Long live the ki… oh, he’s dead

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - robin valen­tine

This turn-based RPG is cer­tainly upfront with its in­ten­tions – be­fore you even reach the ti­tle screen, it pops up a warn­ing that you’ve got a pun­ish­ing jour­ney ahead, with fail­ure just part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. But it’s the game’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with dif­fi­culty that un­der­mines its best as­pects, mak­ing what could have been a lovely ad­ven­ture oddly dispir­it­ing.

For The King sees you pick­ing three ad­ven­tur­ers for your party and set­ting out across a pro­ce­du­rally-gen­er­ated fan­tasy land. Your quest is thinly sketched – the story amounts to lit­tle more than a few text boxes point­ing you in the di­rec­tion of an evil wiz­ard – but suf­fice to say it in­volves scrap­ping with mon­sters, seek­ing out trea­sure and ex­plor­ing dun­geons.

The hex-based map has a nos­tal­gic hint of table­top RPGs gone by about it, and de­spite the rel­a­tively generic set­ting, the game’s in­vested with a sur­pris­ing amount of per­son­al­ity by its low-poly art­work. Heroes and mon­sters look like chunky lit­tle pup­pets in mo­tion, and there’s a pleas­ing im­pact to their blows in com­bat, with de­feated com­bat­ants rag­dolling to the ground.

Royal pain

It makes for a charm­ing first im­pres­sion, but your ini­tial few hours with the game are likely to be spent digging through menus more than ap­pre­ci­at­ing the sights. For The King is dread­ful at ex­plain­ing itself, to the point of bury­ing things like the ef­fects of your char­ac­ter’s spe­cial abil­i­ties sev­eral lay­ers deep in the help sec­tion. This col­lec­tion of dense lists must be con­sulted con­stantly if you’re to have any hope of un­der­stand­ing what your equip­ment does, what’s hap­pen­ing in com­bat, and more.

But it’s com­plex­ity for com­plex­ity’s sake. Fights, par­tic­u­larly, are poorly ex­plained but ac­tu­ally very simple in play, often boil­ing down to just re­peat­ing the same hand­ful of at­tacks and keep­ing an eye on your health. There’s lit­tle depth to be found, lead­ing most bat­tles to feel like they were es­sen­tially de­cided be­fore they even be­gan, with your re­main­ing sup­plies, equipped gear and cur­rent health hav­ing more im­pact than your turn-by-turn choices.

It’s symp­to­matic of a game that wants to be dif­fi­cult and pun­ish­ing, but has lit­tle grasp on how to make that fun. The game isn’t hard be­cause fights of­fer a tricky tac­ti­cal chal­lenge – as in the likes of XCOM or Divin­ity:

Orig­i­nal Sin. It’s hard be­cause of all the ran­dom non­sense thrown in your way on your jour­ney to that fight, from un­avoid­able ran­dom events that steal your XP, to bru­tal short­ages of vi­tal heal­ing items, to me­chan­ics you’re never fully made to un­der­stand.

And if you die you have to start the whole thing over. Per­madeath has its place, but it’s a poor fit for For

The King’s time-con­sum­ing out­ings – es­pe­cially when you lose hours of progress to some­thing that feels out of your control.

It’s a game that feels smoth­ered by its urge to ape the rock-hard rogue­like trend. In its best mo­ments, when you’re able to look past those lay­ers, there’s an en­dear­ing RPG hid­den un­der­neath. When the ran­dom­ness comes up in your favour and For The

King stops pok­ing you with sharp sticks long enough to let you just en­joy an old-fash­ioned dun­geon delve, it’s a sur­pris­ing treat. And then a man pops out from nowhere and steals your favourite item, and sud­denly you feel more like snap­ping your pad than rolling a D20. ■

“Per­madeath has its place, but it’s a poor fit for For The King”

left Ac­tion takes place on the world map, but zooms in for fights and dun­geons.

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