty well-handled by IronOak Games. How has it ended up?
The first time I loaded up FtK, I was quickly placed in charge of three characters. Unlike most RPG’s, however, these weren’t fighters or mages, but instead basic professions. Sure, the Scholar could cast spells, but only using various books or staves. The Blacksmith might be a strong fighter, but they couldn’t afford armor or real weapons, instead putting all their faith in their trusty little hammer.
All of that cautionary advice left the window when I started playing, though, and no sooner had I left the first little village, on my way to deliver a secret message, I was attacked and killed by a swarm of bees. Turns out, on top of being a lowly band of quaint little villagers, even the smallest threat can lead you down a path of death. Poison, particularly, can give you a bit of a headache, and status-clearing items/services are expensive.
The unique selling point is that during combat, movement, and encounters, each character has a limited resource known as Focus. This focus can be used to make tasks more likely to succeed. Tasks are given a difficulty curve based around (essentially) a weighted coin-flip that’s weighted to favor your skills. Using focus ensures one or more will succeed, based on how much you exert.
The above may seem a little complicated, but I truly love the system. It’s quite reminiscent of Numenera and the Cypher System, wherein people may choose to expend resources to do better, at the cost of being slightly less powerful overall. Say, for instance, I have to cross over a treacherous section of a cavern. None of my characters are particularly good at this, sans one, who is an expert at maneuverability. The less skilled adventurers can expend a bit of focus to get across safely, while the professional “not-faller” can attempt it without too much worry. The risk is still there, but the risk is manageable and noticeable (I knowingly choose whether or not to take the risk).
The only downside to this system is that occasionally you’ll run into an encounter or enemy that requires a “Perfect Success” to hit or accomplish things. The problem with that is since the only way to guarantee success is through Focus, you’re betting your run on hopefully having this resource available at any moment. It’s not terrible by any standards, but it’s something that can end a run (especially if your characters are stuck with a certain status effect).
My biggest complaint, though, is with the aforementioned status effects. Any kind of damaging effect that persists after battle is the absolute worst thing imaginable, especially early on. I mentioned bees that poisoned me? Three bees went first in my first combat, immediately hit all three of my adventurers with their poison attack, and left me struggling through the next few encounters until I died. Coupled with the almost more-problematic reduction of success chance with weapon hits, and I was unable to recover. At the time, shop prices were incredibly high, and while patching has brought things down to be a bit more manageable, there’s still a bit of a hike after each completed dungeon (think inflation to the extreme). I got to the point where getting poisoned before the first fourth of the quest was completed meant I was going to end up restarting. This was rectified during my gameplay runs by avoiding known status-effect enemies, but I’d like the party-healer ability to allow group status clearing. This would eliminate some of the biggest rough patches, even if you have to unlock the Herbalist before use.
There’s certainly a bit of a power-difference in enemies and your party. Once you get about halfway through the game, some enemy types just fall to a hit or two, while others end up draining all of your resources. I’d like to see a bit more neutral enemies, wherein I’m not struggling to kill them but they aren’t going down in a single turn. Damage against your party overall could be nerfed slightly, but that could just be a side-effect of status effects.
I hadn’t expected the story of this game to be particularly impressive, given the roguelike nature, but the story is serviceable enough. All the good guy soldiers/mages died during this assassination of the King, and you’re small-time villagers looking to restore order in any way possible. While I admit I didn’t pay much attention to the plot after I got to the second area, I feel as though the plot was meant to take a sidestep in favor of vigorous inventory/party management. By the end, I’d caught back into the whole idea, but it didn’t really matter too much to me by the end either way. My party had become relatively strong and I was prepared for the onslaught. I didn’t end up surviving, but it was a well-crafted final battle, story-wise.
Unfortunately, that’s about it as far as story goes, but that’s just part of the genre: a loose/vague thread about an end-goal, and procedural generated quests through most of it. It’s serviceable, but nothing new. I started sensing the Final Fantasy storyline coming up and wasn’t exactly put off.
For what it’s worth, I don’t care too much about graphics. But this game certainly caught my eye with the low-poly emphasis. It worked really well, and I believe it’ll still hold up for the rest of time. It’s just what these kind of graphics do for a game. The UI is crisp, and the release came with a vastly updated interface that’s absolutely beautiful.
Would I recommend this game? I certainly complained a bunch at the beginning of this review, but my answer might surprise you: I can’t seem to stop playing. I want to try again, even though you can lose hours of work in one battle. I want to defeat the final boss, and feel myself getting closer each time. I even like the multiplayer as a chill exercise to do with friends. I’d say this though: if you’re not a fan of repetition, or you aren’t a fan of difficult roguelikes, this game is not one for you. I love it because it fills my niche, but it’s certainly not the best choice for people that want a casual, non-frustrating experience.