Behold Studios flip the RPG genre on its head!
Oh mobile phone games, you silly bears. You don’t belong on proper gaming systems. You belong on tablets, and phones; devices which aren’t built for long sessions of interactivity and are instead more suited to occasional distractions to alleviate boredom while riding the bus, watching TV or feigning interest in family conversation.
This kind of unbridled skepticism of mobile efforts making the jump to proper ‘gaming’ platforms is widespread amongst console and PC gamers, so Knights of Pen & Paper +1 Edition, a game which began its life on iOS and Andriod devices, is already fighting an uphill battle from the moment it’s booted up.
Thankfully the chiptune soundtrack, 16-bit aesthetic, and novel fantasy setting help to dissolve a large part of that distrust. In contrast to traditional RPGs, in Knights of Pen & Paper the lone player assumes the role of both dungeon master and roleplayer in a fantasy world that is filled with familiar monsters, nifty callouts to geek culture and quests which the player can tailor themselves to ensure maximum gold and XP yield.
Being in charge of both the destiny of any given quest and the adventurers taking part is a quirky and unique take on the traditional RPG genre, and this effect is enhanced by being able to choose the class (Paladin, Warrior, Rogue, Mage, Warrior, Druid) and origin of any quester at the table be it Shopper, Little Brother, a dog named Wolfie, or a cloaked mage from Magicka. And obviously each of these combinations comes with their own set of statistical buffs.
There isn’t any critical story path or really characters of note, instead players are free to make their own fun by exploring the level gated world, raid dungeons, craft weapons upgrades and pick new roleplayers to join them at the customisable table. Every monster killed grants XP, gold and potentially loot which scales in accordance with the level of the characters facing them. So far, so RPG, but the level, number and type of monsters is up to the player, which leads to an interesting risk versus reward dynamic. There are regular quests where your merry band of adventurers are simply along for the ride, but the need to constantly earn new gold to buy new equipment and gear in addition to earning XP to level up and gain new skills means that the need to grind out levels to afford better gear and loot is unavoidable from even a character’s earliest levels.
There’s definitely an early level hump for players to struggle over from the off, but as more levels are granted more elaborate skills and combat mechanics appear, such as weakening foes resistance in order to make them susceptible to certain styles of attack. Soon it also becomes clear how each of the five different classes can be used to compliment each other, and the turn-based nature of skirmishes means that even relatively new players to the genre will be able to get their head around established tropes like damage per second attacks, defensive stances and status effects easily.
Unfortunately there aren’t any tutorials to speak of, so all this knowledge is earned in a trial and error fashion more than anything else, but Knight’s click-orientated gameplay is so simple that being taken through mechanics step by step really isn’t necessary.
What’s most frustrating about Knights is how much the core game hinges on gold accumulation. Like in other RPGs this method of currency is used to upgrade equipment and buy new consumables for adventurers, but here it’s also used to travel the world, resurrect fallen members of the party and to purchase specific stat buff items which aid character progression, such as a permanent 1% boost to XP accumulation, +5 attack for a number of minutes etc. All these are added via trophies on the questing table which is permanently on-screen, or room items which can be seen from the main menu. These items by themselves aren’t a problem, in fact they create a nifty fourth wall breaking affect, with the in-game player surroundings often changing how in-game adventures play out. The problem is that framing these items around gold means that combat victory ultimately feels hollow, as at any time players can bring up the in-game real money store and snap up extra gold; be it 300 gold for 79p or 10,000 gold for £3.99.
Offering these kinds of ‘convenience items’ is now common place in gaming regardless of platform, but in Knights it comes across as rather greedy and entirely needless. Yes we could pay £3.99 to get 10,000 gold and subsequently be able to craft more weapons to make our warriors get through combat much quicker and easier, but seeing as we’ve already paid £6.99 to play the game in the first place why should we?
Obviously the rate at which gold is accumulated speeds up as characters level thus being able to tackle more formidable foes, but during the early levels it takes at least a handful of battles to get anywhere near 300 gold and the in-game store, which is only ever one button press away, makes that effort seem ultimately worthless. And we can’t help thinking that gold yield wouldn’t be so uncharitable if the in-game store wasn’t here in the first place.
Undoubtedly this kind of pay-to-win mentality is a holdover from Knights origins as a mobile release, but on PC it comes across as needlessly greedy, take for example upgrading weapons via town blacksmiths. Now to do this you need to harvest metals from caves to increase the blacksmith’s rank in order to give him the expertise necessary to improve your party’s weapons. That’s perfectly understandable, but in addition to that you also have to pay a gold fee, starting at around 125 gold, and the success of this crafting process is ultimately determined by a dice roll. If the appropriate number isn’t rolled, not only is a weapon not upgraded but the money used to fund the upgrade is also swallowed up by the blacksmith. Offering a partial refund would nullify the anger caused by this happening, but instead the full gold amount is taken as if to say to the player, “Better luck next time chump, now go out there and fight monsters for ten more minutes and try again.” Needless to say we didn’t want to try again, instead we quit the game and lamented its clumsy real cash store implementation.
Knights is an engrossing and original RPG that boasts a lot of character and innovation. Sure it’s lacking in the story department, but the twist on the traditional questing mechanic is novel, turn-based combat is deep and fun, and the playful nods to beloved franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Doctor Who alongside traditional fantasy archetypes are numerous and very funny. It’s just a shame the implementation of the in-game cash shop and the need to grind to get ahead compromises all that.
A stingy RPG filled with cutesy character – just prepared to work hard to see all its charms.
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