I don’t particularly like myself when I start writing a review by saying something like this, but the most honest way to describe Game Insight’s Rule the Kingdom (out now, free) is to state that it’s nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The entire game is based on convincing the player they’re actually controlling something, primarily through a mixture of high production values and occasional meaningless decisions, when in reality all they’re doing is deciding for the millionth time whether or not to wait on a cool-down clock. Naturally, each and every one of those cool-down clocks comes with a lucrative IAP attached to it remind you that you could be giving them money instead of waiting for things to move forward.
Now – before I go into this review in more detail – I want to make it clear that I am not inherently against the IAP business model, it’s just that Rule the Kingdom seems to have no clue how to be a proper example of some of the more famous games it’s clearly trying to emulate. Farmville, Tiny Tower, Pocket Planes, etc, these are all games based around the concept of an endless array of cool-down clocks with opt-out IAP purchases attached to them, but they are also freeform strategy games where each decision you make – whether or not you IAP your way through it – will still have a financial effect on the growth of your domain. Rule the Kingdom – on the other hand – is a completely linear experience where there is always only one choice ahead of you at any given time, so the only option the player ever has is how long they wait before the plot moves ever-so-slightly forward.
When you begin playing Rule the Kingdom you will either pick a male or female avatar and provide it with a name, after which you will be started along the tutorial where you’re walking along in a forest one day until someone walks up to you and tells you that you need to be ruling your kingdom (no, seriously). After which this man will lead you on a series of tutorial events that explain how all of the building options in your kingdom work, deceptively attempting to give players the impressions that this game is just like the contemporaries it wants you to falsely believe it is the same as. What will not be explained to you during all of this is that all of your building options are heavily gated by your level such that you will never have any choice in what you can do next as there’s always only one option currently available to you without spending IAPs on the currently locked options.
Oh – and by the way – the game is always designed so that you desperately need something that you currently can’t do/buy because it’s outside your level limit, forcing you to either buy the option early with IAPs or do a long line of questing-based cool-down tasks designed to remind you how much you wanted that IAP purchase. The most evil of these are the goblin workers that the king employs to do various tasks for him, and the game will not let you have more than one of them – without IAP purchasing additional units – until you’ve at least hit in game level 5. This becomes a real sticking point since you don’t actually earn EXP towards your next level by looking at your kingdom do what it primarily does best, eternally stagnate, you earn them by taking story-based requests from the emperor to help out various areas under siege.
The questing system itself could actually be somewhat interesting if the game wasn’t one giant IAP trap, for it is in these areas that your avatar – and the contigent of guards following you around – walk around an area talking to people and fighting monsters. You don’t really have much of any control over the fights themselves, you simply watch as you and your guards stand around the monster slapping it with your swords until either you or it dies (and if you die expect to spend a good deal of cool-down recovering unless you want to pay them with an IAP). However – more so than fighting monsters – most of the questing time will involve people needing you to repair things for them with your goblin to continue the plot, and the things that need to be repaired always come in multiples.
So when your kingdom can’t progress because the objects you need to do anything are level locked – unless you want to front an IAP purchase – you will find yourself questing through the story mode, and in story mode you will find your single Goblin constantly tasked with repairing five different objects that each take a separate hour to repair. Oh, by the way, repairing those objects will simply yield a different set of objects – that also take an equally long time to repair – a few seconds later in the plot (repeat umpteen times before the plot chain is over). However, for just 50 IAP crystals – an amount that the player will need to spend $5.99 to acquire – you can buy a second Goblin that will halve your time through all those tasks so that you can level up sooner and repeat the infernal process all over again.
The game is also set up so that just in case someone with an iron patience does try to pick the title up, the player will eventually hit a point where the building and gear upgrades needed to move forward are only sold for IAP as part of the standard price. While you can occasionally get a single solitary IAP gem for free in the game, all of the most frivolous IAP expenditure options are deviously placed so you will often accidentally hit them – with no confirmation prompt ever occurring – just to make sure you can’t try to save up IAP intentionally either. Finally – presumably to ensure no one with patience reserves can replay Rule the Kingdom’s early portions over and over for free – they will even charge you 30 crystals simply to reset the game, even their superior contemporaries don’t try that.
iFanzine Verdict: There is nothing about this game this isn’t devious, and the high production values seem to exist only to trick someone into thinking that there was ever a game here at all. As far as free IAP based games go, there are games available that are just so much better than this (even some of the gruesomely grind heavy ones have more in the way of gameplay). The end result is that one should not even sample this game for free, as the devious efforts here exist only to trick the player out of as much money as possible before they realize that what they’re playing is a fake game where the closest thing they have to a choice is the location of a building. Perhaps if some of the staggering greed had been replaced with in-game advertising, then there might have actually been a decent game experience to be found inside Rule the Kingdom.