I have a confession, I wasn’t expecting much when I first logged into Kings Road. It didn’t exactly get off to a great start; i’m a grumpy old(ish) gamer and I hate having to install peripheral pieces of software to get things working. Granted, in this instance it was only a different browser: Firefox to my preferred Chrome, but still, I moped and everything. The reason though is immediately apparent when the game starts; the other browsers would probably have struggled (or in the case of I.E. been flat unable) to run the game.
This really is a surprising game, and that it’s only in Beta is quite encouraging. First off it is very good looking. The art style copes with what must be some pretty strict limitations (being browser based) to produce a frankly lovely looking world. It is at once charming and familiar and does a great job in disguising the fact that you’re basically spending your time in three screens: 1) a central hub, 2) a world map and 3) an arena, which basically consists of a lush, beautiful and cleverly disguised corridor. It really is quite a pretty game.
I was sorely tempted to write ‘for a browser game’ to close the end of that last paragraph. In fact that phrase entered my head on numerous occasions while playing through the Beta. The animations too are good and it’s clear that the developers are very keen for the four little words I mentioned earlier to not occur to most people. This is indeed a very polished Beta.
Then, as I played the game more and stumbled across all the little neat features those four little words cropped up less and less.
There are some really nice little touches too that frankly, larger games of this genre would do well to copy. You collect loot by hovering your mouse cursor over it. The gold automatically jumps into your wallet. Hard loot though, such as items and equipment are just selected and only jump into your inventory if clicked. This is a simple yet highly effective system, it allows you to rapidly hoover up loot, while leaving what you don’t need, without even breaking step. I love it.
In the inventory there are also signs of real thought in the design process. Any item that is superior to one you currently have equipped has a little green up-arrow on it. You instantly know which items are better without having to sort through lines of different numbers. Now this may remove some of the complexity from your build, and part of the joy from that micromanagement side of these games, but I think it’s a valid trade-off.
The upgrade system too is very clear, and you always know what does what, and how much you need for each level and item. I was very pleasantly surprised. You may have noticed that this is the running trend through this piece and my experience with the title; pleasant surprise.
This game does support micro-transactions though (which seems to have become a slightly pejorative term of late) and it is evident in the game design as well. You can purchase more gems, which is the game’s universal currency, aside from gold, and they can be used in a variety of ways. You can use gems to level up, you can also use gems as a shortcut to better loot. During your travels you will encounter the occasional locked crate that will contain high(er)-end loot which are only openable with gems. Sure you may be able to open one with the gems you’ve accrued through playing, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to open them all. I have to admit, the temptation is there. The pricing here will be key; keep it cheap and I could actually see myself spending on it. Though, as this is still a Beta and pricings are liable to change, I won’t dwell on that point.
The world map is where the actual progress is made as you move from zone to zone clearing out the ‘bad’s’ and turning the world a lovely shade of green. When clicking on a zone you instantly see that there are three tiers to each level of increasing difficulty and you’re actively encouraged to replay the level for more gems and experience. The world map itself does look slightly small, but I like to think that this is the first area of many (though not confirmed), if not this game may be slightly short.
You can also invite up to two other people into your party at any time allowing you to take on what must be some of the tougher challenges at later levels. Though I must say the current difficulty level hasn’t posed any challenges as yet.
I do wonder whether there’s enough substance to the title to keep you interested for longer periods. You’re effectively walking down a corridor clicking on things and with the best will in the world that may get stale. For me it all depends on how they implement the higher difficulty levels and what ‘end game’ stuff they have planned, but i’m heartened given the impressive level of attention to detail and forethought this title has already received.
So yes, all in all i’m pleasantly surprised. If i’m being perfectly honest, I approached this game expecting it to be a trite and obvious knock off of the whole genre (apologies to the developers, i’ve been burned too many times before). Instead i’ve found something that is genuinely charming and, even given it’s underlying simplicity, something that is really quite enjoyable.
I look forward to seeing what they do on full release.