Kingdom Quest is a new Facebook game from Playdemic. The game launched in mid-October and showed up as the No. 3 emerging Facebook game last week, likely due to Zynga publishing the game as part of its partner program.
In Kingdom Quest, the player is tasked with rebuilding a ruined kingdom by constructing buildings, crafting goods and selling them for profit. While this may sound very similar to many other popular social games, Kingdom Quest puts a few twists on the conventional formula and, for the most part, the changes are very welcome.
The player is launched straight into an interactive tutorial at the start of the game. This doesn’t give the best first impression, as it doesn’t give the player any context for what is going on — it simply starts making demands such as “put a store down,” “create a farm plot” and the like. Once the player has got through this thankfully short tutorial, however, things start to get more interesting.
The meat of Kingdom Quest’s gameplay revolves around crafting goods and then either trading them with other players or selling them to computer-controlled characters. In order to craft something, you usually need raw materials, which are acquired by laying down a farm plot and then either planting temporary goods such as crops and trees in it, or constructing a permanent structure such as a mine on it. Only a limited amount of farm plots are available at any one time, though the player may optionally expand this limit upon reaching various experience level milestones by expending soft currency — or at any time by expending hard currency.
Once raw materials have been acquired, the Book of Making comes into play. This comprehensive guide lists all the possible recipes that are available in the game, along with their ingredients. It initially looks like a daunting list, but early in the game, quests direct players straight to the things they should try making, plus an “Available” filter shows only the recipes the player is currently able to make with their current ingredients on hand. If a player does not have the appropriate ingredients on hand, the Book of Making provides a direct link to unlock or purchase the structure necessary to harvest that ingredient, and also provides the ability to search friends’ “trade guilds” for any of that ingredient they happen to have on hand. If the player has no friends playing or if none of them have the appropriate ingredient available, a computer-controlled “fake friend” always has a pack of 10 of each ingredient available in exchange for hard currency.
In order to craft something, the player must have workers available. Like farm plots, there is a limit to how many workers a player may have at once. There is also a limit on the number of market stalls a player may have to sell their crafted goods once they are complete — any additional goods that won’t fit on the player’s stalls may be put in the Trade Guild and made available for other players to purchase via their own Book of Making.
The game progresses like this, with the player gradually acquiring more and more farm plots, market stalls and workers as they advance through the levels. Over time, recipes start requiring more advanced resource-generating structures to be unlocked, and this must be done by expending a special currency known as “keys.” Most of the resources are presented in a “technology tree”-style structure, with prerequisite unlocks before they become available. For example, in the “grain” category, players start with the ability to grow hops, may unlock barley with one key and only then may they unlock wheat with another two keys. The crops and other products get gradually more profitable as the player unlocks them.
The game features a robust Achievements system to give the player some challenges to aim for beyond the quests that are dished out regularly. Successfully fulfilling the requirements for an Achievement rewards the player with experience points and other prizes, so they have a practical function beyond simple bragging rights — though naturally they can be shared also.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the game is that, unlike many of its peers, it does not rely on a play-throttling energy system for its monetization. Instead, it uses a combination of multiple currencies — all of which are available via in-app purchase — and wait times. One of the currencies available for purchase is simply called “speedups,” and varying quantities of these are required to bypass wait times. These are also occasionally dished out as quest and level-up rewards, so the player gets regular opportunities to make use of them without feeling obliged to purchase hard currency. The same is true for keys — players will gradually be able to unlock all of the content through “grinding,” but those willing to pay will be able to gain access to the more profitable products more quickly.
Kingdom Quest does a lot of things right, but it’s not perfect. The game takes a while to load all of the objects’ graphics any time the player switches back and forth between their own castle and a neighbor’s, leading to an ugly-looking situation where objects appear on screen one at a time. The game does not appear to cache any content locally on the user’s computer, so this happens every time the view is switched.
Perhaps a more serious issue is that despite the heavy-handed tutorial at the beginning of the game, some aspects of the game are not clearly explained. It is not immediately apparent that market stalls and workers may only be placed on “castle plots,” for example — particularly as “castle plots” look more like pathways than a place you might want to build something. It is also not particularly intuitive that mines may only be built on farm plots. When attempting to place one of these structures in a location that is inappropriate, the game simply gives a generic “you can’t build that there” message — this would have been a good opportunity to add a pop-up message explaining the appropriate place to put the objects in order to educate players.
These issues aside, however, Kingdom Quest is a clear and mostly-successful attempt to push the “social castlebuilding” genre forward with some interesting new mechanics. The complete absence of an energy system allows players to feel like they can play and experiment without pressure, and the additions to the usual formulae make it an interesting, fun game that rewards social play. It needs a few tweaks here and there — particularly with regard to how it loads data and how it explains things to players — but even now, it’s a solid game that is well worth checking out.
An interesting take on the tired castlebuilding formula, with some well-implemented and innovative new mechanics.