Disclaimer: Lilith Games, developers of Rise of Kingdoms, gifted in-game currency to the reviewer for the purposes of this review
I often wonder what the state of mobile gaming, and gaming in general, would be if micro-transactions were not a factor. What would the mobile gaming scene look like? What would be topping the charts? Would games like Rise of Kingdoms even exist? It’s difficult to say, but I can’t imagine they would; at least not in their current form.
Regardless, micro-transactions are here, and they’re here for the foreseeable future. Some games utilise them in a reasonable way – like Fallout Shelter, for instance – and others cripple their otherwise passable game with crass monetisation. Unfortunately, Rise of Kingdoms falls into the latter category.
Hurry Up And Wait in Rise of Kingdoms
Right when you start the game for the first time, you are prompted to choose one of the game’s civilisations (you may remember Rise of Kingdoms previously marketed as Rise of Civilizations). The variety is nice – 11 to choose from -, and each of the civilisations is nice and fleshed out. I went with China, purely for the aesthetic. Once you’ve chosen, you’re plopped right into the tutorial. It’s dense and thorough – you’ll most certainly have gotten to grips with the game’s mechanics by the time you’re through. If you decide to play the game again, however – starting from the beginning – the tutorial is unskippable, so get ready to learn all over again.
The core gameplay loop is fairly typical for the genre – you build your city, working within a set amount of space. Building requires resources – stone, wood, etc., as well as time. Once built, all of your buildings have multiple levels of upgrades. Certain buildings allow the recruitment of military units. Better buildings produce more resources, which allow for better upgrades, better soldiers, and those result in more resources. Repeat ad nauseam.
Resources are almost never a problem in Rise of Kingdoms. They’re plentiful, easy to produce, and your soldiers can embark on missions on the world map for big chunks of resources. While enemy players can raid your settlement for resources, a certain amount will be protected by your storehouse building – more after upgrading.
The hidden cost of all of this is time. Like many other games in this genre, building, upgrades, and recruitment take increasingly large amounts of time, from hours to days, and longer. Of course, in a game like Rise of Kingdoms, time is money. And vice versa. We’ll get to that later.
RoK‘s strongest aspect is the online play – which is good because it’s also the heftiest and most feature-rich. In tandem with other players, you can form massive alliances, pool resources, and slowly expand your borders to include more territory, more resources, and special landmarks. The politicking is intricate, deadly, and surprisingly sophisticated. It’s difficult to give Lilith Games too much credit for the quality of their community, but it’s certainly easy to find friendly, dedicated players with which to ally. It’s great fun to combine your forces with a friendly neighbour and take a larger foe together, and almost as much fun to find yourself on the receiving end.
The combat itself is nothing to write home about. It’s largely rock-paper-scissors of standard fare, with tactical approaches largely absent. If you have a bigger army than the other guy, you’re probably going to win. There are minimal mechanics around flanking and unit composition, but they’re rarely relevant – it’s a numbers game.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouse Is
Here’s the crux of the matter. Fundamentally, at the soul and center of its gameplay, Rise of Kingdoms is pay-to-win. Using real-life money, you can buy your way to bypassing the time it takes to build, upgrade, and recruit. You can purchase raw materials. As far as I can see, little to nothing in the game is completely unattainable without spending your cold hard cash – it would just take tedious, countless hours to earn in-game. The differences between the cities of players who have sunk money into the game and those who haven’t are stark. Rise of Kingdoms isn’t shy about wanting you to buy, either – the UI is cluttered with notifications of offers, special deals, and prompts to whip out your Visa.
All in all, Rise of Kingdoms is a passable idle city-builder with a crass and obnoxious preoccupation with money. If you’re a fan of the genre, it’s certainly worth a go, and there is plenty of fun to be had in the early game. Many of the design elements are charming, but it’s all fairly generic. If you do decide to pick it up, try to enjoy the game for what it is – just keep in mind you’re not going to be competing with paying players unless you’re willing to join their cohort.