Fantasy Kingdom’s magical theme is enough to make Facebook farming feel new again.
A change of genre can do a lot for gameplay that, deep down, is nothing more than an iteration of a familiar fomula. This is certainly the case with Fantasy Kingdoms, a game that can be fairly described as FarmVille crashing headlong into Harry Potter. You are a witch or warlock that grows magical crops and trees in order to harvest mana, which you can use to buy decorations (and better crops) for your magical farm.
There’s a tendency for Facebook games to struggle with being either too “gamey” and complex to be very social, or too simple and shallow to be compelling. What is marvelous about Fantasy Kingdoms is how it implements very few moves from the tried (and tired) Zynga playbook, yet is still a perfectly compelling experience on its own terms. You’re given an empty farm lot and a very simple tutorial to start your game. After that you can dive right in to leveling up, unlocking decorative pieces, and customizing your space.
Crops only begin to wither and die if left alone too long in Fantasy Kingdoms once you’ve reached level 5. There’s no component of guilt, social or otherwise, that tries to bait you into coming back any more frequently than you want to. By the same token, there’s no mechanic like energy that artificially restricts how long you can play. You’ll find the only real throttle on your progress is how much mana you have to spend and how quickly you spend it on plants. By harvesting crops and trees you’ll get mana back, but it takes time for plants to grow to maturity.
In Fantasy Kingdoms there is a profound sense that you can do exactly what you want, at least in the sense that you can set your own goals and work toward them at your own pace. You can plant basically whatever you like and throw yourself into designing your fantasy farm. There’s no need to desperately optimize your crops in a desperate bid to try and get mana quickly. The sense of freedom makes earning enough mana for trees or pathways or fences far more appealing than the usual social game grind.
Despite its graphical richness, Fantasy Kingdoms was extremely stable during the review period. While load screens could be long, especially when visited your friends’ kingdoms to enchant their crops and help them with chores, the game never had the bouts of massive instability that usually characterize a young social game going through its first few content updates.
Fantasy Kingdoms is in its first few weeks, but there are clear signs that this game is going to blossom into something special. Whether it will pull FarmVille addicts away from their more mainstream virtual farms or encourage them to maintain another one remains to be seen. As it stands, though, Fantasy Kingdoms is the rare Facebook game that can command attention purely through the experience it offers.