After a year-long residency as a PC-only game, For the King has arrived on consoles. Combining exploration, turn-based combat, dungeon crawling and cooperative play, the genre-blending RPG brings its charm and challenge intact to the PS4, Xbox One and Switch. Some capricious and occasionally unfair AI aside, For the King should please fans of many genres.
As a single player experience, you take alternating control of three heroes (a fighter, a mage and a hunter, for example) and in a familiar, tabletop RPG fashion, explore a hex/grid-based world map full of dungeons, random enemy encounters, castles, towns, treasure and all manner of human and magical creatures. If the party members are close enough, they may aid each other in battle, and part of the game’s challenge comes in exploring and following quests with individual heroes while positioning them together for key encounters. At all but the easiest setting, death is permanent and a party wipe means game over.
Unlike some similar RPGs, For the King leavens its challenge with a lighter approach, both visually and in its writing. Colorful and cartoony, the oversized polygons that make up the world and character models are full of humor and good-natured goofiness without straying too far into camp. And while its save-the-Kingdom-and-banish-evil story might not win awards for innovation, it quite pleasantly guides and goads the player from one locale to another in a nicely non-linear way. Procedurally generated characters, events and encounters add surprises but it’s also easy to become suddenly and fatally outmatched by an enemy with much stronger or unanticipated weapons, spells or abilities. Luckily, it’s almost always an option to flee an encounter before it becomes fatal, and there are ways to make sure that escapes are successful.
Complexity in For the King comes from understanding enemy strengths and weaknesses (duh!) and most important, managing the limitations of what can be accomplished in a given turn. Although seemingly simple, there are relatively complex tactics driving success and while min-maxing a character is possible, the most stressful strategic puzzle involves balancing precious consumable resources against the drive to level up. Perhaps the biggest challenge comes from balancing the need to cover ground, explore for treasure and complete tasks with individual heroes against the strength that come from keeping the trio close by. For single player this can be frustrating and little tedious but when played cooperatively, For the King feels more at home.
Most RPGs ramp up both character abilities and enemy strength in roughly equal measure, but the random nature of For the King and the dice roll systems that percolate under the hood mean that it’s very possible to blunder into — or simply be surprised by — a fight that ends quickly and permanently for the character. At its highest and most roguelike difficulty settings, For the King can be over in short order. It’s not a game that rewards or encourages a trial and error approach to combat.
Played cooperatively, For the King is an entertaining and engaging stand-in for a tabletop RPG game and its pleasant art and gentle humor balance nicely its difficulty and mechanical complexity. It’s less fun as a single-player experience, simply because coordinating character movement and exploration with quests and combat challenges and random encounters is a lot to track. Including the DLC, the console version of For the King is a substantial amount of reasonably priced content.