I can’t be the only one who when reading the title of A-Sharp’s latest title, King of Dragon Pass, thought it was a game about a group of warriors battling it out for a mystical Oyster Card (A London travel pass) that enables them to have free dragon rides for the rest of their life.
Apparently I was wrong.
It seems that as well as this, I was also a little ignorant of my gaming history. I wasn’t aware that King of Dragon Pass first made an appearance on the PC in 1999. Which was like, ages ago. It’s a mix between a world building game, and one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to cheat at as a kid. You’re the leader of a group of settlers who have found their new home in an area known as Dragon Pass. The aim is to build up your clan, while managing relations with neighbouring factions by trading, forming alliances, and doing and receiving favours from them. You also have to placate the gods by offering sacrifices, building temples to provide blessings to your people and re-enacting myths that result in more magic for your kinfolk. Occasionally, just to keep things interesting you’ll also be raided by rival clans. Your end goal is to balance your decisions in order to keep everyone happy and be elected King of Dragon Pass.
I have to issue a warning about this game. It’s text heavy. Extremely! The intro, tutorial and manual – probably the most comprehensive I’ve seen in an iOS game – are fairly tough going in the early stages, and if you’re the type to study an instruction booklet before you launch into a game, you might even find yourself falling asleep before you actually start to play the thing. If you can’t read, this game definitely isn’t for you. Then again, if you can’t read, this review probably isn’t for you either.
And a special mention must be made about the KoDP manual, which contains these brilliant first paragraphs:
‘Two hundred years ago, in the shadow of the mountain at the centre of the world, your ancestors fought a great war against the dragons.
Your ancestors lost.
The dragons ate every warrior who marched against them. They ate every magician who supported the warriors. Then they ate everyone else.’
How could you not read it cover to cover after that? That intro alone gets the game an extra half star.
Unless you’re someone who spends all their time acting out scenes from Lord of The Rings in their back garden, it’s likely you’ll be quite confused at all the choices on offer when heading into the game. There’s a very helpful tutorial that guides you through a year of your clan; but with options for trade, relations, magic, explore, make war and farm, plus all the sub options, text and statistics, you’re likely to be overwhelmed. Especially if, like me, you are more into robots with guns. And robots with guns who use those guns to kill other robots with guns. Yep, this isn’t really one for FPS fans.
Once everything all starts to make sense after your first year, you’re left on your own and things really start to become interesting. As well as the nominal tasks you can initiate yourself such as trading with neighbours, and building temples to various gods to protect your clan, random scenarios will pop up to test your decision making skills.
A wondering traveller arrives on your land with nothing aside from a small chest made of silver which he offers to you in exchange for some food. He’s desperate. He’s hungry. Do you show him generosity, take him in and feed him? Or do you kill him, rob his chest and keep it for yourself? I know what you’re thinking, you naughty leader you.
The great thing is there’s no right or wrong answer, only the consequences of your actions. So you might show the traveller hospitality, only to find out a few days later he’s a spy from a rival clan, who sets about pillaging your town and beating everyone over the head with rubber ducks. As a result, not only do people from your clan die, but the general mood is affected, you’ve lost goods and crops and there’s a madman running round the mountains with a bag of bath toys. All because you wanted to play goody-two-shoes.
Along with every choice comes wisdom from your Clan Ring, a group of trusted advisors. Each ring member offers slightly different advice, some for the good of the community, others for their own agenda. Just like real life, you can’t please everyone, and a decision you genuinely thought was correct ends up causing more drama than the original situation. Think of it as a mediaeval version of EastEnders (A UK soap opera).
The makers boast a plethora of events and outcomes that can take place over the life of the game, but disappointingly, I managed to get raided by the Horse Nomads three times in the same game year, with the same amount of attackers waging war on two of those occasions. Was it something with the way I had set up my clan? A relational option I’d overlooked? Or simply the game repeating itself. And why didn’t any other clans attack me? Is the Moorinius Clan not good enough for you other tribes to raid? Isn’t it? ISN’T IT?!
Screen real estate is rather cramped. Some buttons overlay each other and the sheer number of options make it hard to tap them accurately if, like me, you have thumbs the size of bricks. You get the feeling this game would be just right on an iPad instead of good enough on the iPhone. One potentially disastrous drawback is that within each scenario, your options are presented as listed text. A single tap of any of them leads to that response playing out with no option to confirm. Because of the sometimes fiddly nature of the controls, if you accidentally tap ‘Burn the innocent lady’ instead of ‘Free the innocent lady’, you’re going to have a lot of angry townsfolk on your hands. A chance to review your initial decision would’ve been useful.
There aren’t really graphics to speak of, but hand drawn illustrations for each scenario are excellently sketched . Sound consists of atmospheric music straight from the ‘Now 1800’ CD set which accurately captures the mood, and battle noises compliment your completely coincidental 47th invasion of the Horse Nomads.
You may have noticed, I’ve used the phrase ‘If such and such, this game isn’t for you’ more than once. The fact is, this is a title aimed at a very specific audience. It’s not trying to be all things to all gamers. It doesn’t care if you don’t share its appreciation for the dilemmas of a tribe leader. Does the choice of raiding the duck-beaked people or trading them fifty doubloons for a mystical bogey in a jar get you hot and sweaty? Buy this game. Don’t care? Bog off and play something else.
Rest assured, the audience King of Dragon Pass is aimed at will lap it up. But it’s even made a metal and machine guns guy like me respect the dragons and warlocks of ye olde. I’m sure to be back blasting aliens in the face with assault rifles soon, but for now I’m off to trade that bogey in a jar.