Release Date: 4th August, 2014 (Early Access); 12th February, 2016 (Full Release)
Purchase Date: 7th April, 2015 @ £4.49
Developer: Skatanic Studios (http://www.skatanicstudios.co.uk/rpg-tycoon/)
It’s taken me nearly 18 months to finally getting around to playing RPG Tycoon, during which time it’s passed through Steam’s Early Access, had its full release and most recently released its first DLC entitled ‘Supply & Demand’.
RPG Tycoon is a city builder at heart played from the perspective of a Ruler who resides over a Kingdom. For their Kingdom to prosper it’s the Ruler’s job to make his settlement appealing and attractive for heroes to visit. Heroes they can hire to then send out on quests to earn gold, happiness and fame for the Ruler’s Kingdom, so that in turn the Ruler can expand and improve their Kingdom.
The game starts as a simple concept, which soon spirals into a deep interconnection between buildings, heroes, gold and happiness. Want a hero? Build a house for them. Now the heroes want paid. Send them out on quests, etc. But then the heroes want paid more as they level up from XP gained from quests, and such is the fame of your heroes that other adventures now visit your little kingdom and they want food, drink and entertainment. So, you find yourself having to build a Tavern, which makes an income from the visitors. Now your heroes are tired and low on health from manner quests, so you need to build a Medical Tent.
Somehow, you’ve managed to get through the first year comfortably. Your Kingdom is happy, your heroes are doing well, your Tavern has levelled up. However, your town is looking shabby and the visitors aren’t happy about the lack of decorations. They’re also not happy about other ‘things’ and for me this is where the only real issue I have with the game starts to show – there’s a distinct lack of visual feedback on what’s making visitors and your settlements unhappy.
The lack of feedback makes it difficult to entirely understand how to improve your situation and stop your Kingdom going from being content and happy, to suddenly depressed. As far as I’ve experienced so far unhappiness is the only end-state in the game. Perhaps there’s a lack of money ending too, and perhaps your settlements get raided, but I’ve never actually made it that far. Three to four years in-game time is as far as I’ve managed before the sudden 0% happiness drop.
A brief check of reviews and Steam Discussion group shows you there are bugs still in this game, which isn’t a crime by any means (even if some people have taken umbrage at DLC being released before old bugs have been fixed). The positive is that the game’s developer, Matt Gambell is very active on both Steam and Twitter to answer and reply to feedback on the game. So, in an environment where indie devs are often criticised by some for hitting early access too soon for a quick cash grab, it’s refreshing to be able to see an active developer who communicates with his player base and is keen to fix bugs.
In fact, during the time I’ve taken to think and write about my experiences with RPG Tycoon, Matt Gambell has released an update that fixes an issue with Finance Happiness that was causing a drop in happiness rating. Yet, bugs remain, as shortly after starting a save game a few issues showed themselves including; rival kingdoms had reset & a complete game freeze.
As you might expect from a title containing ‘RPG’ the game does have some basic RPG and tabletop elements to it. Heroes have attributes, which are used in quests (ranging from quick to epic) to gain fame and fortune. Yet the game lacks one essential element of any RPG or tabletop game and that’s a basic set of rules and glossary for the user to follow and understand. That’s not to see that the game doesn’t provide information, as it does in the form of hero screens and quest descriptions. It just lacks the explanation of what those attributes do, and how they’re used in quests. There’s no real bridge between the game design and the user’s experience. It’s mainly left to chance, prior understanding and just a little bit of luck.
The little snippets of info and feedback that translate the developer’s thinking and reasoning behind the game’s mechanics into something the user can understanding (without giving the magic of the game away). At times I found the quest requirements unclear, and at times felt like I was guessing at what resources I should take on quests with me. Without a doubt I was guessing which slot they should go in to. On the plus side the game keeps a history of which combinations of items you’ve used on quests, so it does provide a small amount of feedback to the trial and error approach it pushes you into.
I’m sure there’s a hope from the developer’s point of view that the text quest provides enough information for the user to know what to take. A similar approach is used when you’re offered a multiple choice situation during Epic Quests. There’s no real feedback or insight provided other than the quest text. So when it comes to choosing an option, you’re once again sort of just left guessing and hoping for the best. A roll check is then used to see if you meet the requirements, but the UI doesn’t actually tell which attribute was used in the roll check.
So with all of that in mind I’m left feeling that RPG Tycoon perhaps left Steam’s Early Access a little too soon at the cost of detail and polish. The base of the game is there, it’s just missing the smaller details to make the game more user friendly. You can enjoy the game’s current state; it’s presentation and soothing music, certainly make it a relaxing game to play and of course with a bit of time invested you will start to understand how to play. It’s certainly a nice idea, and one I hope gets the polish it deserves to make it more user friendly, as as far as I can see that’s all it’s really lacking.