Platform, first person shooter, RPG, MMO and puzzle games all have their place in this world. At any given moment, I may prefer one genre over the other and the greats of each category could prompt heated arguments over which is the better overall game.
But as I have watched video games evolve over my lifetime from Pong to Pac-Man to Mario to Modern Warfare, the most curious of the video game genres to sweep the nerdscape is what I call the "pay to play" genre made popular by the era of smart phones and social media.
Ok, so maybe it isn't always pay to play, but it is "pay to play better." These games are normally apps you purchase for your phone or link to your Facebook account. They start as free. Sometimes you can upgrade them to avoid the advertisements in between levels. But almost always, you can spend money on in-app purchases in order to be better than the rest of the people you are squaring off against in the game.
Enter, Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North, a multi-player online game that seeks to piggyback off the medieval fantasy friendly atmosphere generated by the success of Game of Thrones and get people to spend every waking hour and every spare penny to build a mighty kingdom (or, if you pay just a little bit more, several mighty kingdoms) that will be the envy of all others.
Let's get this review over with, shall we, my liege?
The Plus Side: The detail on the images is pretty sharp. You overlook your tiny handheld kingdom and can see the most minute detail in your populace's cottages as they change from level to level. You even begin to think you can see yourself in kingly form surveying all that you rule from the southern tower of your ornate stone castle.
And the music is great. After a coworker was playing this game on his iPhone in my presence repeatedly, I already had the recurring Renaissance-fair-esque tune laser burned into my memory and would whistle it even before he convinced me to download it myself and join his alliance (which I still need to get him back for).
Which reminds me, if you are so lonely that your computer or handheld device is your only means of contact with the outside world, this is yet another opportunity to get to know someone based solely upon a screen name. Form alliances with people you have never met and be the conquering hero by defending their kingdom from attack or by exacting swift justice upon those who dared pillage your new love. You'd better just hope you get gender and orientation right based on the name "Hotbody69."
To be fair, I must address the strategic aspects of the game. You will also have to put some thought behind the order in which you will improve the aspects of your kingdom. Scientific research allows for better structures and inventions which allow for better military units which in turn eat more food and cause you to need more resources which can be helped by further research. These aspects of the game leave you having to make tough decisions about how to prioritize your kingdom's development.
The Down Side: As I look at the plus side portion of this review, I am amazed at how much space it was able to take up and realize that each positive aspect contains its own negative side. I begin...
The graphics are cool, if you like looking at the exact same thing over and over. Even other people's kingdoms look exactly like yours. There is about as much variety to the terrain as there is to a Hanna-Barbera cartoon background. And the music? It's catchy, but three hours into the same five minute loop, you will want to tear your hair out.
And let's mention "Hotbody69," again. Whether you want to be a party to his or her rantings and flirtations with other players or not, you will see them constantly popping up along the bottom of your screen as there is no way to disable the chat room portion of your display screen. Fun.
But at least when you work on your strategy, you can lose yourself in it, right? Of course....for about thirty seconds. Then you have to wait for 17 hours while the selected research or building is finishing. Unless you want to plunk down some cash for gems (which the game is constantly bombarding you with advertisements to purchase) and make it go faster. Or, you can choose to wait and have your city pillaged by one of the millions of other online players who decided to spend money to progress faster (like "Hotbody69") while you are away from the game.
So what's not to like? Almost everything.
The Wrap Up: This game requires time, money and patience with little reward. If you do not pay constant attention to it, you will fall prey to the other hoards of players and even if you excel to the top of the leaderboard, there is never a real reward or guarantee that you will reap any benefits other than the ability to brag about how much time and money you have spent upgrading your domain.
As far as the kids go, there is nothing inappropriate in this game, but they will be extremely disappointed when they look forward to epic battles and are met with nothing more than a timing bar.
I normally would say that downloading a free app and trying it out for yourself couldn't hurt, but in this case I strongly suggest against it. Even if you manage to resist the urge to make any in app purchases, you will pay with loss of free time and pain and suffering. Steer clear of Kingdoms of Camelot, lest you pay with your life (if you have one).
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