This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Gold and glory are great, but is there any better purpose in life than fighting for one’s crowned sovereign? FOR THE KING, a roguelike, tabletop-inspired adventure by IronOak Games, lets you live the dream of facing untold horrors in the name of king and country. Following the death of the beloved monarch of the kingdom of Fahrul, a terrifying evil has risen to obliterate all that remains. Bound by duty and love for your kingdom, you guide a team of everyday heroes as they set off to rid the world of the encroaching chaos, discover the identity of the king’s assassin, and return the land to peace and tranquility.
FOR THE KING is a modern take on old school gaming. Manifesting attributes from a wide range of genres like tabletop wargames, management sims, and JRPGs, the experience feels comfortable and fresh. Not settling for the immediately expected tropes from a single one of these, IronOak chose to implement specific mechanics inspired by each, such as dice rolls, 3v3 turn-based battles, and time management. Each of these additions contributes to the designs of a journey that is original but not unfamiliar to those involved.
I too am in awe of the world
Exploring the world of Fahrul is a daunting task. As the environment is procedurally built anew with each life, every run is different and new dangers appear at every turn. What’s more, the longer you spend playing and the further you venture out into the world, the more ruthless adversaries become. This provides an ever-present thrill as you trek through wild lands to reach the terrible source of chaos, encountering beasts and scoundrels along the way. Each locale employs its own layout, style, enemies, and mysterious landmarks to provide unique encounters and rare loot for those with a keen eye.
The random nature of the game gives the player a lot to consider. Where should they travel? Which battles are worth fighting? And most importantly, will they be able to reach their destination before chaos rules supreme? Building off this uncertainty, FOR THE KING introduces its most important mechanic: the focus system. Focus points are a currency of each unit’s mental ability, and can be used to increase chances of success for a wide range of actions. Using these points, though, comes at a hefty price. The only way to recover the points is consuming an item, leveling up, or performing meditation outside of combat, each of which wastes valuable time or resources. Though beneficial, the system adds pressure, and pushes players to constantly ask themselves whether the risk is worth the reward. Spending focus is a good way to get ahead early on, but being cornered by a terrible troll with no focus left can be a death sentence.
Looks like a sticky situation huh?
FOR THE KING has no reservations wiping out your entire team and ending your run after a dumb decision or plain bad luck. This could be very frustrating, but the random generation of each playthrough in conjunction with the fun flow of early game results is an acceptable challenge that is more of an impetus to become better than a straight-up buzzkill.
For all the doom and gloom, I would be remiss not to stop and smell the roses. FOR THE KING is built upon charming art direction. Implementing hex-centric, low-poly art to create a simple yet fully dimensional sight to behold, the style fosters vibrant environments. Cute as they may be, don’t let the visuals fool you: while the beginning of each run might suggest a lighthearted tone for the overall campaign, the encroaching darkness quickly reveal that beneath the quaint evergreen forests and the serene ocean view, evil runs through to the very core of Fahrul.
I spent too much time kraken jokes when I should’ve been kraken skulls
As players progress on to higher levels, though, FOR THE KING’s unregulated chaos can become a hindrance. With so many random variables, it can become overwhelming trying to discern what mistakes you made leading up to your passing, or even if your demise was even your fault at all. As such, it can be very difficult to learn from what went wrong and implement new strategies for future playthroughs.
Although it falters a bit during its later stages, there are significantly more areas where FOR THE KING excels. Though entirely unpredictable, the game is never too generous or stingy with its handouts. Combat is balanced, and the journey itself, though punishing, is not unfair. Fortunately, the way these mechanics interact with one another improves FOR THE KING overall, while offering up an incredibly rewarding journey and a fun set of adventures that are absolutely worth the price of admission.
Reviewed on PC