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Kingsgrave screenshot

Kingsgrave: Bewildering, frustrating and intriguing in equal measure

Kingsgrave is not at all what I expected, but then I’m not really sure what I did expect. “Inspired by classic Zelda games,” it says on its Steam page, so perhaps I was expecting a Link to the Past-like. That’s not at all what I got, though. Other than its top-down perspective and the odd puzzle, I’m struggling to find the similarity.

That’s not to say that Kingsgrave doesn’t have merits of its own. Bewildering in that it’s hard to pin down an exact genre, this adventure casts you as a king with a ruined kingdom to rule over. After a long slumber, the land is not the one he left behind, now overrun with enemies and dangers. By exploring and clearing enemies out of small sections of land, you can slowly but surely reclaim and rebuild your kingdom — but it’s not going to be easy.

As you clear enemies out of a section of Kingsgrave’s map, you can bring villagers back to their homes and, every so often, unlock a useful new facility or a new skill. A lumber mill lets you gather wood, for example, providing you have something to trade for it. And you’ll need wood for building: be it a bridge to access a new area, or a blacksmith’s hut that will allow you to get new weapons. You’ll need other resources, too, like stone and scrap metal, all of which are necessary for pushing forwards through the game.

Kingsgrave screenshot
Image: Egg or Chicken Games/Alawar

The frustration of Kingsgrave comes in its combat, however. Starting out with just a sceptre, your attacks do little damage, so killing enemies takes many hits. You don’t have much HP of your own, so a few hits will see you fall. You’ll need to dodge and avoid attacks, then, but when your king’s not all that nimble on his feet — even when you use your dash ability — it’s easier said than done.

Even once you’ve received a number of upgrades — the first I unlocked was a bow and arrow, followed by a spear — you still don’t deal that much damage, making combat a fretful and laborious dance that sees you dodging incoming attacks more than it sees you dealing damage yourself. It feels unfair and with the odds stacked against you, it’s easy to simply give up.

Kingsgrave screenshot
Image: Egg or Chicken Games/Alawar

The good news is that when you do die — and it is a when, not if — you’ll simply return to the last checkpoint. They’re generously doled out so you’ll never lose much progress and most of the time you’ll just need to restart the last battle. Some of them are wave-based, however, so falling at the last hurdle can be a bit annoying if you need to start the whole thing over.

I’m hoping that, as you progress more through Kingsgrave, your King’s equipment will get strong enough that combat doesn’t feel like such a slog. Because as a concept, I’m enjoying my time with the game. I’m intrigued by what lies further into the ruined Kingdom, and I want to keep repairing the world as I go. The question is, though, can I really be bothered to keep slogging through frustrating combat to get there? I’m just not sure, and that’s a bit of a shame.

Kingsgrave is available now on PC via Steam.

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