|Release: March 5, 2013|
|Players: 1 (Social)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
The free-to-play action RPGs are coming! Marvel Heroes is in closed beta (read CheatCC's preview here), and now KingsRoad is live on Facebook.
KingsRoad doesn't push the boundaries of the genre quite as far as Marvel Heroes does, but it is the perfect Facebook game for a Diablo or Torchlight fan. It basically takes all the standard features of the format and distills them into a series of very brief levels. If your boss won't look at your computer screen for ten to fifteen minutes, you can slay some bad guys, defeat a massive monster, and be back to making cover sheets for your TPS reports before anyone's the wiser. If you close the tab, the game will pick up where you left off when you return. And you can play co-op with up to two friends or random strangers.
Gameplay in KingsRoad always starts at a small hub level, which is home to the various people you rescue in the levels—they include a cook, a blacksmith, and pretty much all the other standard RPG vendors. When you're ready to play, you talk to Emil, the cartographer, who'll let you select a destination level on the map. The basic story is that your king has been killed and monsters rule the land. You need to take your territory back. And rescue a princess, of course.
If you've played an action RPG before, you know what happens next: a whole lot of clicking, a whole lot of loot, and a whole lot of getting out of the way when a huge ogre winds up for an attack. Depending on your class (so far you can choose knight, wizard, or archer), you'll be stabbing, casting, or shooting your way through tons of enemies, each of which will inexplicably explode into a fountain of blood and treasure. You can pick up gold by placing your cursor over it, but you need to click on other items. As you acquire new weapons, armor, and perk-bestowing baubles, you'll equip the best ones to your character and sell or craft with the rest. Amazingly, despite its social media framework, KingsRoad is every bit as addictive as the best games in this genre.
The upgrade system is also impressive. You earn a skill point each time you level up, and you can use these points to learn new abilities and upgrade the ones you already have. In your first playthrough you won't earn nearly enough points to do everything you want, so it's always a tough decision when you gain a level. With my knight, I opted for a very high chance of parrying attacks and learned a few other skills at low levels. If you end up with a character you hate, a respec is just a modest fee away.
I'm a little less impressed with the crafting and trading systems. To craft, you have to bring the required ingredients to a vendor, pay a crafting fee, and then wait an inordinate amount of time. I found that the blacksmith couldn't process items as fast as I brought them in (for example, it takes two hours to turn six "fine" items into a single random "superior" item), and more often than not I just ended up selling the result anyway. If you want to craft better items, you need to pay a huge fee and wait a day to upgrade the forge.
Equally frustrating, I once accidentally sold a sword I had won as a mission reward and quickly discovered that there's no way to repurchase things you've sold. There's an "are you sure?" message when you try to sell the game’s best loot, but you need to be careful with the lower-quality items you depend on at the beginning. I burned a lot of health food trying to power through several levels with an underpowered sword.
Cooking is a much smoother process—as in most other action-RPGs, you should have no trouble in KingsRoad keeping a huge stock of health items. And if you don't want to mess with that, there's a merchant who sells health items that are a little less effective.
I also found the death system annoying, as I often do in action RPGs and MMOs. There's no actual gameplay punishment for dying—none of the enemies come back to life, bosses don't recharge their health, and you don't even have to start from a different location the way you do in Torchlight. Instead, you have wait through a “you’re dead” screen until you're eligible to revive, much the way you do in World of Warcraft. In each level, the revive times start at ten seconds and grow quickly from there. This is especially obnoxious given the fact that most of your deaths won't result from bad tactics—in an action-RPG, death most frequently happens because you punched the health button a split second too late.
Of course, being a free-to-play game, KingsRoad offers plenty of conveniences for people who are willing to pay. There are two currencies here: gold, which is plentiful, and gems, which are rare in the game but can be purchased for cold hard cash. Gems will buy you extra inventory slots, vanity skins, potions, instant crafting, and various other perks. They also are needed to open some of the loot chests found in the levels.