Total War Battles: Kingdom, Embrace Your Stiff Upper Lip

As the latest Total War game, Total War Battles: Kingdom, has a great deal to live up to. This is especially true since the last entry set in Medieval England was released nearly nine years ago.

This spin-off, Kingdom, puts players in the place of an English Lord inheriting a large patch of land from their late father and brother. From the get-go, you have the option to customise your character’s gender and appearance, to an extent, and then are helped through a tutorial by your friendly neighborhood lord.

The tutorial, while unskippable, sets both the pace, and teaches players everything they need to know, from combat to unit management. Speaking of which, managing your growing Kingdom is key; military units can only be recruited from their appropriate garrisons, and unlike other RTS games, Kingdom only allows for one unit per garrison. In battle, players can command up to nine units at a time, each which level in experience to gain points that can be used to upgrade their abilities. Upgrades become exponentially more expensive, forcing players to choose whether they play cautiously and commit to a path, or change a unit to a jack-of-all-stats.

Before battle, players can use their gold to buy optional abilities, like flaming arrows, or to give their melee units an added edge. This may not seem like much, but these attributes can turn the tide of what would be a suicidal scenario. While they only cost a small amount of gold, players will see themselves rapidly use this resource unless they play well; any injured units will either take some time to heal, unless players spend gold to heal them instantly. Furthermore, unless these units are healed, they can’t do battle.

Combat is bloodless, and mildly thrilling. It essentially amounts to a semi-automatic game of scissors-paper-rock; the commands available are limited, and once a unit enters into combat, it cannot be moved. What few unit orders there are, are given to you by building churches, which allow you to chose from a set handful. While this may sound exciting, it seems an exercise in futility, given that players will find themselves leveling up anyway, making this feature a clear example of padding.

The fluff doesn’t stop there: the leveling is ungratifying and unnecessary; things taken for granted in other games, the ability to research and unlock buildings and paths of your own are locked into this system, making players complete tasks they’re liable to have already (mine a rock, cut down a tree, build X) to gain points towards leveling. Points can also be earned by winning battles, but there’s the
rub; waging battles and winning skirmishes has a limited appeal, with the largely automated process leaving a player’s fate in the game’s hands.

The real meat of the game comes from expanding settlements and taking control of territories. While it is fun, it isn’t particularly engaging for long. Towns seem soulless; no workers toil at the mines, no loggers cut down trees. These resources simply extract themselves after players click upon them. Gathering resources is itself a lengthy process; the land takes time to heal from being exploited, which is in and of itself a novel idea. What’s far less amusing is tasking a mine to gather stone, only to be told the process will take much longer that players can afford. Can’t wait? Then spend gold on each task to have it completed instantly.

Whoever said time cannot be purchased was lying when it came to Total War Battles: Kingdom. Nearly every process in this game can be fast-forwarded by paying gold, a resource which has little opportunities for replenishment. Its rapid depletement lends itself to the game’s freemium nature; the best way to get gold, is to buy more and more, making Kingdom less of a classic game in the line of its forebears, and more of a cynical money pit for the player.

Total War Battles: Kingdom, is currently available on as an open beta on Steam, with its full release TBA.

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