Ever since my first real-time strategy game (RTS) on the PC way back in the early ‘90s (Dune II for anyone wondering), I’ve always loved the idea of building up a base from scratch and slowly becoming more powerful. Expanding my reach by creating new and more powerful allies by gathering resources and having to manage everything is somehow super addicting and it never fails that hours simply slip away as I go about my business. Out of the blue we received a review code for a game called Kingdom Two Crowns. I knew basically nothing about it, but had a few days open in my review schedule and saw a few screens and thought – why not give it a go? Imagine my surprise when I discovered this game, at its core, is a lot like a RTS game except it’s presented from a side-scrolling perspective. The same addictive quality can be found here and I soon found my nights melting away into the wee early hours of the morning. Where had the time gone?
Part of the appeal of Kingdom Two Crowns is that the game tells you absolutely nothing. You literally pick your character (a king or a queen) and you appear in the game atop a horse with a ghost character waving you along in a direction until you stumble upon a small campsite. From here you can traverse the landscape either left or right. Randomly placed throughout the lush forests you might find a small treasure chest with a bunch of coins inside. These coins are extremely valuable as they serve as your resource for the game. You use them to recruit villagers to join your camp. Upon doing so they’ll slowly walk to your site and then it’s up to you to decide what they become – a builder or an archer. You pay two coins for an archer and three for a builder.
The area of land directly adjacent to your camp will have spots where you can begin building more of your fort so you can expand. The first order of business is probably to protect your inhabitants, so it would be wise to build a wall on each side. The cost is a mere single coin, but the wall is rather weak and can be upgraded several times to make it more difficult for monsters to get in. That’s right, there are mysterious monsters that come out at night that will try to break into your fortress to steal away your workers and wreck what you’ve built. That’s why at the beginning of the game it’s so important to build up your defenses, with walls and small stands where archers can keep watch. The monsters can’t climb these towers so your archer will remain safe, although their aim leaves much to be desired.
During the day it’s important to have multiple archers on your team because they’ll go out and kill various wildlife to earn more coins. The problem is they can’t wander too far from the walls of your camp because they’re afraid of the dark forests. That’s where you need your builders to go out and chop down some trees. Doing so will clear more land and you can then expand your walls, and thus increase the area your archers can traverse, which should in turn guarantee more kills and more money. With more money you can continue to expand and build your kingdom, which will then open up new professions and other cool abilities.
Since the game literally tells you nothing, every new building that is built is a surprise and in some cases it might take awhile to learn what exactly its purpose is. But this is what makes the game so special – the unknown. You only learn what everything does by experimentation and that’s half the fun. As you explore more of the world around you there are other mysteries to solve, like statues that require special gems to activate. Where do you find the jewels and what happens when they’re used? Most of these questions can no doubt easily be answered with a quick Google search, but it would be unfortunate to do so as the “aha!” moments would be ruined.
Unlike the aforementioned RTS games that I grew up and loved, here you don’t have direct control over any characters except yourself. Really all you’re doing is riding back and forth on your horse to direct your NPCs on where to build or which trees to knock down. There’s no way, for example, to target the enemies and direct your troops to attack. They do so on their own. This sort of hands-off approach will no doubt disappoint some gamers, and in fact I was hoping for a little more interaction than what’s allowed. With a day-night cycle in place and the danger of leaving your camp at night, it seemed like there was very little for me to do during the nights except watch as waves of enemies attempted to break down my defenses. That isn’t particularly exciting, and indeed that means the gameplay is terribly lopsided – with the daytimes being filled to the brim with stuff to get done and the nights a sort of rest period. I feel more could have been done to give the player more to do at night as well.
While I applaud the developers for their non-tutorial approach to creating this game, I feel a little more guidance and better UI would have helped. Let me explain something that happened to me that was a big turn off and something I hope you never have to experience. Most modern games save automatically, and indeed this one does as well. Many games also give players the ability to manually save to a file, and again, this is present here. What happened to me is that I had manually saved my game and about 20 minutes went by and I didn’t like a decision I had made – as it went horribly wrong. I paused the game and one of the options given is to reset. In most games doing so would simply load up your last manual save. In fact, when I pressed this button, the game warned that any unsaved data would be lost. This was fine, I thought, because I just wanted to continue from my last manual save point. I proceeded with the reset and much to my horror the game wiped out my progress (I was on the third island for those wondering) and I had to start the game over from the beginning! I was so pissed and I really do wonder why that option even exists, as it’s so dangerous. So, be careful out there!
Part of the reason I was drawn to reviewing this title in the first place was its visual presentation, and it’s quite striking. The game has a 16-bit pixel look to it with a beautiful body of water at the bottom of the screen that reflects the action above. As you progress through the days the weather changes with rain and thunderstorms and even snow, and it just looks wonderful. Although most of the characters on the screen are rather small, they include tiny animations that really add to the visual style. The music is also great, changing daily and reflecting the on-screen action. I really enjoyed the sound effects, especially the sound of the coins hitting the ground and the “plop” of arrows being fired. Unlike a game like WarCraft, there’s no voice present here, although you don’t really need that if you have someone like Jay Kittelson sitting next to you providing voiceover commentary (thanks for that!).
In the end, Kingdom Two Crowns is a slow burn strategy game that is really fun and addicting. I put way more time into it than I anticipated I would and that’s a testament to how compelling the world building actually is. There are moments of exhilaration as I tried to skip some steps and expand my empire quickly, trying to beat the clock before night fell and I was overrun by the monsters. Sometimes I succeeded, but most of the time I found that it’s better to slowly expand and not overreach or risk losing more ground than gained.
You can play two player local co-op, but this isn’t a feature I was able to try out before the review went up, but needless to say that this is a nice addition. I should also mention I haven’t played the first in the series and thus have no real comparisons to offer. What I can say is that this game is a good time waster, and really there’s no better compliment. A few gameplay tweaks could make it better and it would be nice if there were more to do during the nighttime segments. A slightly better UI and a clearer menu system would also help matters. Despite these small complaints, there’s a lot to like here and I highly recommend giving it a shot!
Kingdom Two Crowns Review
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Kingdom Two Crowns consumed my time and kept me away from playing the newly released Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – so that’s saying something! There’s a lot to like here, from the visuals to the music to the addicting gameplay. Strategy fans should take notice!