This title was reviewed on Xbox One, but is also available on PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
The term ‘roguelike’ can conjure up terrible thoughts in the minds of the less hardcore gaming types: permadeath, unfairness, lack of cohesion. But For the King tries its hardest to shake this stigma and provide something for everyone.
Part story driven adventure, part randomly generated batter, and part board game, it’s more ambitious than its twee looks and for the most part, nails the execution.
Other roguelike titles such as Darkest Dungeon take a dark and more sinister tone. Overcoming death and monsters should be serious business, right? IronOak Games clearly had other ideas when designing the visual theme for this game. The vibrant colour palettes used across the variety of biomes (including your classic woodland and snowy regions) are bright and bold, whilst the papercraft effect of the 3D models is joyous and brings back memories of Tearaway. Whilst somewhat cutesy, it’s these design choices that make the overall graphical package like a children’s storybook (even when the blood is flying!)
This look, however, doesn’t portray the complexity of its underlying systems, and unfortunately the overworld tabletop RPG sections are a bit of a muddled mess. Fonts are too small, key text is nested into pictures which are pasted into other menus. It all gets a bit hard to read and for a punishing title, you can really suffer for misreading or losing where to see a certain stat or attribute.
The different gameplay scenarios have varying levels of narrative, but the ‘main’ For the King campaign has the meatiest story. It’s a simple enough setup – beloved king is murdered by court wizard gone bad, and the call goes out for eager citizens of the realm to try and hunt him down. There are main plot points to aim for on your quest for justice, such as scavenging key fragments from catacombs or overthrowing camps, and various allies will pop up with the occasional side quest.
Keeping you moving throughout the tale is the concept of ‘chaos’. Key events will happen after a certain amount of turns which generally make things harder (such as constant rain or buffed enemy HP) and it’s up to you to try and squeeze tackling the threats around your questing. If you’ve ever played XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you will be familiar with the concept.
Some roguelikes can get boring quite quickly, but For the King has an abundance of content to keep you diving back in. Aside from the main regicide adventure, there are campaigns which focus solely on navigating the open seas, surviving in the wild as long as possible (Don’t Starve comes to mind), or punishing infinite dungeons which drop the story and adventure for pure monster hunting! You can customise each game before you start as well, setting the overall difficulty alongside lives and item drop rates. Coupled with full online and local co-op, there’s heaps of replay value.
The core of For the King is tried and tested turn based battling and overworld mooching, fuelled by board game style dice rolls for both. Whilst your team of three plucky adventurers can partake in said scraps as a team, each character is controlled separately when in the main map; this gives some flexibility with the approaches to combat, as you can send stealthier teammates past tougher foes or make a break to the nearest camp to buy supplies. How close you are to your companions when battle is initiated impacts your party size, so this can work against you if an ambush or unfortunate event happens! Movement is similar to Catan or other hex board games, where your ‘roll’ determines how many segments you can travel in a turn.
Your offensive stats revolve around three simple attributes: strength (for, unsurprisingly, using bigger and badder weapons to beat and stun your foes), intelligence (for magical mastery), and talent (for the odder tools such as instruments). There are the usual range of status effects to spice things up, but there’s a great balance of depth and accessibility. Your budding heroes aren’t limited by their distinct classes too – you’re surprisingly flexible with the way you kit them out…not that you would want to choose anything sub-optimal in the ruthless realms! Limited means to heal, revive, and the somewhat scant item/gold drops add to the challenge.
The focus system is what really makes the gameplay shine. Denoted by ‘points’, these are used to boost almost all physical actions in the game. In battles, they are used to better your attacks and accuracy; on the map, allow you to move more spaces or sneak past encounter squares; or to help up your odds of disarming traps (and nabbing sweet booty in the process). Focus doesn’t come cheap or free, so there’s risk and reward to nearly everything you spend it on.
If you can grasp the above, you’ll be able to have a good crack at most scenarios, but beyond these core elements it all gets a bit overwhelming. Menu upon menu of sub stats bleed out different menu screens and tabs. It’s easy to get lost at times. This dizzying depth under the surface is good for RPG veterans who like min-maxing, but a lot of the time you don’t have enough money or items to make a meaningful impact anyway.
To spice things up on multiple playthroughs, there are loads of unlockables. They actually add new elements to the game, rather than just being pointless trinkets! New characters, random events, weapons, and more can get added to the pool. After a full playthrough of the main story and a few ill-fated stabs at the other modes, I had enough lore books to unlock a couple of new character classes, a legendary sword, and three new random events that can occur.
For the King features a score of gentle string and flute music, fitting for the theatrical and storybook feel of the game. It almost feels like a Shakespearean play at times. Whilst pleasant, it isn’t really anything to write home about. The lack of music tracks gets tedious in longer play sessions, which isn’t ideal for a turn-based RPG. Again, the sound effects are just average. For a game with such strong visuals, it’s a real disappointment to be married to such boring sound design!
As someone who generally enjoys a challenge and a bit of random chaos, I really like For the King. The addition of full local and online coop and the diverse, tweakable campaigns make it a surprisingly generous package. Curve Digital have published another great indie title here, and one I recommend to fans of board games, roguelikes, and RPGs.