The Kingdom of Loathing is no new kid on the block. The hand-drawn indie hit has been around for nine years now. There are fansites and 24-hour radio stations dedicated to the game, and there are even conventions hosted in its honor! Needless to say, the game has a following. I knew that I would be stepping into a huge puddle of "snark" when I decided to take a look at the game this week. I knew darn well that I would be tested, that my limits as someone who cannot stand to chat with anyone who answers everything with the equivalent of "your mom" would be pushed and pushed hard. I had a feeling.
Surprisingly, I found some really charming aspects to the game. Unfortunately, the game didn't seem to share my enthusiasm for its quaint design. Because it's existed for nine years, I expected to find some fine-tuned stick figure gameplay, but the game seemed content with sort of rehashing the same stuff over and over. Of course, since this column is all about playing a game enough to form only a first impression, I did not reach the higher levels and might have missed something. I just wish the game would have been more confident in its delivery.
If you are not familiar with The Kingdom of Loathing, don't worry. I wasn't terribly familiar with it before now either. Oh, sure, I knew of the game and knew that it was basically a silly romp through a land of stick figures, but other than that, I had no need or desire to explore it. I was less curious about indie games back then. Now, however, I find myself challenged to play any game that is described as indie or primitive. In fact, the more primitive the game, the better. The only issue I have is that many of the best games are almost nothing but text, and as a migraine sufferer, I cannot stomach all of those descriptions, no matter how wonderful. Anyway, consider this article a slight education. Next time that comic shop guy rolls his eyes because you don't know what the game is about, you can tell him you read about it here.
Fortunately, KoL is filled with art. Granted, it's of the stick-figure type, but it is quite abundant. I enjoyed a lot of it at first and found myself cooing and tickling the screen as the tiny trees of the forest appeared. The art is cute. After a while, however, I began to wonder why, after nine years and some indie success, the developers hadn't upgraded just a smidge in the graphics department. Now, anyone who has read most of my columns and has seen what I rank as nice art will understand that I am no art snob. I tend to value hand-drawn style over slick graphics any day. At my age, I just don't care how fine your textures are if your art doesn't make me feel anything. Unfortunately for KoL, it doesn't make me feel a thing. The joke is charming at first but wears off rather quickly after you spend an evening clicking non-stop.
Combat essentially consists of clicking on one of a few choices and viewing the outcome. Again, I am more than familiar with independent or primitive art and design. I am not turned off by this simple combat. I actually tend to love it. But the sheer volume that I went through, combined with repetitive text and bland, snarky jokes, took away most of the charm. I liked exploring and occasionally found myself smiling at the simple cleverness of some of the dungeons and interactions, but again my experience was dulled by clicking. More clicking. Always more clicking.
Watch live video from massivelytv on Justin.tv
I tried to chat a bit, but the community was not very welcoming at all, at least in my first attempt. For some reason, chat moderators are unmarked. I answered a troll's PM publicly (as to point out that he was trolling me) and was told, "Well, we don't care about your PMs, see." I took the response as coming from an an abrasive player. I told him to not worry about me, and then I was warned that I would be banned. He didn't ask if I needed anything, and despite what I thought was my obvious confusion about who was a moderator or not, he continued to joke about it. I told him that the exchange would look good in the article I was writing and apologized, simply because it was the most exciting thing to happen in my entire week of playing. I've had misunderstandings with mods before, but it always makes me feel a little uncomfortable when it happens. I hate interfering with the mod's difficult task, but it would help if the developers of KoL would simply mark the names in chat. Chalk it up to the possible dangers of having volunteer player moderators.
Even though the community made me feel like I was talking to a group of XXL Spiderman silk shirts, it was probably just the particular evening I was on. In fact I received a nice gift and guild invitation in my in-game mail later on. As with many games, especially ones that have a long history, it can take a while to understand the flow of the gameplay and the community. I'm guessing that the appeal of the game is mostly the fact that it is a chat room with some interface next to it, and that many of the players find its late '90s internet design appealing. I found myself wanting something a little more serious from the game. I know, I know, it's KoL, but I would have liked to see less dependence on clicking and more on clever use of links or triggers.
I don't want to make it sound like the game is bad. It's not. The game is actually quite smart and sometimes a lot of fun. Perhaps if the gameplay were tweaked for shorter spurts, that would help? Maybe then I would feel compelled to click until all of my points were gone for the day, instead of like I was being forced to do so. I was actually pretty impressed by some of the quests I came across; in fact, I was thrilled when I met an old NPC who talked to me about other realities and pixels. For those few moments, I felt that the game had much more depth to it than the constant silly jokes. But then I would go back to clicking. And clicking. And clicking.
Good luck to the title and the community. They both seem to be enjoying themselves, and the game appears to be chugging along just fine. I'll have to give it much more than the several hours I visited upon it this week. I'll keep it bookmarked. It's the type of game that seems like it could provide quite a bit of fun in daily, smaller bits. Then again, perhaps I am just not in on the joke.
Next week I will be taking a look at the open beta of Wakfu. I want all of you to know that I am an unapologetic fanboy for the game, so expect nothing less than gushing. Luckily in my job I can do that. Don't worry; I'll be sure to point out any flaws I find, though. If there are any.
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!