Castlot may be more complex than most of Kabam's social strategy games, but it lacks some necessary soul.
It's unfortunate, but I found my principal enjoyment of Castlot in the names that some of its most devoted players use to refer to it in the public and alliance chat channels. One person calls it "Cashalot," while recounting the dozens of dollars he spent on protection scrolls to level; another calls it "Cast Lots," referring to a gambling-based resource game. They speak from long experience. After all, Castlot isn't exactly a new social strategy game – it's been around for a couple years in beta, and the recent update simply introduced some upgrades to the gameplay and aesthetics. But if my couple of hours with it were enough to serve as any indication, they're not necessarily substantial enough to warrant casting lots of your own in the hope of a better experience.
At least the concept's noteworthy. Castlot takes place in the dark days between the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain and the rise of the Anglo-Saxons – the period, in other words, roughly corresponding to the lifetime of the historical King Arthur. In some ways, though, that's all fluff. Goblins seem almost as numerous as humans, and enough wizards pop up in battles to leave you thinking that the size of Morgan Le Fay and Merlin's graduating class must have dwarfed Harry Potter's by tenfold. In presentation, it might as well be just another fantasy-based social strategy game.
Thankfully, the story does much to set it apart. It might be a clichéd fare full of princesses in distress and clashes between good and evil factions, but it's a significant improvement over the bossy tutorials you usually get in city building/strategy combination games like this. As you level, you buddy up with Arthurian luminaries like Sir Gareth and Sir Gawain, or if you side with the bad guys, you get bossed around by Morgan Le Fay herself. Even the backdrop is appealing in that vaguely outdated browser-based strategy game kind of way, and the recent graphical overhaul did much to make the cities look more like cities instead of ramshackle outposts. (Indeed, the resulting roominess is something of a sore point among Castlot's veterans.)
But like so much of Castlot, the idea of the story is better than what we see in practice. Indeed, great ideas are here in abundance, but they're handled in such a way that I spent more time being aware of my boredom than of the stabs at innovation. You especially see this tendency in the arena battles that pit you against other players or NPCs; they're simply stat-based, leaving you to watch as the two figures on the screen hack it out until one wins. Worse, they offer little reward, leaving you to wonder why anyone in their right mind would pay cash for armor and weapons.
Elsewhere, you see it in the turned-based battles that you fight in the world around you against players and enemies roaming the countryside; but it's the computer taking the turns, and thus the seeming lack of an auto resolve renders them tedious after only a couple of matches. You even see it in Castlot's fairly unique sabotage and spying missions involving goblins, which visually do little more than make a goblin appear on the map. Toss in some staggering wait times for training and resources, and you'll begin to see why players make the jokes mentioned above.
It's a shame, because there's so much depth waiting in Castlot if you're willing to endure such drudgery. I, however, could not: even with the advantage of finding an active league full of helpful players that eased me out of the week-long protection period and into the faction warfare that lies at the heart of Castlot. So many of the newer social strategy games published by Kabam (such as Imperium: Galactic War) do a much better job of achieving flow and entertaining gameplay, even if at heart they're weaker in terms of the depth of the actual strategy. Cast your lots elsewhere.
- Story focus gives meaning to the action. Unique spying and sabotage missions. Rewarding strategic depth.
- Boring, stat-based arena battles. Lack of auto-resolve in turn-based battles. Heavy wait times without payment.