Game Review: The Kingdom of Loathing

You’ve probably seen the name from time to time but wondered, “what exactly is The Kingdom of Loathing?”  As someone whose played the game myself, I’m glad you asked!  In short, “An Adventurer is You!”  Now, that might suffice for a few folks out there, but for the rest?  Well, let me explain!

Kingdom of Loathing is a relatively long running MMO game released by Asymmetric Publications back in 2003.  It’s also a free to play game, before free-to-play was cool!  Most of the revenue comes from merchandise as well as a donation box fueled by gamers like you!  So, while donating gives you cool stuff, it’s not mandatory and the game stands up well enough without it.  However, I wouldn’t discover this little gem till mid-2005 and again in mid-2006.  The gameplay is based upon choose your own adventure and text-based game mechanics, with stick art sprites as visuals.  Adventuring is done through clicking various locations and performing various actions (many of which are displayed in an MMO combat menu).  However, the writing is driven by nods towards various popular culture works, clever meta-humor, and amusing jokes in general.  So, what makes up this world of stick figures and surreal laughs?  Let’s find out, shall we?

Creation Screen
Choose wisely, for you’re stuck with that class until your next run.

For the new player, you’re greeted with a simple welcome page; a series of (at times bizarrely written) updates, an optional donation bar, a log in screen, and two stick figures wielding a sword and martini besides the logo text.  Right off the bat, you’re given a taste of the adventures ahead.  Upon character creation, you’re given a selection of classes based on RPG tropes and cliches harkening back to 0e D&D.  Your options are the magic bracket of “Pastamancer” and “Saucerer”, the thief/bard bracket of “Disco Bandit” and “Accordion Thief”, and the warrior bracket of “Seal Clubber” (yup) and “Turtle Tamer.”  As simple of a game this is, each class has its own unique abilities and feel.  One my focus in buff inducing food dishes, while another may focus in crafting arms and accessories.  In some cases, like special events and post-game challenge options, classes are given even more interesting options to choose from.  Through restarting into a multi-class or “ascension”, you can copy abilities from a previous run as you unlock more.  This mechanic allows you to build up versatility, further enhancing the game through multiple ways.

Now, the world of Kingdom of Loathing might be a little less straight forward.  Staying true to the admiration and deconstruction of RPG tropes, you have tons of familiar locations: the spooky forest, the jungle island, the big mountain, the central hub town, and many others.  Each zone has options either heavily thematic or fitting in their own whacky way (Whitey Grove/The Black Forests, heh.)  Each area tends to follow its own logic, either as a nod to some creative work or poking fun at the same mechanics the game borrow from.  A fetch quest within the mountain consists of battling giant dwarves, semi-sentient mountain goats, ninja snowmen, snowboarding fratboys, and a demonic yeti with wings.  Sure, it’s a fetch quest, but it’s offset with interesting places to explore and fun characters to encounter.  Though, it always has been the writing and oddball jokes that have carried this game so far.

World screen
Welcome to the world of KoL! Also yes, that’s me in-game.

Mechanically, it’s a point and click adventure meets a text RPG.  I wouldn’t say the mechanics are exceptional or diverse when compared to several games that came before and after it.  However, there’s plenty of opportunity for customization through gear, stacking effects from consumables, and (if you’re willing to donate) a custom stick figure hero of your own.  Though, its customization isn’t that much more in-depth than the popular hat simulator, Team Fortress 2.  Like TF2, its quirky style truly lends itself to its equally offbeat humor.  Besides nostalgic appeal, the mechanical aspect of the game takes a back seat to the creative world and general fun atmosphere.  Besides the occasional updates and holiday events, what you see is what you get.  However, once you’ve completed the game enough times, it can lose its luster.  Besides a smaller group of closely devoting game veterans (like yours truly), the appeal of the site will be lost upon many after a year or two of playing.  That said, the active community is a plus for staying with the website.

If you’ve played your heart out for the day (and the daily adventuring cap will make sure of that), there’s also a vibrant and generally fantastic community to check out as well!  Unlike many games, KoL’s community has its own online radio run by countless volunteers.  Each volunteer creates their own 1 – 4 hour blocks of music, talk radio, or whatever.  Sometimes the creator of the site “Jick” runs a talk show involving updates on the game or general topics.  The KoL forums are an excellent space for discussion of the game itself or just general threads posted by the community.  If you’re not feeling like logging into a forum, the game has a built-in chat pane separated by different channels dedicated to certain aspects; /veteran for older players, /games for text based mini-games and contests, /radio for discussing radio, and several others.  Some of which are exclusively locked and require purchases.

All in all, Kingdom of Loathing is a fun and engaging game if you’re looking for a sly and witty text-based game with comedic strangeness.  Perhaps it will tickle a nostalgic sense of humor just appeal due to its absurd style.  Now, if you’re looking for a heavily tactical MMO game or a straight up serious RPG, KoL will likely not be your game.  In total, Kingdom of Loathing gets a 7.5 out of 10.

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