Kingdom: New Lands is purposely obtuse, providing a mere slither of context in the beginning and nothing more. As such, it can get frustrating figuring out what you need to do and how to go about doing it. Moreover, this often turns into a trial and error learning curve, inevitably ending in your character’s death. However, this is part of Kingdom: New Land’s narrative: the struggle to keep the crown and conquer each island.
It’s a compelling experience; however many times you die you’ll find yourself quickly yearning to try again, fresh with the knowledge you gleaned from your last attempt. A single mistake, such as building the wrong kind of unit or expanding your kingdom too early, can be extremely difficult and often impossible to come back from, but there’s joy in the discovery and challenge that keeps you playing. Despite the lack of clarity and punishing difficulty, Kingdom: New Lands is also hugely satisfying and fun.
You are tasked, as the new king or queen, in building a kingdom. On each of the islands of the world you must build a settlement, repair your ship, then sail to another land to do it all over again. It’s a cross between a management title and a tower defence game; you recruit citizens to your settlement by giving nomads a gold coin, then you can turn them into engineers to build things, archers to shoot things, farmers to farm things, or knights to lead armies of archers against the things that come out at night. Once the sun has set you’ll be beset by demons, coming from a portal – or set of portals – deep in the forest. These foal things mean to take gold from your citizens, as well as their weapons and tools, and most importantly your crown. It’s imperative that you defend against these raids whilst you complete repairs to your ship.
Turning your citizens into useful members of your kingdom requires you to purchase their tools or weapons. In the early game this is limited to engineers and archers, with you buying hammers and bows respectively, however, as the game progresses, farmers require scythes and knights require shields. Your settlement adds these new features and stalls as your upgrade the centre, and things get expensive fast. Fortunately, your archers can hunt rabbits and deer to provide cash, a trader visits town daily and generates more gold, and farmers bring in a healthy income after a few days of tending to their crops. Your engineers can get you a little bit of extra spending money from cutting down trees, and deep in the forest lies a couple of chests full of gold, but managing your income and your settlement’s growth is a tricky challenge.
The Nomads for recruiting into your kingdom are found in campsites in the forest. Cut down the trees surrounding them and that campsite disappears. The same goes for the traders hut. And whilst the raiding demons never kill your people, when they do attack them they strip them of their gold, turning them back into nomads. Furthermore, upgrading your settlement costs a pretty penny, as do the walls and archer towers needed to defend your settlement. Controlling your expenditure whilst maintaining a well defended and prosperous settlement proves very difficult.
With every passing night, the raiding demons become more numerous and introduce variants, putting a strain on your defences, so ensuring you upgrade your defences swiftly is important. However, in order to efficiently and effectively upgrade and manage your settlement you need to understand the layout of the island you’re on, encouraging you to explore from end to end. Here is where Kingdom: New Lands aesthetic really impresses.
The whole game is on a 2D plain, with tremendously detailed and animated pixel art bringing the people of your kingdom and you, upon your trusty steed, to life. What starts off as a set of lush green forests and plains becomes dull and lifeless in autumn, snow covered in winter, before being reborn in spring and back to glory in summer. It’s wonderfully complex and beautiful. Furthermore, the canopy of trees in the forest blocks the light from the sun and forces you to light a torch as you explore. The torches are once again branded at night by characters and buildings. Meanwhile, the action from the middle of the screen is superbly reflected in the flowing water of the bottom third of the screen. It’s a remarkably well-designed and thought-out, showing a level of visual complexity and beauty seldom seen in pixel art. It’s outstanding.
Despite the stiff challenge, Kingdom: New Lands can easily get its hooks into you, and this is largely because the challenge is fair. The procedural generation is limited to certain features to prevent unwinnable scenarios, and once you crack the mechanics, it’s a matter of planning the most efficient repair of your ship and/or defence of your settlement to claim victory. However, The AI can occasionally make things a little more difficult than they should be. Even when the demons only attack from one side, your forces will split themselves to defend each side of your settlement evenly. Moreover, occasionally a citizen will run off into the wild for no reason at all, only to return a little while later – assuming they aren’t attacked – empty handed and looking foolish. Additionally, archers sometimes won’t mount empty defence towers, hurting your defensive strategy somewhat, and your engineers have a nasty habit of wandering outside your walls and getting ganked by demons.
Indeed, Kingdom: New Lands is a challenging game that withholds the information you need to survive and prosper, forcing you to explore and experiment to figure it all out. And as frustrating as this can be, it’s also a big part of the fun and works to keep you engaged, and the satisfaction you receive for conquering one of the six islands is rewarding enough to keep you coming back for more time and time again.
Thanks to Xbox and The Fun Pimps and Iron Galaxy for supporting TiX