FATE: The Cursed King offers a deep dungeon crawl with Facebook integration… and its fair share of bugs.
Fate: The Cursed King is the latest addition to WildTangent’s Fate series of dungeon-spelunking role-playing games that combine a core gaming aesthetic with a more casual and accessible style of play. It adds new weapons and monsters to the franchise, new character races and quest types, and some very cool Facebook integration, but it also brings bugs and a frustrating lack of polish that adds a sour taste to an otherwise enjoyable experience.
If you’re familiar with any of the previous Fate games, you’ll feel right at home in The Cursed King. It’s functionally identical to the previous titles, built around the tale of a town under siege by a great evil residing in the depths of an ancient dungeon. You and your faithful pet must journey ever deeper into the darkness, carrying out random quests for the townsfolk along the way, until you finally meet and vanquish the wickedness that’s causing so much trouble. Once the job is done, you can call it quits and retire to glory or continue your career as a freelance adventurer in search of even greater fame and fortune.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to be found in The Cursed King, yet it’s also very easy to play. Characters can belong to one of five races, each with its own special starting skills and bonuses. Shadow Elves, for instance, begin the game with extra archery points, while Half-Orcs get a big bonus to strength. The net difference is slight in the long run, though, because regardless of race, experience points may be put into any skill or attribute you like when you level up. Want to play a Half-Orc summoner or an Imp who swings a massive warhammer? No problem at all.
Despite the threat it faces, your home town of Ekbatan is actually a safe zone where you’ll pick up missions, buy weapons, potions and other essentials of adventurer survival, and of course sell all the loot you drag up to the surface. You can “gamble” on unknown magic items, pay a bard to sing tales of your exploits and increase your fame or use cards discovered on your journeys to have your fortune told. It’s also a hub from which you’ll access the game’s three separate dungeons. The quests the townsfolk give out are nicely varied, including simple seek-and-destroy jobs, item retrieval, escort quests and more.
But Fate has always been about two simple things, killing monsters and collecting loot, and The Cursed King is no exception. You’ll square off against endless hordes of enemies, some whimsical, some nasty-looking and all single-mindedly determined to do you in. Fortunately, you’re not running around inside these caverns naked. All manner of weaponry and armor is at your disposal, from slow, devastating battleaxes to flashing daggers and ornate bows, many of which are imbued with magic – sometimes very powerful magic – that will make crowd control a breeze.
And if you have a preference for the kind of magic that impresses people at parties, you can forgo conventional weaponry and opt for the arcane arts instead, laying down crushing waves of elemental destruction or summoning mighty minions to take the fight to the enemy while you direct the action safely from the rear. That doesn’t mean you can’t crack somebody over the head with a sword when the situation calls for it; unlike most conventional fantasy role-playing games, The Cursed King doesn’t bother with classes. You might not be very talented with a blade, but if you can hold it, you can hit somebody with it.
The biggest innovation in The Cursed King, however, is Facebook integration. Achievements can be earned and shared, but what’s really cool is that your heroes can be shared as well. Your characters can be hired by Facebook friends to serve as allies on their quest; they’re controlled by the computer so you don’t have to worry about playing according to someone else’s schedule and whatever happens to them while they’re working for another player won’t affect their gold, fame or level in your game. Items can be traded with fellow Facebookers through a “Caravan exchange,” so if you’re a spellcaster who stumbles upon a truly legendary sword, you can trade it to that fighter friend who desperately needs a new weapon – or just hand it over, if you’re the generous sort.
Fate: The Cursed King has a lot going for it, which makes the one big strike against it all the more irritating: it’s plagued with glitches and bugs. The original Fate was about as polished as a video game can be, but The Cursed King is a mess of issues small and large. Earrings, for instance, aren’t properly labeled when they’re dropped, so “Golden Pirate Earrings” display as the rather confusing “Golden Pirate” until they’re picked up. Fishing animations are off, making it appear as though you’ve dropped a line not into a pond but straight down through the ground next to it. Sometimes you can even go fishing in lava pools and while I can’t say for certain that’s a glitch, it’s definitely kind of weird.
Pathfinding is very problematic. Pets get caught on corners of buildings and obstacles, while the main character has an alarming tendency to try to run through solid objects if he’s not carefully guided around them. Clicking on the wrong area of a “fishing” hotspot will leave him running in place as he tries to reach it, until you click somewhere else; it’s also quite easy to walk through a wall in town and end up “under the earth,” kind of like an actor who’s wandering around backstage.
But far and away the most serious problem lies with the map. When it’s open, every other part of the interface, including the cursor, disappears. If the character, skills, inventory or any other information window is open when the map is activated, half the screen goes completely black. Everything still works – you can move, fight, etc. – but without being able to see the cursor, it’s incredibly difficult to know where you’re going and if something happens that requires you to click a specific location, you’re pretty much out of luck and will have to manually close the game. It makes playing with the map open effectively impossible and in a game like The Cursed King, with dungeons that are made up primarily of long, snaking, maze-like hallways, that’s a big problem.
It’s a shame, because Fate: The Cursed King is a lot of fun and sharing items and characters through Facebook is a really novel and interesting idea. This could have been a great game; in fact, I’ll go so far as to say it should have been, because there’s just no reason for this kind of sloppiness in a game that’s fundamentally unchanged from its half-decade-old roots. It’s not a bad game and if WildTangent gets the bugs worked out it could very well be awesome, but as it stands right now there are simply too many bumps and rough edges for an unreserved recommendation.