Things can never go perfectly in a fairytale fantasy world – only in the past, or after the ending, do things get normal and good. So, naturally, in For the King 2 the brave queen Rosomon of the first game has fallen to the evils of chaos, and over a series of five adventures your team of erstwhile heroes strike out to explore their hexagonal world, get stronger, and for a resistance to the queen by scouring little linear dungeons or defeating notable foes. The sometimes-whimsical, often challenging quests take you across a variety of terrain and turn-based combat scenarios, smoothly aided by very functional, simple game mechanics, but the whole thing is hindered by a user interface that fails to communicate even very simple information clearly. For everything nice in For the King 2 there’s some irksome way the UI impedes it.
For the King 2 Screenshots
Each adventure takes an average of about six hours, for a total run of about 30, but fail any one of them by running out of time or lives and it’s over. You’ll have to start from the beginning of that adventure. This review took about 40 hours to actually win, for example, due to a combination of some unlucky stat rolls and a couple of brutal critical hits scored by enemies depleting that limited pool of revives. It sounds unforgiving, but the difficulty is extremely customizable in lives, time limit, and your access to better items – which is to say that while losing can be very frustrating, you at least chose the possibility of loss. That’s little consolation when you’re out five hours of gameplay, though – that comes in the form of lore points, pretty typical roguelite fare used to unlock new characters, items, locations, events, and cosmetics for future runs.
For the King 2 is basically a tabletop adventure game. Each of the heroes is its own piece on the board, controlled either by one person or split up among up to four players. You move them around a large, randomized regional map getting in fights and finding little tasks to do that require you to test one of your statistics against a number of passes and fails – those are easy to understand, with your stat of 1 to 100 being your chance of success on each try. Picking directions, navigating, and understanding your odds of success on challenges are approachable and neat as a pin, as good a bit of board-based game design as you can find anywhere in any medium.
What constantly curses the overall look and feel of For the King 2 is the frankly barebones user interface, which is especially frustrating because it’s the same annoying problem that plagued the original For the King. It is at times too spread out, too large, and too obfuscated to communicate even the little crucial information it actually needs to get across. Skills are either a primary or secondary action, for example, but that’s only conveyed in a tiny symbol on in-combat actions and in an unobvious icon set above the skills menu. It’d be easy to play through this entire game not understanding that sometimes you can’t move because you got dazed.
Exploring gets more complex as the adventure goes on. Visiting towns to pick up little sidequests stepping and fetching for the locals or taking out monsters is a staple, but much better are the hidden sidequests you find via item drops or that pop up as surprises during exploration are sprinkled throughout the later quests. It’s a lot of interesting stuff that would reward subsequent playthroughs, especially when combined with the randomized maps and the neat exploration mechanics like buying ships to sail across seas (and land – there are landships!) for speedy group movement. Though not even the rules for exploring are entirely free from the UI troubles. You could complete the game not noticing that you just have less movement range while on swamp terrain hexes versus bonus movement on plains hexes.
The simple setup has enough nuance to be fun and there’s enough diversity in the events that arise for you to find a bit of surprise and strategy in picking who should take on which task in the limited time you have available. Should you backtrack to shop at the night market, or should you forge ahead? Should you move as a group to ensure you always have a good person for a job and fight, or should you split up to find more opportunities faster at the risk of isolated ambush? It often leads to interesting choices around movement, too: it’ll take longer to get the strongest character into position for this Strength task, so maybe we should just spend focus points to guarantee success with a weaker one – or just risk a bad outcome for a possible reward.
The random map layout and encounters provide a good incentive for multiplayer shenanigans as well, asking you to balance going on a loose-cannon treasure hunt with the need for other players to be around so you can take on possible ambushes or challenging, multi-enemy fights. Trading money and loot between characters is a key part of the mechanics, as is pulling nearby friends into fights. Battles may be simple, but there’s almost always some bit of strategy to discuss or consider – just not so much that it overwhelms the casual banter of a good co-op romp.
