Wednesday, 25 April 2018 09:00

For the King Review

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For the King is a turn-based virtual tabletop RPG with roguelike elements developed by IronOak Games. The game places you (and optionally some friends) in control of a party of three customizable characters who must travel through three dangerous storylines full of random events and a new experience with every playthrough. Death is permanent, making the stakes high for the plentiful gambling to be done in this game. The question becomes: is For the King the perfect mix of roguelikes and tabletop RPGs, or is it a sloppy collision of two niche genres?

A woodcutter, a scholar, and a blacksmith walk into a tavern

There are a comfortable amount of classes available, where you aren’t overwhelmed but you also don’t feel like you’re trapped in a locked meta combination. Classes include a lumberjack with an obsession for chopping down everything, a minstrel who inspires devastating attacks with songs, a trapper who is a master of setting traps, and all of the other classes you could expect from a traditional RPG. There aren’t many classes available at the start, but over time more interesting ones can be bought with the overarching currency.

Each class has something unique to offer, but their abilities are primarily defined by their weapons — which is both good and bad. The unique passives are handy and the ability to test out different moves the second you get a new weapon is exciting, yet this means that you’re really left with very little combat variety, which is a major letdown. Classes are the foundation of each playthrough, yet the only classes that seem to stand out are those that use magic. If you happen to prefer the brute approach with bladed or blunt weapons, sadly your abilities never really seem to get more complicated than single-target slash or splash-attack slash.

Chaos… Literally

You’re not given much downtime in For the King, no matter what storyline you’re playing. In the main storyline, it’s always a race against the clock to be constantly progressing and making the most out of every turn. The world has a Chaos Timer that increases over time, making enemies tougher and adding hindrances, such as damage to each character every single turn. Removing Chaos once it’s fully stacked is no easy task, meaning that you’ll be sweating as you try to stay on top of it.

The game is constantly turning the tables on you as well: Had a rough final fight, but the path to the tavern you need is finally clear? Enjoy it, because next turn an evil tower might be built, completely clouding your vision as you’re repeatedly ambushed by creatures from another realm. For the King is merciless. When you press start, it tells you that you will not beat the game on your first playthrough. While I’m sure many of you will take that as a challenge, it’s safe to say that the rest of us understand that brutal misfortune is waiting. As a personal example, my final playthrough ended because I attempted to go fishing. The net I pulled up previously awarded me with a treasure chest, which tempted me to go pull up another. Instead of a second treasure chest, I was met with a Kraken with two tentacles, both of which had more damage and health than my best character. My first attack broke my best weapon and all hope was lost.

Something to remember me by

IronOak really went out of their way to make a brilliantly nefarious game with no intention of giving you a break but understood that eventually the novelty behind this would get more frustrating than fun. Books of Lore are an obtainable currency found in the game for every milestone your party reaches. Augmented by your difficulty, the books can be spent for new events, classes, items, and cosmetics which will permanently appear in your future playthroughs. You can’t simply grind this by obtaining the first Book of Lore repeatedly, as most options in the store are locked until you trigger certain events. The store doesn’t lock away anything critical, however, meaning that it’s simply a way to reward players who get far and entice players who aren’t. The system is a nice touch that adds a goal to keep in the back of your mind, but isn’t distracting enough to throw off your other priorities.

Tabletop for two, please

It’s always refreshing to discover a game that has a couch co-op mode in a market which is rapidly pulling away from this idea. For the King can be played entirely alone or with friends — local or online. You can arrange a party together and choose who gets control of what character. For the King is definitely more fun with a friend, especially when neither of you have played the game. My co-op playthrough was full of suspense as we anticipated our demise, but wasn’t without any issues, as controlling a party of three means that one person typically gets more control than the other. There’s a lot of pressure once your controlled character is dead, as there isn’t really anything to do but watch and hope that your partner can find a spare life pool token. Considering the nature of turn-based RPGs, that means that you could be sitting on the bench for quite a while with no guarantee of being tagged back in.

Rainbow Connection

For the King’s visuals are very hit or miss. The game is extremely vibrant and has tons of beautiful rendering effects, such as soft lighting, fog, and a weather system. The graphics are very purposefully old-school with its charming low-poly design. Every object is made from a shape that has an easily countable amount of faces, which I can see people disliking, but I personally found that it suited gameplay. The bloom and other lighting effects are what really define the look of this game as every landscape is really nice to look at. Forests are littered with soft trees, dungeon rooms are filled with the soft light from spells, and the tundra is subjected to constant snowfall. There’s a lot of diversity in enemy design as well, ranging anywhere from thieving crows to evil snowmen with horrifying laughs. The animations are moderately inconsistent; most of the attack animations look nice, while some (such as the enemies cheering) look extremely awkward but despite that, the artistic direction of this game is one of its most enjoyable features.


The Verdict

For the King makes some really good decisions, such as refusing to hold your hand. It feels like the game wants you to fail so that you can learn from your mistakes, come back, and experience something completely new and productive in your next playthrough. Gameplay is fast and high-stakes, yet the combat is extremely slow and relatively boring. Your party barely shows any unique traits, other than the equipment you load them up with, detracting from the experience. Even with its flaws, For the King still has a ton of enjoyable content. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try for most.

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Stephen Martino

Stephen is the dedicated game critic of his friend group and always has a new recommendation he just can’t keep to himself.  Whether a AAA release or a hidden indie gem, he’s always the one his friends will consult when thinking of picking up a game.  Stephen started his love for gaming back with Resident Evil : Code Veronica on the Sega Dreamcast.  After dumping way too many hours into it, he moved to the Xbox 360 and then the PC upon realizing just how much he loved modding and customization in games.  If you ever plan on playing a game featuring customizable characters with this Brooklynite critiq, you’d better free up your schedule because you know he’s going to be fine-tuning every last slider and color. 


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