PAX East 2017 - Kingsway Preview

Shortly before PAX East, Adult Swim Games announced Kingsway, a unique RPG told through a windows-based operating system. Immediately upon seeing the trailer for the game, I reached out about setting up a PAX appointment to give the game a try. It was one of the first games I played at the convention and easily my game of the show.

The RPG mechanic of the game has a very old-school feel to it. You begin by creating your character and selecting a class to determine your starting stats. There’s the well-rounded Adventurer, strength-focused Warrior, magic-focused Mage, etc. Then you select a starting perk (extra health, magic, gold) and you’re on your way, dropping into a brief training room before opening up to a procedurally generated map on a quest to the castle in the East.

The real element that sets this game apart is the user interface. Developer Andrew Morrish has built a windows-based operating system a la Windows 98 as the interface for his game. The World is an icon on your in-game desktop. Your character is an icon on the desktop. Your inventory is an icon. Double-clicking (or right-clicking > Open) any of these opens them as individualized windows on the desktop. Right-clicking in your inventory will give you Sort By options. Dragging over multiple items or shift-clicking will allow you select multiple items at once. As my friend Alex O’Neill from Irrational Passions and I both discovered, the interface feels exactly like what you would expect. What you think you should be able to do (based on the rules of a normal operating system), you can. When you click on a location to move to in the world map, another window with a loading bar pops up to indicate how far you traveled to your destination.

On the way, you may encounter an enemy, which will pop up in their own window with buttons for attack and defense. The window features loading bars for your turn and the enemies (once the bars is full, you can select your action). It also moves around a bit (like an old-school spammy pop-up), adding to the difficulty. From here, additional layers might be thrown in as well. Another enemy could join the fray, leaving you with two windows bouncing around the screen. Another clever mechanic folded in here: the enemy might have a special attack like a bomb thrown at you. This manifests as yet another pop-up window with a prompt to “Avoid.” Successfully click “Avoid” while the window is moving up and down and you won’t be damaged.

If you’ve been visualizing this encounter as described, you can imagine how cluttered the screen is with windows upon windows. And that’s part of the beauty of the game. You need to be cautious with your real estate in the game. Too much clutter and that “Bomb” pop-up will fly up and down and damage you behind three other windows so you never even knew it was there. At the same time, it might be worthwhile to have a Potion prepared at all times so all you need to do is click the “Use” prompt to heal yourself up rather than rush into your inventory, double-click the potion, and click “Use” in the middle of a heated fight.

This element of managing the clutter is definitely something that Morrish has incorporated into the game by design. When I asked about inspiration for the game, he spoke about his affinity for Papers Please and the satisfaction that came from keeping all of the documents neat and tidy. And that is abundantly clear in the design philosophy of this title. Keeping too many windows open definitely has a cost to it. The game slowly ramps the difficulty curve up but about 20 minutes into my demo, I died because I got caught in a three-on-one fight with no potions and far too many unnecessary windows open blocking my view of others.

The game is roguelike in nature so that death meant game over for my Adventurer. I was given the option to select a piece of equipment to pass on, which became a starting perk option for my next character. I wandered out into the open world to discover the map had completely changed so, with only a few minutes left, I decided to wander to a nearby town and explore. The towns feature the RPG staples: an inn, shops, and an adventurer’s guild where you can obtain and complete quests (like collect and turn in 5 skulls recovered from defeated skeletons).

Typically not one to be particularly invested in roguelikes, Kingsway definitely got its hooks in me and I’m excited to geek out with the game when it eventually launches on PC. It's unique gameplay and design easily earned it the Trevor Trove Game of the Show for PAX East 2017 (which is a thing I just made up).