While most hobbies have definite start and end points, like basketball or building model cars, games have a tendency to sink their claws in and suck you into their imagined worlds for as long as possible.
Who hasn’t found hours slip by in the warm embrace of an epic role-playing game or been shocked to hear a choir of birds heralding dawn when orchestrating a strategic conquest?
Sega has taken note of these intense gaming sessions, wisely drawing upon two absorbing genres - strategy and role-playing - for the design of Kingdom Conquest. It's a highly unique title that marries in-depth gameplay with the freemium template - a rare combination, indeed.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
As an ambitious hero in the land of Magna, your task is to team up with other players to form alliances, wage war against those not in the alliance, and eventually take control of seven towers located in the middle of the domain.
Although these pieces are discrete enough to form games of their own, they're connected in a convincing manner. For instance, you can expand your dominion by using resources to recruit an army of uncommon ghouls. This is only possible once you've acquired the UC Ghoul card, which you ascertain by beating a boss in one the game's towers.
It would be fairly easy of Sega to breeze through these 3D action sequences with unresponsive controls and boring combat, but thankfully this isn’t the case.
Every six hours you earn the ability to climb these towers, joining forces with up to three other players in an effort to win cards. There’s no exploring – it’s just waves of enemies in a single room, yet it works and is surprisingly fun.
Elsewhere, the typical freemium city management screen redirects the emphasis toward balancing resource and unit production, recruitment, and conquest. There's also the ability to develop forward bases to ward off other players, not to mention the ability to stave off conflict using diplomacy reliant upon an in-game messaging system.
It’s all incredibly ambitious and for the most part manages to hold together.
The downside of all this variety is an overwhelming sense of complexity and an interface that creeks under the weight of it all.
Numbers are thrown around with abandon, icons are hidden behind scrolling menu bars, and some buttons are so tiny you're guaranteed to have trouble pressing them.
The help screens and tutorial do try their hardest to explain game concepts and make things at least slightly manageable, yet the 15 minute primer to the game's major concepts barely scratches the surface of what you need to know.
Get past the rocky introduction and Kingdom Conquest will hook you in a way that few other freemium games can manage. There’s a genuine feeling that things are happening in the game world, a sense of community, and a worthwhile end goal, all of which result in a world from which it’s hard to pull away.