Kingsroad is easy to slip into. To play, all a player has to do is open up a web browser, type in the game’s web address, and press the inviting green “Play Now” button. After a quick loading screen, the fantasy world awaits, brimming with everything a player would expect from an action role-playing game.
KingsRoad is the manifestation of developer Rumble Entertainment’s goal – to streamline gameplay and provide a cheaper, but just as fun, alternative to console games.
The isometric fantasy role-playing game plays like Diablo. You control your character by clicking on the screen. Click on a monster and you attack the monster. Click on loot and you pick up the loot. How is it different from what we’ve already seen? KingsRoad stands out by how it blends this simple concept with accessibility to the action.
After signing in, you’re back where you left off (Rumble Entertainment’s servers save your progress constantly). The town features a few choices for gameplay. You can head to the right and continue the story where you complete a quest after beating the level and its boss. You can click on the bounty board to jump into shorter versions of the main story maps. Or you can test your mettle against the dungeons.
Moving from one event to another is streamlined, allowing players to jump from working on the main story to tackling a dungeon with friends in a matter of seconds. Friends not playing? Press the second inviting green “Find Party” button and you’re matched with another player at your level.
“We wanted to create games for core players,” says senior communication manager Brett Bates, “but we wanted to remove all those barriers to entry like a $60 up-front cost, plus a $500 console, and the worry about whether you have a mac or pc. Everybody today has a computer that can run flash and more and more people have tablets these days. We wanted to bring these traditional game experiences to those players.”
The gameplay formula is what you might expect from an action/RPG. You kill monsters, and in return you get loot and experience to get better at killing monsters. The formula is simple and rewarding, but it also requires a tremendous amount of balancing to work right. If someone else’s class, equipment, or ability is overpowered then you can feel cheated. You put just as much effort in, faced the same challenge, but you were left with a dinky little sword? That doesn’t bode well with gamers. With KingsRoad having a free-to-play model, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Rumble Entertainment messing up this balance.
Especially since the game is also available for play not only on a regular browser, but also on Facebook. “In a lot of games you can play [on Facebook],” explains game designer Derek McDevitt, “you get caught in this cycle where monetization is a core part of their game loop, where you have to pay to progress passed a certain point. That’s never our goal.” Their goal is to make sure there is always something to do and enjoy for players who don’t want to pay anything. “Even if you don’t pay now, we want you enjoying the game and playing as long as you can, because if you were to stick around there is always a chance you might want to pay in the future.”
This all sounds well and good, but how does it work in practice?
In a main story level, my friends and I are tasked with defeating a siege beast. The level begins and we fight our way through mercenaries. They drop some loot, mostly piles of gold, but also some minor loot. As we near the end of the level, we see a sparkling chest. The chest is locked and only a certain number of gems will open it. Begrudgingly, we decide to save our gems and pass by the chest. We come face to-face with the siege beast. After a quick bout with the monster, loot scatters across the ground – a rare bow and a lockbox.
That was a typical main story map, which anyone could play for free. I can equip the bow. The lockbox dishes out more loot free of charge. I could replay it or continue the story with my friends. The loot would increase with our level. Enemies would become more difficult. Gameplay would change. It’s very much an enjoyable experience.
Or I could pay some money and enhance the experience. If I haven’t earned enough gems from completing quests, I could buy gems to open the chest, which conveniently opens the chest for everyone else in my party. I could use a potion to provide a temporary boost to my stats, giving me a brief leg up, but not fully breaking the game experience for anyone else.
Rumble Entertainment’s intentions are in the right place. In the few hours that I played KingsRoad, I enjoyed the game without having to pay, but don’t be fooled: this is a free-to-play game and if you choose to pay, you will have more fun.
Tread carefully in dungeons. You only get three lives win.
Designing a robust action RPG on a web browser has to be difficult, and Rumble Entertainment is well on its way to making it happen. Rumble Entertainment recently added dungeons to their free-to-play game, which introduced a new gameplay wrinkle. The penalty for dying is pretty minimal for a lot of the game. In dungeons, however, you only have three lives to win. When you’re playing co-op, those lives are shared. It adds a higher level of tension to these already difficult zones.
KingsRoad is currently in open beta (officially releasing sometime early next year), but it plans to update the game further after its release. “We are working on getting more and more events into the game, special events, new objectives, timed-events with new items and new content,” says McDevitt. “There’s definitely a lot of content on the horizon.”
With two expensive systems new to the market, it’s easy to be lured into the pricey commitment of next-gen consoles. If players aren’t yet ready to make the shift, Rumble Entertainment provides a cheaper alternative to these platforms, one that most of everyone already has: a web browser. KingsRoad might not be pushing hardware, but it’s pioneering in its own right – making the traditional action/RPG available to everyone with a laptop and an internet connection. It will be interesting to see whether players embrace this project or simply write it off as just another browser game.