Kingdom: Two Crowns is a 2D strategy builder that centres around a monarch who must colonise and protect a new realm. Functionally and visually, it’s very similar to its predecessor, Kingdom: New Lands. I strongly recommend checking out our review of the previous title in the series to get a well-rounded view of the gameplay and themes, but this review will cater for newcomers to the series.
After a very brief tutorial, you’re presented with your objective: “Build, expand, defend.” These 3 simple words describe the majority of your playtime in Kingdom: Two Crowns. You will build new tools and weapons for your villagers, expand your territory by erecting walls and battlements, and defend your stronghold at night from the obscure and mysterious Greed – the antagonistic villains of our world.
The Greed are shrouded in intrigue. You’re never given a motive or reasoning for their constant attacks, resulting in a heightened sense of mystery. This isn’t The Art of War, though. You aren’t tasked with understanding your enemy – much to Sun Tzu’s disappointment, I’m sure. Instead, you merely need to know their patterns. Nights are treacherous, and you can guarantee that straying too close to a portal during daylight will spell peril as well.
After the sun sets each day, these creatures will rush from their portals towards your outermost walls, in an attempt to penetrate your defences. If they catch any villagers, they will relieve them of their tools or weapons, and eventually their coin, which represents their citizenship. When this happens, you’ll need to give them another gold coin to reinstate them as a member of your domain. Your subjects have a tendency to put themselves in danger, so this may happen all too often.
It’s hard to get to grips with this aspect of Kingdom: Two Crowns, as most micro-management sims have you directly instructing your units. Here, though, you don’t have immediate control over your workers or soldiers, and can’t tell them exactly where to be or what to do. Instead, the workforce will automatically be assigned to various projects that you initiate. This sometimes leads to important wall upgrades being left unfinished in favour of dangerous menial tasks, much to the player’s dismay. If the Greed attack you, though, they’ll also steal any gold you have, but will also eventually take your crown. If this does happen, you are allowed to continue reigning as your heir, however, it resets the difficulty and gives you some respite to rebuild.
At first, you’ll only be able to upgrade your camp and walls a couple of times, as you lack the technology to advance your kingdom. Once you build a boat and sail to the second island, the game steps up a gear. Here, you can upgrade your kingdom to a stone age, allowing for stronger walls and higher parapets. You’ll also encounter gems, a finite resource that can be used for new mounts – such as the Griffin and the Stag – and global villager upgrades, amongst other things. Very little is actually explained to you on your quest, though, so you’ll figure most of this out through trial and error.
In this regard, Kingdom Two Crowns is very reminiscent of XCOM; in particular, the vastly popular Long War mod. In-game instructions are sparse, and the difficulty ramps up significantly as you progress. Decisions must also be analysed carefully, as you may purchase something that leaves you short of a future steed or upgrade. Fortunately, the likenesses don’t end there. The Kingdom series also has a dedicated community, and helpful advice and guides can be found online.
Leading an empire can be a lonely affair. Fortunately, you don’t have to reign single-handedly; you can play the entirety of Kingdom: Two Crowns in local splitscreen co-op. This provided one of the best co-operative gaming experiences I’ve had in years. Not only does this help reduce the difficulty, but alleviates some of the familiar monotony of resource management. Most of my playtime was spent in splitscreen with my fiancée, and you could be forgiven for thinking this was how Kingdom: Two Crowns was designed to be played.
Another new addition to the series is the Shogun biome. When starting a new campaign, you have the option of selecting a different ‘biome’, which essentially serves as filter. Instead of the conventional visuals, you can play in a feudal-era Japanese aesthetic, complete with cherry blossom trees and the ancient coins with holes in them that are synonymous with the time period. There are plans to release more biomes in future patches, and these definitely add interesting and satisfying reasons to revisit Two Crowns after you finish a campaign.
Speaking of patches, I’m happy to report that Kingdom: Two Crowns is to receive a quality of life patch in the not too distant future. Full details can be found here, but the important things to know are that various frustrations and grievances from the community have been listened to, and met with helpful improvements. These include a way of reducing the slog that is Winter – where your farms won’t grow produce and wild rabbits stop spawning, reducing your income to a slow trickle – and better AI behaviour. These were two of my biggest gripes with the game, so it’s great to see that the developers are on top of these things.
The musical score is surprisingly catchy and interesting. After all, resource management simulation games often have unobtrusive, laid-back music that wouldn’t seem out of place in an elevator. Instead, Kingdom: Two Crowns features a number of unique tunes that I found myself humming along to.
My favourite examples were Mischievous Alchemy and Griffin; two songs which compliment the setting and tone superbly, but sound nothing alike. Amos Roddy, the composer, has done a wonderful job of crafting an OST that fits the theme beautifully, while also sounding varied and distinctive.
Visuals & Performance
Visually, the game upholds the recent trend of 2D pixel art. Despite its rampant popularity recently, the original Kingdom was released back in 2015, so there can be no real accusations of bandwagoning here. Fortunately, Kingdom: Two Crowns nails the pixel art aesthetic, with detailed and charming backgrounds, animations, and buildings. They are limited in what they can do, so the art style definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but get up close and you’ll notice lively, dynamic details that really add character to the world. In particular, the parallax scrolling backgrounds add some much needed depth to the two dimensional landscapes and drastically increased the visual authenticity.
As far as performance goes, the game runs smoothly for the most part, with the occasional stutter noticeable when big upgrades – such as completing the boat – occur. It’s worth noting that Kingdom: Two Crowns does take a significant amount of time to load, initially. I found it could be upwards of 2 minutes, and thought the game had crashed, at first. It’s plain sailing from there, though, with only the occasional current of choppy waters to handle.
All of this contributes to the most solid entry in the series. Though it may not stray far enough from the original formula for returning customers, it’s the perfect entry point for newcomers. The new additions of a co-op mode and a lineage of succession may even be enough to change your opinion, if the previous entries weren’t for you.
Though you can comfortably see everything Kingdom: Two Crowns has to offer in 10-15 hours, the prospect of iteratively improving your reign with successive campaigns is promising. The illusive challenge of reaching the ending without dying is worth returning to Two Crowns for. At £17.99/$25, the price does seem a little steep, but if you’ve got the temperament to stick with resource management strategies, you can easily get your money’s worth here.
Rewarding strategy gameplay
Catchy music and beautiful visuals
Brilliant co-op experience
Frustrating villager AI