After Steam Greenlight and a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than three times its goal, IronOak Games‘ For The King has made it to Steam Early Access. It blends elements from RPGs, strategy games, and even traditional board games. It’s also pretty challenging.
Choose your party of three and set out into the procedurally generated world. The basic elements of the quest are the same, but locations, encounters, and rewards shift and move each time. None of the classes that you are given to choose from seem particularly battle-ready, and that’s part of the game’s charm. As the story goes, the kingdom is in a desperate situation, and it falls its common citizens to get this job done. So you end up with a busker, an herbalist, a woodcutter, a blacksmith, or a few others. The hunter is probably the closest thing you get to a seasoned skirmisher. But nevertheless, these brave people will make do with what they can find.
Gameplay in For The King is heavily dependent upon items, as they not only increase your armor, resistance, and damage, but wielding them allows you to use their unique skills in combat. If you particularly like one skill, you may wind up holding onto that item even when something with higher damage comes along. Straight up overpowering your enemies isn’t really an option, even on the medium, or Journeyman, difficulty setting. The developers have taken care to make sure these would-be heroes do indeed come off as ordinary citizens.
Which means you’ll have to be smart about how you play. Each one of your three heroes gets its own independent turn. This means you can split people up to try and cover more ground. But even if you try to send your scholar around the enemy camp, a swarm of bees can pop up out of nowhere and cause some real problems. Things get even more dangerous at night, or as the chaos starts to proliferate through the world and interfere with your rolls and abilities.
Adding to the challenge, and in some ways the replayability, is the fact that you can only save and exit. You can’t save your progress before you try something dangerous and then load when it doesn’t go well. You live and die by your decisions, and once it’s all over, you just have to pick back up and start again.
What is successful about For The King is the satisfying, tactical nature of combat. By keeping the numbers low, you don’t have immediately bloated figures with hundreds of HP doing thousands of damage. That means every little bit counts. And the way that rolls work, with the ability to apply focus to ensure successful ones, adds another strategic layer.
What is also successful is the challenge of turning these humble heroes into something that can actually clear a dungeon. It takes a little luck, a bit of gold, and an understanding of each of their important attributes to make things work. And the fact that it is very dependent on items, and there’s a large breadth of them to choose from, means that you’re unlikely to find the same formula to success more than once.
My only real disappointment in this preliminary exploration of For The King is that the online co-op doesn’t seem to be very active. But it is at least a nice idea to think that you could focus on just one character of the three, and find two friends or strangers to take up the roles of the others. It would have to be planned out in advance, anyway, because I have so far gotten a couple hours into an individual game and don’t seem to be making much of a dent in the amount of world there is to explore.
Porting board games onto PC and consoles always winds up being miserable and annoying, so it’s good to see studios like IronOak and League of Geeks (the team behind the digital board game Armello) re-imagining board games and video games at the same time to create unique and original experiences.