The complication with making decisions in real life is that choices aren’t simply black or white, but instead fall somewhere on a grey-scale spectrum. You would think it would be a lot simpler if every decision in life was simplified into choosing one of two options. Reigns proves that theory wrong, by showing us just how complicated it can be to choose from two different choices; left or right.
Reigns introduces you as the newest king of a monarchy in the year 601. You are quickly greeted by the ghost of the previous king, who gives you a brief tutorial on the game in the way of a cryptic conversation. After your first king dies, the ghost of the previous king returns to explain a bit about the plot of the game. The Devil, if you believe in such things, has put a curse on your bloodline, which forces you to keep re-living the same kingly duties over and over again forever, unless the curse can be broken.
As mentioned above, the base gameplay of Reigns is incredibly simple. Each year a character will appear and propose a situation to your king, and you have to choose one of two options by either clicking left or right. This mechanic as a base makes Reigns a game that anyone can pick up and play with ease, but it’s a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface.
Each decision you make will affect one or more of the four elements of the kingdom, the church, the people, the army, and the treasury. What makes these decisions such a challenge, is that the game doesn’t show you whether it will impact the elements positively or negatively; it only shows the player if it will affect it a little bit or a lot. It’s up to the player to determine, with either logic or memory, how it will affect each element.
The most challenging and somewhat counter-intuitive part of Reigns is that it isn’t just about running your kingdom well, it’s about carefully balancing your four elements to not only not run out, but also not fill up all the way. It’s a bit confusing to think that having all the money in the world would cause your death, or having your people love you would be your downfall, but both will result in another dead king in a long line of dead kings. But it’s this difficult balancing act that really makes you think and re-think every simple 2-pronged decision in the game.
The player’s life doesn’t just hang in the balance of civilian uprisings and army coups; there are various other scenarios throughout the game that, if played incorrectly, will lead directly to death. These scenarios include picking paths in a dungeon, running away from captors, or fighting a dragon. They can be a bit frustrating, as it sometimes seems as though you died completely based on bad luck, but just like in life that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Unlike life, these scenarios will arise again, so if you have a good memory, you can avoid suffering the same fate over and over again.
Not all scenarios will result in the player’s death; some scenarios will actually result in love, riches, or a crusade, and introduce a new game mechanic. Up until this point, you could take all the time in the world to carefully plan out your every choice. But various scenarios will result in one or more of the four kingdom elements increasing or decreasing over time, putting the player’s decision making on the clock. It makes for interesting gameplay, rushing the player to make a decision quickly before their treasury empties, or the church gets too powerful. But the player can also use this to their advantage, assuming they have the patience. Most of the time this is a very slow trickle, a single point out of a hundred every few seconds. If the player wants to rack up a ton of gold to make their life easier, they can, but it will result in just sitting there watching the money go up slowly for several minutes.
The aesthetics of the game are incredibly simple, but very polished. All of the art, character, backgrounds, and menus, use a minimalist art style, and there are rarely more than a handful of different colors on-screen at a time. The simple graphics mesh well with the simple gameplay mechanics, and I really don’t think having beautifully painted landscapes or fully modeled characters would have added to the game. The music and sound design are also wonderfully done. The sound track gives the player the feel of being a monarch in the medieval ages. And the characters all have different voices and personalities. Though the voices aren’t any real language, and are reminiscent of the way Sims speak The Sims games.
As an added bonus to an already fun game, Reigns adds a little bit of humor to its repertoire. Whether it’s a reference to Devolver Digital’s popular pigeon based game or a Matrix reference that leaves all of the characters in the game with bunny ears, Reigns is sure to at least make you crack a smile with its clever jokes.
Probably the biggest flaw of Reigns is its lack of replay value. Once you make it through the game the first time, there really isn’t much reason to go back through the game a second time, other than to get achievements, or die in ways you missed the first time. I personally failed the main quest on my first playthrough, and although I enjoyed the game, couldn’t convince myself to play again to really “beat” the game. That all being said, the first playthrough was thoroughly enjoyable, and had pretty unique gameplay. For such a reasonable price-tag, Reigns is certainly worth adding to your library, if even just for a single playthrough.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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