After the first few reviews, one thing seems to be clear: I’m a sucker for cute-looking games. With its low-poly aesthetics and the colorful sceneries, Kingdoms and Castles immediately caught my attention. I found myself frantically refreshing its Steam page for a chance to buy a copy as soon as it became available. I was hooked from the start; that’s all!
Nevertheless, pleasant looks are far from being the most important of qualities. Playing this indie title would turn out to be a completely different story. I spent most of the next 12 hours in front of the screen, maniacally scribbling down notes. Here’s what I think you should know!
An Odd First Approach
Right from the start, Kingdoms and Castles feels somewhat self-defeating. The main menu is indubitably clean but doesn’t offer much in the way of choice or information. New games, save-files, and a limited amount of technical settings can all be accessed from here. The screen also features a window dedicated to change-logs; an interesting but ultimately unneeded addition.
Conversely, what this game lacks the most is a proper tutorial section. An in-game guide offering specifics and bits of lore would also have been nice. Instead, starting a new match only requires that you pick a difficulty level. From that moment onward, you’re basically on your own.
Most management sims – this is what Kingdoms and Castles presents itself as – are based upon a plethora of mechanics. Especially when both building and RTS elements are involved, the first or so hour can be extremely overwhelming. There is no actual campaign to speak of here, meaning that all upgrades and buildings will be available from the beginning. Understandably, having to go by trial and error until you find what works best doesn’t leave a positive first impression.
This title is also brutally unforgiving. Relatively high production costs for most buildings, population-based events such as invasions or dragon attacks, and industry producing just enough to get by leave little space for error. Make a mistake and you’ll have no way to fix it. You can always go back and lower your difficulty but that means starting from scratch. For obscure reasons, Kingdoms and Castles doesn’t let play around with the levels while in a game.
You Have The Tools… Why Won’t You Use Them?
Possibly aware of how challenging the whole endeavor could quickly become, the devs included a peaceful free-building mode. When selected, resources and manpower are still going to be needed but no random events shall take place. What sounds like a great idea soon highlights another major design issue: roughly half of the game is indirectly rendered unavailable.
Lack of external threats means no need to raise an army that can fend them off. In a matter of seconds castle walls, defensive structures, barracks, and generals become useless. Unless you have a knack for detail, you won’t even dream of dedicating your precious resources to their creation. Kingdoms and Castles quickly turns into a colorful remake of Banished, albeit a less fleshed-out one.
Giving players control over some aspects of the world could have been an easy but effective solution. The ability to summon a horde of invading Vikings or manually start a fire, for instance, would have let us put our villages to the test. From a purely economic standpoint, that also meant increased longevity; more bang for our bucks!
Overlays! Overlays! My Kingdoms and Castles For Overlays!
Oh shit, here we go! A mainstream Shakespearean quote has been butchered and deployed. I’m perfectly aware of its cheesiness, that’s exactly why I decided to go with it! Stick with me for a few more minutes and you’ll understand what it all means.
Have you ever tried managing anything? The first and foremost requirement for success is that you are fed enough information. Your decisions should always reflect the actual situation you’re dealing with. If you want to make things better, you need to know what’s wrong.
I realize someone may resent me for doing so, but I won’t sugar-coat this pill. Kingdoms and Castles does an extremely poor job at highlighting problems with your settlement. Your advisors can’t shut up but seem unable to provide you with details.
Generically telling me that some of our industry can’t store its products doesn’t help. There are 15 charcoal makers, 5 foresters, 3 blacksmiths, and 11 stockpiles in this village, could you be more specific? Similarly, complaining about villagers taking too much time to store food is a waste of my time. Instead, show me the path that little Billy’s taking. If he stops by Jane’s for some apple pie and a chat, I feel like I should know!
Intrusive tendencies apart, this game needs charts, overlays, and interactive maps. Happiness is a major mechanic, yet the only way to exactly know what’s wrong in a household is – quite literally – knocking on the door.
If the devs are short on ideas, a look at how others did it could help. An unlockable building – a town hall for instance – could be used to give players access to more detailed information. Once again, that may also encourage longer sessions; even though these details should be available from the start.
“Should I look Elsewhere, Then?”
The final choice is ultimately yours but I sincerely wouldn’t. In fact, I’m eager to give the game another go as soon as I’m done with this little charade. Despite the setbacks, there’s still plenty of potential!The development team is already hard at work to release new stuff.
If anything, I’m a tad disappointed with the current results. I would have expected these problems from an early-access title, but not from a full release. Especially considering the huge media coverage and the copies backers received a week ago, should I believe nobody ever came back with suggestions before?
Pricewise, Kingdoms and Castles is far from being unaffordable. At the time of writing, purchasing a copy will set you back a mere 10 bucks or your regional equivalent. At least where I live, that’s enough for two packs of smokes, a combo meal or an elaborate serving of my favorite Frappamokabullshitchino.
If medieval management/RTS games are what you’re after, this one at least deserves a chance!
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