KingsRoad is essentially an extremely simplified and highly polished Diablo-ish hack and slash ARPG for the Facebook generation. It adopts long-established genre standards; a trio of classes for players to choose from and switch between, a simple but addictive mix of basic click-to-kill gameplay and more intricate character planning and an epic plotline in which you and you alone can save the kingdom and so on, whilst tailoring these towards shorter gameplay sessions, a less complicated interface with somewhat simpler stats and a more streamlined approach to character building than its more fully featured brethren.
Players choose between three classes; the Knight, the Archer and the Mage, and are then thrust across a series of linear stages, fighting bandits and monsters while earning experience points and collecting loot. Loot and gold is dropped upon the death of enemies (or in some cases, upon the destruction of certain scenery items scattered around the levels) and players need only mouse over the gold and click the loot, regardless of their location on screen, to collect it. At the end of each level, there is a boss creature, the killing of which completes the stage, unlocking the next. Between stages. the player is taken to a small town where they can buy and sell the contents of their inventory, assign skill points, craft items and select the next quest to undertake.
Aside from the main quest (which is played three times over at increasing levels of difficulty), the game has a couple of extra diversions. Bounties are sidequests which cost the player a number of bounty tokens, which can either be purchased or earned through questing, and which reward the player with parts of matching sets of weapons and armour. These items tend to be far more powerful than the items normally rewarded to the player at their current level, and grant extra bonuses when the player equips two or more items from the same set. Naturally, these are very much to be sought after. The game also offers ‘Dungeons’, extra difficult challenges for seasoned players which offer massive rewards and make up the brunt of KingsRoad’s endgame. Players can assault nearly any of the game’s numerous stages solo, but playing in a party of up to three garners better rewards.
It’s not exactly the most original take on the genre, but it more than suffices. The gameplay is simple enough to offer a fun diversion that players can drop in and out of at short notice, while the constant increase of numbers and the feeling of progress provides the necessary carrot to spur those who are predisposed to RPG mechanics to keep playing. Look too closely at the game’s systems, however, and you’ll realise that said progress is an illusion; the game always creates enemies and loot relative to the player’s current level, meaning that unless you’re specifically trying to get to the endgame, which is unlocked from level 40 onwards, no amount of experience grinding is ever actually going to do you any good. Regardless, the game is quite habit forming, and the fact that it can be loaded and played at the drop off a hat makes for a convenient and pleasant experience.
The tech under-pinning the game is quite impressive. Thanks to a system in which assets are streamed to the client on the fly rather than downloaded well in advance the game offers surprisingly high quality visuals and audio with an impressively short loading time. For a browser-based game, the whole thing is quite stunning, with beautifully detailed 1080p fullscreen imagery and fluid animation available within mere seconds There are currently some minor niggles with the system; in some cases animations are delayed which can be particularly frustrating when it’s the attack animation you’re trying to use, and on slower connections, the player might run into areas of unbuffered background which appear as blurry and only partially rendered, but these are reasonably minor issues which should be remedied to some extent by further optimization of the game engine over the course of the beta (or at least not playing the game several rooms away from the wi-fi router) and only really affect the gameplay at higher levels.
Rather disconcertingly, the game is heavy on its emphasis on micropayments. Whilst this is to be expected with any free to play game, and the player can certainly ignore the relentless barrage of pressure the game puts upon them to purchase blue gems (the game’s upper tier currency), the game is depressingly heavily geared towards pay to win mechanics. Want to open a chest? That’ll be between 25 and 300 blue gems. Want to re-roll the random item you got for completing a quest? 25-50 blue gems. Need more slots in your painfully small inventory? 300 Blue gems. Potions? Loads more blue gems. Any item that isn’t randomly dropped or crafted? Blue gems.
Certainly it’s possible to play the game without spending money as a limited number of blue gems can be earned through sheer grinding, but the hard sell is immediate and unsubtle, and at £2.99 for 250 gems, it’s also rather pricey. While I completely appreciate that the game has to make money somehow. players can purchase the utterly excellent Torchlight II, a more traditionally funded game in the same genre, for around the same price as a handful of potions and an inventory upgrade in KingsRoad.
Still, while the dubious mechanisms underpinning the game’s business model may perturb those poor souls like myself whose financial understandings of the game industry are still stuck in the late nineties, what I have seen of KingsRoad is still impressive. The game offers a quick, fun experience which scratches the gratification itches in just the right way and although those with any reasonable experience with the Hack and Slash ARPG genre will doubtlessly have better games hanging around on their computers (The aforementioned Diablo and Torchlight series, for example) and there are certainly other similarly competent free entities in the genre, KingsRoad’s simplicity and brevity of stages makes it an excellent point for beginners to the Hack and Slash Action-RPG’s wealth of experiences.
KingsRoad is currently in an open beta stage and can be accessed from Rumble Games’ website.