King of Dragon Pass is an interactive story with a level of complexity and brilliance that’s rarely seen in video games
This is probably the hardest review I’ve ever had to write here at Gamezebo, mostly because this game seems to defy so many typical game conventions. A complete understanding of the game would take dozens and dozens of playthroughs, and even then, I still wonder if you’d really have your head wrapped around this game. But if you like something a little more intellectual, something with a fantastic story, and that can be played differently hundreds of times, then this the game you’ve been waiting for.
King of Dragon Pass is tough game to describe. It’s part text adventure, part civilization game, and part choose your own adventure book. You’ll play as the leader of a clan in the fictional world of Glorantha. Your job is to guide your clan to success and power, getting yourself named king in the process. But how you do that gameplay wise feels new and unique, but mostly because of how classic it is.
When you start the game you’ll need to create the back story for your clan. You’ll read about different situations that the clan has run into and you’re asked to make a selection about what response the clan had. Through this reading/choosing back and forth, you’ll fill in the history of your people. Whether they’re peaceful or warlike, if they take just enough to survive or grab as much as they can, what gods they worship, and how they worship them. All these choices set the makeup of your clan for when the game starts proper.
Once that’s all set, your clan will arrive in Dragon Pass and you’ll begin to play. The gameplay is entirely in the realm of reading pages of text and making choices on how to respond or deal with the situations you just read about. Neighboring clan comes bearing gifts of peace? Well you could thank them and send them away, or send back some gifts of your own. Or you could think they’re weak and attack them. There’s no right or wrong answer, but all the choices you make will have an effect on how the story plays out.
In addition to having those types of decisions to make, you’ll also need to determine the infrastructure of your clan as well. How much energy you put into farming, or worship, or exploration for instance. You never have enough to do everything, so by focusing on something, you’ll have to short change something else. You’ll have a ring of advisors to help you make the decisions, but they’re interests aren’t always what’s best for the clan, so they’re not a go-to hint system.
King of Dragon Pass mostly plays out like you’re reading a book, with you choosing the direction the adventure takes. What’s brilliant about the game, though, is that the choices are rarely black or white or have a definitive outcome. It’s impossible to really quantify King of Dragon Pass, since the decisions you make in it that guide the story are so nuanced, and often the consequences of your actions don’t reveal themselves in obvious ways, or take a long time to do so.
It’s not surprising that I got a nostalgic feeling while plaything the game. While I didn’t realize it until doing some research, King of Dragon Pass is actually a PC game from 1999, though to be truthful, if feels even older than that.
What’s amazing to me if how varied and different the game will be each time you play through it. The word I kept coming back to over and over while playing it was “enthralling.” King of Dragon Pass feels like a book come to life, like something out of The Neverending Story. The writing is well done and it all strings together so naturally you just feel like you’re guiding the writer along the path of the tale, with it turning out differently each time. It’s amazing.
But there is, however, one glaring issue in an otherwise fantastic presentation. For a game built around reading lots of text and looking at big beautiful pictures, it’s amazing to me this isn’t a universal app. I mean, no iPad support… seriously? This is begging to be enjoyed on a bigger screen, but playing it in its current incarnation on the iPad makes the pictures and text jaggy, and leaves you more disappointed than fulfilled.
The word of caution I’d give you when trying out King of Dragon Pass is to give it time. This is a hugely complex game and I really didn’t “get it” until spending a good amount of time with it. While the tutorial is a good start, it really doesn’t go far enough in explaining the game or what’s going on under the hood. There’s a lengthy manual, and while no one like to be told this… READ IT. ALL OF IT. It’s really kind of necessary to enjoy the game fully.
But oh man, what a joy it is. King of Dragon Pass harkens back to a different era of game, when titles like this weren’t so unique, and before the landscape was littered with clone upon clone upon clone. It demands more out of its players and has a higher barrier of entry to enjoyment, but the rewards are worth the work.
To make a musical analogy, your run of the mill first person shooter game is like a stupid radio pop song, and King of Dragon Pass is Miles Davis playing live jazz in some hole in the wall Paris club. Sure it’s easier to enjoy the stupid radio pop song, but the people that take the time to appreciate the jazz come away with a richer experience.