Kingdom Two Crowns is an addictive, deep and satisfying strategy game disguised as a 2D side-scroller. While it doesn’t take much time to learn Kingdom’s basics, it’ll keep surprising you with new mechanics, unexpected challenges and surprising upgrades that keep its gameplay loop fresh and exciting. It can sometimes be tense and frequently calm, and though Kingdom Two Crowns isn’t without flaws, it’s a game both accessible and deep enough that sceptics and fans of strategy-defence games should try it out.
Kingdom’s slogan of “Build, Defend, Expand” is implemented quite literally in the game to create its core structure. Your monarch will begin on horseback with nothing but a few coins to start construction on a central base, build walls to defend it and hire vagrants as either archers or builders. By the time you’re finished preparing, night will come quickly and with it the hostile ‘Greed’, which are menacing, otherworldly creatures. When morning comes back around you’ll have more time to prepare defences and explore the current island you’re on.
Archers will hunt during the day which grants more money, while builders can work on projects like walls, archer towers and a ship used to move from island to island. With enough gold, upgrading your town centre will allow for further upgrades to structures and new possibilities like farmers who dish out more consistent stacks of gold, or knights that lead archers into battle. Balancing these classes is interesting enough as you need to prioritise building speed, defence and money-making potential.
Without the threat of the Greed you can also go exploring your island for chests full of coins and gems, new mounts and other hidden goods. The game runs into some problems here when your starter horse almost feels sluggishly slow. By the time you’re back from the woods the day is over and there’s not much time to make preparations for the waves of enemies. This becomes tedious when there’s not much to the horse riding apart from holding left or right, and venturing out is necessary for hiring new villagers to keep up with increasingly difficult hordes of enemies. It’s by far the least interesting thing to do in the game, even when what you’re discovering is a ton of fun.
It’s these discoveries which drive Kingdom. Even though getting to them is boring, it’s always exciting to find a new upgrade. New mounts will give you abilities like pushing back enemies, breathing fire or faster movement. Isolated hermits will allow special upgrades to archer buildings, defences and farms. And shrines grant permanent buffs once activated, such as archer accuracy. There are a few other surprises hiding in the woods that I won’t spoil here, but even when they’re unessential for progression, these elements all stack together to back Kingdom as a deeper, more multi-faceted game than it otherwise would have been.
The game makes an effort to begin slowly; teaching players its rules and progression gradually, but I love the fact that these more advanced aspects of Kingdom’s gameplay are left unexplained. There’s no in-game description of what they do or tutorial of how to engage with them. You’ll unlock the ability to recruit knights, and by observing them and spending time just playing the game you’ll soon understand how they function. Then after repeated play sessions on islands you’ll be able to engage with all of these elements in the most efficient way possible. It’s a prime example of show don’t tell, and it’s great that Kingdom Two Crowns pulls it off so well.
These additional elements slowly introduce themselves, but it never stops Kingdom from remaining simple in a good way. The entire game can be played with no more than three buttons and the UI is incredibly bare to keep things streamlined. The game is never difficult to understand and that’s why it’s impressive that the developers were able to get so much mileage out of so few buttons.
While playing solo, Kingdom can be a daunting and tranquil experience. The ambient music, serene pixel art and beautiful reflections in water make this a laidback trip while slowly building a settlement from a campfire to a fort. Meanwhile, when the sun goes down, the groans of monsters, an occasional blood moon and hellish enemy designs lead to some tense moments, especially as the days drag on and the hordes get thicker.
However, playing the game in co-op is a slightly different experience. Both players can be on separate sides of the island doing completely different things, meaning there’s unlimited coin space, virtually no need for time management and double the efficiency. Co-op is a different type of fun, almost like you’re breaking the game. However, some of the lonely serenity and the addictive difficulty from the base game is lost. The developers could have altered the difficulty when playing the game in co-op to alleviate this or at least have it there as an option.
By fusing strategy elements, 2D side-scrolling and tower defence mechanics, Kingdom Two Crowns on Xbox One forges a game unlike any other. It has a widely unique approach to its gameplay loop. While it’s definitely not the first game to have players build during the day and survive the night (Minecraft, anyone?), Kingdom does it in a way that no one else has. Not only is it unique, it’s also beautiful, well-made, simple but still deep, full of surprises and very addictive. While its multiplayer isn’t terrific, and it can be occasionally tedious, there’s enough interesting, fun ideas here to keep any gamer busy.