REVIEW:

It’s hard to describe the way Kingsway descends into chaos. As I mentioned in my preview from the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June, it takes all the usual role-playing game features and skins them in a retro Windows 95-esque operating system.

The entire game takes place in this reproduction of the old OS, repurposing things like your email, progress bars, and internet browser. Everything’s in windows — inventory, world map, character stats, enemies — and desktop organization becomes a matter of life or death. It might sound like an office worker’s nightmare, and it kind of is — but in a good way.

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What you’ll like

A sense of urgency, in battle and otherwise

Hell has a special place for unwanted pop-ups, and these pop-ups in particular can go there. Enemies appear in windows that float around during combat, which makes it difficult to click on your action buttons. It’s a nifty effect, because it makes it feel like you’re weaving and dodging in combat and trying to land a hit. It can also be a killer because timing is hugely important.

You and the enemies each get progress bars, which determine turn speed. Everything is in real time, including spells that the enemies hurl at you. A window with a poison dart in it will streak across the screen and you’ll have to click the “Avoid” button before it hits. Sometimes multiple enemies will swarm you, and you can only attack or block one of them at a time.

When you’re exploring the world map, you also have to consider time as a limited resource. As Kingsway progresses, a shadow begins creeping in from the west, gradually covering the entire kingdom. That’s the Sky Eater, a huge alien entity and the final boss, and along with it, it brings high-powered creatures.

You can backtrack and go to locations that are already shrouded in shadow, but if you linger too long, you’ll encounter the Sky Eater itself. Imagine facing down Lavos as a random encounter when you’re level 10. It’s pretty much asking for a blue screen of death — which is permanent, by the way, so you’ll have to start over with a new character.

Clever OS-related features

You receive your quests via email, and you’ll even occasionally get spam mail from someone trying to trick you into going to a location on the map. When you’re out of mana or your health is critically low, you’ll get an error message. Updates come in the form of notification bubbles, which let you know if you received a new quest or if you have stats points you need to distribute. If you want a soundtrack for your adventure, you can open the music player and select a track to play.

Some of the enemies also have special abilities that affect your windows. The Shadow Bandit, for instance, will minimize the Battle window so you have to waste precious seconds re-opening it. The Phantasm will minimize random windows when it lands a hit, such as your inventory, which can be a problem if you need to use a health potion in a pinch.

Exploration in the form of interactive fiction

As you move around the map, you’ll occasionally come across characters you can interact with or abandoned houses you can explore. These events are in the vein of classic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories. You can choose whether or not to help the mysterious robed figure, or whether you want to venture into the basement. In the “Exorcists Wanted” quest, you also get to do a bit of light puzzle-solving, which was a cool game-within-a-game.

There are also strange monoliths scattered throughout the land, and you find clues while you’re exploring as to how to unlock their true purpose.

What you won’t like

Not enough content

As much as I liked the interactive fiction bits, I felt like there wasn’t enough content. Most of the abandoned houses didn’t have much going on. They were variations on the same thing: often there’s a chest, sometimes there’s a bed where you can rest and recover hit points, there’s usually a monster in one of the rooms. I’m curious if the developer, Andrew Morrish, will add more content in the future, since it seems that many of the room descriptions are procedurally generated from a list.

I also wanted more quests. I got the same ones on each of my playthroughs, and though they were fun, there just weren’t enough. Some of them had the kind of cheeky humor — one email I got had the subject line “Work from home?” — that I would’ve liked to see more of.

Above: I just noticed that tiny gap in the upper righthand corner and now it’s going to haunt my dreams.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

It can get repetitive

Along the same lines as my previous point of “more is more,” there could have been more variety in the enemies. It felt like there was an endless parade of skeletons and cultists, punctuated by the same few beasties and demons plus the occasional Goat Man. It would’ve been cool to see different kinds of enemies in the dungeons too; they seemed like they were just stronger versions of the enemies I fought on the surface.

Conclusion

It kind of surprised me that Kingsway didn’t go in a more overtly meta direction. I was expecting the desktop to be taken over by a virus at some point or to break the fourth wall, like in Pony Island or I’m Scared: A Pixelated Nightmare. But I liked that it was a more straightforward approach, that it went all-in on the premise that this is an RPG that you somehow interact with using an OS.

I enjoyed the novelty of the interface along with the ability to experiment with maximizing different character classes. There are some genuinely cool moments that harken back to classic RPGs, especially around the boss fights. Because of the threat of perma-death, they felt especially tense and I had to psych myself up before I took on the Big Bad. Despite some repetitive content, the overall experience was fresh and fun.

Score: 85/100

Kingsway came out for PC only on July 18. Adult Swim Games sent us a code for this review.

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