Build castles and enjoy MMO action with King Arthur’s Gold

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I currently use a fairly old Acer laptop as my primary system. That being the case, I am always on the lookout for good, free games that will play well on my limited system. Enter King Arthur’s Gold.

King Arthur’s Gold(KAG) is a free, multiplayer, online game created by Michal ‘MM’ Marcinkowski creator of the online 2D action classic “Soldat”.

Other people, just as famous and acclaimed, have been responsible for the production aspects like audio and pixel ‘painting’, so I was excited to review this particular game from the start. With such prominent names as the developers, I was anticipating a great gaming experience and I was not disappointed.

Currently in an extremely playable Alpha stage of development, KAG is a 2D, side scrolling game based on the concepts of building your own castle while fighting other players for domination of it. The concept is simple, as with all the best games, and it plays out in some complex ways that left me feeling happily surprised at the depth of the game, considering its modest graphics. Normally I am an eye-candy lover, which means if a game has less than stellar graphics I am not likely to enjoy it much. KAG may be the exception to that rule, because even though it has rather ‘retro’ pixelated graphics, the game play itself is fast, furious, and tons of fun.

Downloading the game takes less than five minutes on any decent broadband connection, weighing in at an extremely light 13.7 MB currently. Installation is also fast and mostly free of annoying things like junkware. There is an option to have an ASPCA reminder (browser add-on) installed, since the developers are quite anti-harm toward animals, but it’s only an option and not in any way required to play the game.

The game does require installation of C++ to function, and when I installed the program it asked if I wanted to uninstall or repair my installation of C++. As far as I know, there wasn’t anything broken with my C++ installation but I hit the repair button anyway. It took a couple of moments to ‘fix’ my C++ and nothing else was mentioned about it afterwards. Once installed, running the game initiates a quick update of the game files from the internet, as with any MMO, but that only took about 20 seconds as well. This is a nice change from the MMOs that require hours and sometimes days of update time before you can play. The overall simplicity of the game probably has everything to do with that, but it’s still a nice change. You will need to register for a free account and if you attempt to join a game before doing this step, a nice little scroll appears at the top of the game window to let you know that you need to register. It also auto-copies the link to your clipboard so all you have to do is open a browser window and paste the link into the address bar. This is the next best thing to having and in-game link to register and I give kudos to the devs for thinking of it. The devil is in the details and these developers don’t need an exorcist.  It doesn’t cost anything to register, but there is one of those annoying “CAPTCHA” boxes to fill out. Once you get past that small headache, you’ll need to check your email for a confirmation note, and then your account is active.

imageOnce up and running, you’re faced with a choice of playing the game a few different ways. You can start a ‘challenge’ mode, which is rather like a single player campaign, or join an online server to play against other people. Additional options include an editor to modify the available maps in game, or you can even run your own server for the game so your friends can have a safe place to play without worrying about strangers or flamers ruining the experience. Given that the game doesn’t have the major admin back up of a massive software company like Blizzard, it’s a great option to be able to run your own server so moderation can be handled by you alone. At the time that I logged in, there were 19 servers up and running with a total of about 230 players. This doesn’t seem like much, when compared with the big names in MMO gaming, but it’s quite enough to enjoy the core PVP (player vs. player) experience that KAG offers.

According to the website, “KAG is a game about mining, building castles and destroying your enemies. It is a side-scrolling 2D action multiplayer war game with focus on building, constructing siege machines and intense PvP combat. Some inspirations for the game are Soldat, Minecraft, Dungeon Keeper & Ace of Spades.” This proves to be true, but only the tip of the iceberg. Once you join a game you will have choose your side (red vs. blue!) and then your class. There are three different classes currently offered: Knight, Archer, and Builder. The Knight is a basic melee class, much like the Soldier from Team Fortress: Classic (TFC) . The Archer is ranged, of course, like the Sniper class of TFC, and the Builder is rather like the Engineer class. It would seem that some additional influences on the game include such ground-breaking classics like Tribes and Half-Life Multiplayer. Its strong PVP base is also tempered by the options to edit the maps, for those of us who are more creative than destructive, and the developers even promise a ‘minecraft-esque’ build mode later, for those of us who want to build fortifications unmolested by PVP concerns.

imageThe basic game mode is Capture the Flag, also known as CTF, and there are other game modes available in the “premium” version of the game, which does cost money. The free version, however, is not just a demo. It’s a fully playable, full featured version of the game that offers plenty of options and even a short tutorial mode in the challenges section. This is pretty impressive for a freeware game in its Alpha stage, as tutorials are usually one of the last things added.

The PVP action in KAG is fast-paced, almost frantic, really. Upon joining a game, you dive right in and engage the enemy players in battle. Knights will cry their charge and hit the enemy head on. Archers will hang back and support the Knights by firing at the enemy from range and Builders will literally work on the fortifications of your castle, putting in traps and pitfalls. To me, the Builder seemed like the most fun so that’s the one I chose. I knew I was going to have fun but there are a lot of little details in the game that make it a touch better than other games like it. For example, everything in KAG is destructible and the devs worked hard on a physics engine that will satisfy the urge to watch things collapse in realistic ways. Knocking down or blowing up a castle wall is very satisfying, as is building outposts so your team mates can appear or ‘spawn’ closer to the current line of conflict without having to run across half the map to get there. I found the battles got my heart pumping and my blood racing just as well as any 3D game. Oddly, I found that mining was one of the most fun things in the game.

Communicating with the other players is done two ways. First, there is a list of ‘emotes’ on the right side of the screen that shows you the hotkeys you can hit to have a specific emote appear above your character’s head. Second, by pressing ‘enter’ on your keyboard, you go into a chat mode to have actual words appear above the head of your character.

imageI found the controls to be mostly intuitive and easy to master. If you forget how to do a particular thing, there’s a small box on the left of the screen that lists the available commands. This is handy for those of us that like to jump right into a game without paying much attention to the tutorial information. Within minutes I had already begun mining for materials to use on my castle defenses and soon after that I found myself embroiled in battle. Simply put, it was easy and fun. Of course, there are always frustrations with any multiplayer game, but overall I found it was pretty well balanced, as far as the three classes go. In its aspect of defense and creation, the Builder seems to me the most useful, but no more or less powerful than the others.

imageA nice feature of the graphics, which is hard to show in screenshots, is that there are (at least) three levels of distance in the background/foreground of the animations. Each level moves independent of the others and creates a rather nice, picturesque 3D effect that I have rarely seen in 2D side scrollers, and even more rarely in freeware games. The rest of the graphics are just as good, with an eye to detail, despite the low ‘resolution’ of the effects. The animations themselves didn’t have any noticeable slow down when I was connected to a live server, which is a good sign. There are tons of games out there that could be lots of fun if they didn’t start to slow down and get choppy when playing online in a live game. This one doesn’t have that issue.

The graphics may be pixelated but they are still cute, the sounds are decent without being ‘skywalker sound’ studio quality, the music is first rate (atmospheric without being overwhelming) and the game play is engaging and kept me entertained for a good three hours the first time I played. However, I found myself wanting to log back in and play again just a few hours later. This, to me, is the real mark of a really great game. Not only was it fun once, but it called me back to play again in less than a day. I will be playing often, I think, and may even decide to start my own server, once I retire my old ‘jalaptopy’ to secondary status. I’d recommend this game to anyone that enjoys PvP, building games, or even just retro pixel graphics. Here’s hoping they release the BETA soon!

Tested on Windows 32-bit Home Premium

Available here for Windows (XP, Vista, 7), Linux and coming soon to MacOSX