Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Review: Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Edition (PC)

fighting some monsters

Sometimes tablet games translate well to the PC, other times not so much. Even if the game was fun and well received on the former, the way games are consumed on each of these platforms can be quite different so that what may be enjoyable on a tablet may not be so elsewhere. This is exactly what we have with the PC version of Knights of Pen and Paper. I can totally see how people would enjoy this game on a tablet, bonking some monsters on the head while on the train for 20 minutes. Even the above average level of control that players have over battles can seem intriguing in short bursts. However, most people who play RPGs on their home computers, myself included, tend to do so for fairly prolonged sessions. What was once a nice time waster here and there becomes a tedious slog. Even the once charming retro aesthetic begins to wear its welcome after half an hour or so.

in the depths of a volcano
At its core, the game is very reminiscent of classic console RPGs during the 8 and 16-bit eras. Fight hordes of monsters, gain experience, and earn gold to buy fancier things. It's a very simple concept. Knights of Pen and Paper tries to dress things up by wrapping everything in a quasi pen and paper RPG environment (hence the name of the game). With that players have some degree of control of the dungeon master who is overseeing the quests and overall story being told in the game. This allows players to choose their quests, as well as the number and types of enemies they face in battle (though there are some cases where the game has scripted situations and you'll have no say in what you fight).

While this sounds like a good idea, the types of quests that players have to choose from are whittled down versions of everything that is wrong with questing in the genre. Do you like escort missions? How about collect-a-thons? Perhaps quests of the kill ten rats variety are more your cup of tea? No? That's too bad, because these are what you'll have to choose from while shaping the way you progress through the game. It's not a pretty sight. As one can probably imagine, this leads to monotony and boredom in a very short time.

selecting which monsters to fight
Moreover, even the battles themselves lose their luster before too long. Once I had a handle on how the classes played combat became a cakewalk unless I went out of my way to create scenarios where my party would face off against very large groups of monsters that were several levels higher than them. Even then, once one comes to grips with the game's mechanics these fights are pretty straightforward. It's just that they go a lot slower since the stronger enemies take longer to die. What it all comes down to is resource management as players try to drop monsters as efficiently as possible, making use of abilities and classes in logical but not very compelling ways.

Knights of Pen and Paper also tries to charm players with its retro shtick. While the game did bring back memories of playing games like Dragon Warrior on my NES as a child, the repetitive nature of what I was doing quickly reminded my why a lot of those old RPGs spend more time on my shelf than in a console nowadays, and no amount of classic gaming charm can gloss over that. Even worse, just as the gameplay here is repetitive, so is the soundtrack. Playing for more than fifteen minutes at a time pretty much necessitates muting the music in favor of something else lest one does not value their sanity.

world map

Seeing as the game was originally released for tablet, it also has an optional micro transaction element to it. The vast amount of what players do in the game requires gold. This includes standard stuff like upgrading weapons at the blacksmith and buying items. What with this being a pen and paper game within a game, players can decorate the room of the friends playing the game in the game as well, and each of these items augments stats and abilities while playing. They also cost gold. Need to resurrect a dead character? It's going to cost you. In gold. Even travelling on the map costs gold. So, the game requires a lot of it, while "conveniently" giving the players the option to buy a bunch of gold with real money if they're impatient and don't want to grind it out. It's actually not hard to earn gold in the game. Quests reward a ton of the stuff, and if worse came to worse and you decided to grind on monsters to earn that coin it wouldn't take very long before you're rolling in the stuff, especially at higher levels. So, I find it highly unlikely very many people would even use the micro transaction service. Nonetheless, it does feel a tad money grubby, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

About the only thing that I actually did like about the game was its combination of fourth wall breaking and its constant references to 80s and 90s pop culture. Due to this straddling a line between pen and paper, a video game, and the real world it often bounces around acknowledging what it is, mixing elements of the real world in the game world. What's nice is just how subtle it can be at times. There are things like console controllers worked into hieroglyphs, space invaders, yoda, and a bunch of other stuff. Granted, some of the references being made are blindingly obvious, but in a number of cases you really need to keep your eyes peeled in order to spot them.

blacksmithing is expensive
Of course, this in no way helps to rectify everything that Knights of Pen and Paper does wrong, and if you were to play through the game just to see all that I'd probably consider you to be certifiably insane. At the end of the day, the sheer amount of repetitive, uninspired quests, and dreary battles make the game a chore to play. It's something that I could see work on a tablet for short periods of time here and there, but on a PC, where one tends to sink their teeth into a game for longer stints at a time, it's a slog that just doesn't work. One would be better off seeking meatier experiences elsewhere.

- Jeff Nash

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Pros:
- Some nice pop culture references

Cons:
- The types of quests available are very simplistic, repetitive, and stereotypical of the genre
- Battles are easy and require little thought once players figure out the game's mechanics
- Optional micro transactions may be a turn off to some
- Repetitive soundtrack

Score: 5.5 / 10

Have you played this game? What did you think of it? Loved it? Hated it? Why? Let us know in the comments!

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