Reign Of Kings is a medieval-themed survival game that's been in full release for about five months. It's improved since its spotty Early Access period, but still far from perfect. Still, with its odd mix of Game of Thrones-style power struggles and incredibly satisfying building, it's created a world where even bakers can rise to power
Reign Of Kings has a bit of a troubled history. It's developed by CodeHatch, the team behind the disastrous StarForge, a sci-fi survival game that has a positive review rating of only 16 per cent on Steam.
The failure of StarForge has led to a general sense of distrust in CodeHatch's ability to deliver what they promised with Reign Of Kings. Both the game's Steam reviews and the in-game chat are filled with people proclaiming that "CodeHatch has abandoned another game" even though they continue to release updates.
The game itself is still pretty glitchy — incautious players are routinely killed by their own castle's doors, the animals that you hunt will literally run into the sea and start grazing on seaweed to get away from you and I was once catapulted into the air by a falling tree that I was chopping down. Hackers run wild in non-ping-detected servers, forcing me to ultimately abandon the game when I played it in Early Access last year.
But still I came back, five months past the game's full release, for one reason. With a recent Steam rating of only 45 per cent, Reign Of Kings is generally considered a failure — but it provides an amazing framework for players to create their own bizzaro stories.
The first thing I always used to check when logging into the beta was the name of the King, and the level of tax. One of the main gameplay features that sets Reign Of Kings apart from its medieval-survival peers is the King mechanic — if you can get yourself to the throne you can claim it. The King (or Queen) gets a fancy crown and sword, and they get to set a tax on all the materials that every other player on the server collects.
On returning to one of the Oceanic servers, I was pleased to find the tax at a very reasonable zero percent, thanks to a lovely-sounding King named 'Big Easy'. "See you guys tomorrow," the message from this benevolent king came in the chat window. "I hope you all enjoy another day of no tax." It seemed like as good a place as any to build a virtual home. And what did I do with it?
I built a bakery.
Yes, in a world where most players fight to get the resources to craft steel-plate armour and weapons, I built a bakery. It was a bit of a joke between me and my guild-mate, who is a baker in real life.
Bread is potentially one of the most useless craftable items in Reign Of Kings — you have to build and find space for a huge windmill just to make it, and said windmill has absolutely no value aside from creating said bread. The process is a long one — plant wheat, put the wheat in the windmill, get flour, put the flour in the oven, get bread. Most food sources in the game don't even require the single step of cooking, while the other one that does (meat) has a much higher nutritional value.
Yet the novelty of our bread somehow overcame its inherent uselessness as an item. As I built our 'bakery', with an eye to making both the building and the farm surrounding it as aesthetically pleasing as possible, people started coming by. They started donating blocks and resources just because they were interesting in how it would turn out. Not only this, but my guild got a reputation for being peaceful. No need to fear (or attack on sight). We bake bread.
I was warned about one particular player and his guild, who were known for going around to people's bases, demanding 'tribute' and harassing or killing those who didn't comply. When I first saw him come by I barricaded myself in the bakery and through the door asked what he wanted. His answer was a surprise: "Do you sell bread?"
My own character was just as unassuming as our charming little log-and-brick bakery. One of the first things I crafted was a set of 'armour' made from flowers, a relic from my time in the beta when, devoid of the ability to create female characters, I picked a far more flamboyant way to assert my femininity. I looked like a bouquet. I wielded my axe to chop trees (to build my bakery) and my pick to mine stone (to build my bakery) and didn't touch a weapon.
The bakery grew from a single building to a farm with an orchard and a windmill, and then eventually a tall stone watchtower as we continued to expand. Our little village was built on a main road through the map, and people would stop by to chat, hang out or spar in the open area next to our tower. Just down the road from us was another base, home to a group of self-professed minstrels.
They brought flutes, drums and terrible singing to introduce themselves as our neighbours. It was a place of peace in a crazy world of guild struggles and roaming bullies in steel armour.
People ate our bread, regardless of how useless it was. In a game that's mostly about frustrated gamers smashing up other people's faces and belongings to try and prove their worth, players would come by to 'roleplay' a transaction with the bakers, swapping us iron, steel and fancy weapons just for a few seconds of animated bread-eating.
Our guild picked up more and more people, mostly those new to the game who wanted some relative safety to begin their ROK journey. The minstrels from next door were raided, and eventually came up to join us too. The guild worked together, hoarded resources and built even more structures to house our industry and materials.
I had built a set of steel prisoner cages onto one of my buildings simply because I liked the way they looked. The next day, I logged in to find a prisoner in one of them. Whoops. The day after that, a guillotine had joined them, and my guild were having a great time roleplaying the French Revolution. We weren't just a bakery anymore.
We were soon at a point where every guild member aside from myself had a set of steel armour and a full range of weapons — and the bakery had become a powerful political force on the map. I preferred to just keep building myself. Combat in the game is something you can become very good at, but I found it quite arbitrary, with odd hitboxes and nonsensical mechanics. I preferred to stay in the flower-armour that gave me absolutely no protection. By this time, I was friendly with most people on the map, and could travel with impunity with those distinctive flowers on my back.
I was invincible, and the bakery was one of the most recognisable and respectable guilds on the server.
Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long before my guild, faced with more power than a bakery should wield, started to leave our peaceful beginnings by the wayside. The formerly powerless had now been given a surprising amount of power, and were no longer content with simply tending to the bakery's farm and practicing combat in the empty level of our tower. Friends added friends who added friends — I'm pretty sure I had one of the largest guilds on the server, but not all of these new members held to the bakery's values.
I logged in one day to find myself in a tower under siege — my own guildmates had raided another castle, captured the king with a rope (another one of Reign Of Kings' most amusing little features, which forces any captured character into ragdoll mode no matter how well armed/armoured they are) and dragged him around for a while.
One of my guild's earliest members took it upon himself to claim the throne, and was never quite the same when control was soon wrested from his grasp. Thus began the fall of the bakery's peaceful reputation.
Unfortunately, or perhaps thankfully, the game has a limited lifespan. Every server is reset on the first Tuesday of each month. It's great for balance, and for getting rid of all those abandoned fortresses that end up scattered around the map, but for people like me who are addicted to building it can be a bit of a buzzkill.
I had always planned to go out with a bang when the server reset was getting near, until one day I logged to find my character dead, my base raided and every single one of our items gone (including, for some reason, a whole collection of mined dirt, seeds and hay that no one was ever going to use). My retaliation came a little quicker.
My guild members who were online came to me for advice — what were we going to do? I ignored them. Someone from another guild came knocking to ally with us, professing to know who raided us and offering us weapons and armour so that we could rejoin the fight. I ignored them. I tapped into the stash of valuable resources I had set aside (always keep a secret stash, guys), handing our last remaining trebuchet (the only thing that can destroy other castles) to my guild's 2IC and told him to go nuts. The bakery was his now.
For me? It was time to lost the flowers (well, mostly). I crafted myself my first steel armour set of the game and set off to find someone to fight, determined to reveal my most dangerous side before I said goodbye to my bakery.
Throwing axes in hand, armour clinking, I went all the way up to the King's contested throne, and there I found myself an adversary.
I lost. I guess I should have stuck to baking bread.