Unfortunately, the launch state of For the King 2 is a bit weak in that regard because technical problems absolutely can overwhelm that banter. Desynchronization bugs can cause information to temporarily not update between players, and there are strange persistent bugs like losing the ability to interact with your character, requiring the host to swap control around to others to reset it. That’s weird and frustrating – sometimes due to poor UI – but not terrible. We never encountered worse in about 12 hours of multiplayer time, but post-launch other players are reporting a variety of soft locks and general trouble with overall stability.
When it does go well, however, the combat and fights are a whole step above the classic turn-based fights of the original For the King. A new system of location and ranks on each side adds an element of positional tactics that’s not too complex but does ask you to make interesting tradeoffs in about half the fights. Do you want to move into a safer spot, dodging a fiery floor effect or getting behind an ally with a shield – or do you need to use your single bonus action to switch weapons or use a healing herb? Do you want to hire a mercenary to fight alongside you, knowing it’ll make maneuvering harder in more limited space?
But at the same time it’s hard to know you’re making interesting choices in party composition and skills when the information you get is so limited. You have to open up an encyclopedia in the menu to see that info – and even then it’s an incredibly basic description like, “Herbalism: Has a chance to get herbs at the end of every turn.” That’s an unnecessary and obfuscating design choice in a game with otherwise very simple mechanics. It’s frustrating to be left in the dark on how core game mechanisms work – worse, it can make you feel like For the King 2 is keeping unfair secrets from you. What if having Herbalism from your class and again from an item doesn’t give you two chances? What if there’s some secret diminishing return on getting new herbs, or whatever, if you have a lot of them? There’s no way to know this without trying it and crunching the numbers yourself, which seems absurd.
Otherwise, you’re choosing one of two or three different attacks allowed by the weapon you’re wielding, often a tradeoff between guaranteed damage with a higher to-hit chance against an area-of-effect attack or one that inflicts ailments like stunning, slowing, knocking back, or poisoning opponents. It’s easy to tell what your hit chance is and about how much damage you’ll do, though if you rage out when you miss a 99% XCOM shot you should know that the same thing will definitely happen here, one time in 100.
In truth, damage and health numbers that barely go over a few hundred, a couple new weapons to learn each outing, and stats that are always double-digit are a mercy in this age of RPGs that rely on damage in the tens of thousands or goofy loot treadmills to hold your attention. For the King 2 doesn’t need that to give you a feeling of zero-to-hero play over a six-hour campaign: You start with 30-something health, wearing rags, and at the end you have 100-something health and cool plate armor or wizard robes – all of which are nicely differentiated and represented on the character models. Done and dusted.
Which is of course not supported well in the UI. Basic concepts like debuffs and your own characters’ special skills don’t have explanatory tooltips attached. You have to open up an encyclopedia in the menu to see that info – and even then it’s an incredibly basic description like, “Has a chance to get herbs at the end of every turn.” That’s an unnecessary and obfuscating design choice in a game with otherwise very simple mechanics.
What helps that is For the King’s fantasy fairytale milieu. It never takes itself too seriously, with character classes like Farmer, Blacksmith, Stablehand, and Hobo, while villains come in standard flavors like beastman, goblin, and skeleton, but also in more whimsical leprechaun or pixie varieties – or drunk pirates, of course.
Oh, and all the Goblins now look like Handsome Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants. (Once you see it you cannot unsee it.) The lower-poly art style of the first For the King has been more recently associated with churned-out games using stock art, so For the King 2’s transition to higher-fidelity models comes just in time to prevent it looking a bit cheap. That’s a mercy, because a lot of effort has clearly gone into establishing a consistent look across the characters, environments, and weapons. The music is once again composed by John Robert Matz, and is very similar to the lighthearted fantasy fare we got the first time around. It’s nothing to write home about, but it does serve to put a neat ribbon on the overall aesthetic.
All of that is to say that, despite similarities to its predecessor and other recent games, there’s valuable variety to enjoy here, with new models cropping up to appreciate even while many areas and monsters are at least outwardly familiar to fans of the first game.