Saturday, 7 September 2013

Knights of Pen and Paper +1

 Knights of Pen and Paper + 1 is a game about a game.  A traditional pen and paper role playing game more specifically, with a dungeon master (or games master or whatever you want to call him) and 5 players exploring a fantasy world.  You control the players (and to some extent the DM) and move through a story full of in-jokes and knowing references, doing battle with lots of monsters and completing lots of quests.  It has a very set format but is also quite innovative in its structure - but is this enough to keep your interest to the end?

In KOPAP you choose your characters from 6 initial classes and these are all pretty standard fare.  There's a warrior, a druid, a cleric, a rogue, a mage and a paladin.  Nothing too remarkable.  However, each character also has an associated player, and these choices are a bit more unusual.  You can pick a rocker, a local school teacher or your little brother; your dad, your sister or even a wolfman and the neighbourhood alien.  All of these players come with different bonuses, and combining them with the various classes vastly increases the number of options available to you.  I guess that they fulfil the same role as races in a more traditional RPG.  You start by being able to only add a couple of characters, but this increases to 5 as you get more gold, and you can also unlock more classes during your adventures.  Unfortunately your party will probably already be full when you do this, but you can swap your characters at a tavern if you want to.

 Each character has 4 skills which they can use during combat, and these usually consist of a passive skill (so the rogue can poison his dagger to increase damage, for example) and 3 that can be used in a fight, and their weapons and armour can be upgraded along a linear path by a blacksmith found in towns and villages.  This adds various bonuses as it is improved such as increasing the health of a character or the amount of hit points they regenerate in a turn.  Your options are quite limited as there is only one possible upgrade, but each character can also equip up to 4 other items such as rings or clothing - which gives you a few more possibilities.

So, once you've created your party you are ready to begin the game.  You can see the room in which you are playing, but also the world that the DM is describing and different monsters will appear in different settings as you proceed.  And you can also use the gold you earn in the game (or buy with real cash) to get things like furniture for the “real world” room or pets, snacks and drinks which all confer different bonuses to your characters in the actual game.  This is kind of central to the whole thing, you are playing 5 people playing a game, so there are 2 levels of reality which can both be influenced by you.  It's all a bit “meta” and this is referenced throughout - with the lines between the different worlds often being blurred or crossed by the story.

The world of pen and paper itself is made up of a series of locations, each containing a number of quests for the party to complete.  Travelling between locations costs gold and takes time and also opens the party up to that eternal favourite of old school RPGs - the random encounter.  Every time the party moves the game rolls a dice and, if the result is too low, then monsters appear and attack.  Combat is pretty simple - initiative is assigned and then characters and monsters take turns to attack, heal or use their different abilities.  You can pick which enemy to target, but there's no positioning or other tactics.  There's not even a chance to miss - every attack and spell hits - so it's very much a numbers game.

And, in fact, combat is one of the game's main problems, which is unfortunate as it is also one of its main activities.  It's just too simple.  I found that I was using the same abilities over and over again as it didn't make sense to do it any other way, and this made fights very boring very quickly.  I mean, yes, occasionally I might have to heal somebody and I found some stuff useful that I initially disregarded but, 9 times out of 10, I would work my way through my opponents one at a time until they were all gone.  It became a process, almost work and certainly a grind, which wasn't helped by how similar all the enemies were.  They might look different, they might even have different resistances to various attacks, but the process of actually defeating them was pretty much always exactly the same.  Oh and, while we're here, you can kill a phoenix with fire in this game.  Uhuh, a magical bird made entirely out of fire, who makes its nest in an effing volcano can be hurt by fire.  Go figure.

So, combat is annoying, and this is made worse by how often the game forces you to fight.  I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that the quests are an ironic nod to the inanity of traditional RPGs but there's a lot of fetching, escorting and killing x number of monsters.  And, quite apart from this, every time you travel whilst escorting or protecting you fight an encounter at each stage of the journey.  Every. Time.  And any fight cancels your selected quest, so you have to re-select your destination from the map (until it is cancelled again on the next move).  AND it does this even if you're massively overpowered for that area.  So you can be taking somebody back to their village or whatever and be constantly confronted by packs of 2 giant rats which you kill by breathing heavily on them.  It's ridiculous and annoying and unnecessary.

However, this is not to say that the game is devoid of challenge, some of the dungeons in particular can be quite tricky until you (sob) grind for a bit to increase your level, but that the challenge is so uneven that it makes the Himalayas look like the Norfolk Broads.  Well, I say "challenge".  What I mean is "loads more hit points and a bit more damage" because this is the other really standard trap that this game falls into.  To be fair to the developers combat is so simple that I'm not sure what other options are available to them but the amount of damage that monsters can absorb increases exponentially throughout.  This is not an uncommon problem, it is even a bit understandable within the restrictions of this game but it makes an already tedious encounter system almost unbearable.

KOPAP manages to combine bad things from old style games (like random encounters) with bad things from the new (like an aggro system and rogues who have had all of their subtlety removed and are there purely as a damage outputter).  It limits your  characters to 4 set abilities and their armour and weapon choices to a purely linear upgrade path.  It sets you inane tasks and makes you jump through needless hoops to complete them and it made me question, seriously, what I was doing with my life as I sat there tapping a touchscreen repeatedly in order to kill a monster; knowing that I was going to have to do exactly the same thing again as soon as this one was dead.  There's not even any decent loot.

So why did I finish it?  I'm a grown man, I'm able to make my own decisions.. what happened?  To be honest I don't know.  The graphics are quite nice if, you know, you're not totally sick of that whole "retro 8 bit" thing by now.  It doesn't take itself very seriously, which is good.  The story is OK and there are lots of references to things which are important to geeks - they’re not especially funny but it's something I suppose.  I think that maybe it just appeals to the lizard part of your brain that appreciates repetitive tasks, or maybe I just wanted to see what happened at the end.  Whatever, I did finish it, but that isn't something I'm especially proud of.  It’s not a total disaster, and it has a certain charm, but it’s a pretty sad indictment that I just want to get this review done so I never have to think about it again. 

Knights of Pen & Paper is definitely available on PC and Android.  Probably on iOS too, but I can’t be bothered to check.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the write-up on this one. I actually almost bought this last night before even knowing you had played and written about it. Now I think I will pass.