Like many others, I was recently given the opportunity to play the demo of Distant Kingdoms, a city-building game with deep roots in a fantasy world that fans of the Anno series, the Settlers games, and other such games should be interested in.
In the demo, I was guided along Distant Kingdoms’ gameplay loop of laying down houses, gathering resources, developing resource distribution, and later, dungeon diving.
That’s right, Distant Kingdoms will not only feature a heavy focus on city-building and resource management but will also provide the player with opportunities to send parties out on exploration quests, searching for new areas to build in, while taking on tasks more familiar to an RPG game.
We recently had an opportunity to speak with Oliver Smith, Director of Orthrus Studios, about this upcoming Early Access release and he had a lot to say in response to some of our questions.
We asked Smith about how this game would best differentiate itself from the many other resource-focused city builders and was told about the dragons that would roam the map, imps that would cause mayhem, and the underlying magic that would infuse the world of Distant Kingdoms.
“Our exploration and party system is truly unique in this genre,”</li> said Smith, going on to describe the system as a marriage of tabletop RPG mechanics with the city building of classics like the Anno series, Cities: Skylines, and even Banished.
Further developing on the fantasy element, your cities will be composed of various different fantasy races, including humans, elves, orcs, and dwarves, and perhaps others in the future. “They all have their own unique abilities, which manifest as bonuses when working at different jobs around your settlement.” You’ll also need to keep a close eye on their unique needs and desires and while there will be some overlap in those areas, Orthrus Studios promises it won’t always be easy. “We’re working hard on some mechanics that increase the interaction between various “factions” to simulate the friction between the disparate groups in your world”.
A Different Experience
Playing the demo was a relaxing affair, if not a bit too on the rails, but it did hint at some of that friction mentioned above. Shortly into my playtime, I was presented with different events that I needed to make decisions on. While it was only humans that I was making decisions regarding, every choice I made wasn’t necessarily cut and dry. And while there won’t be any combat outside of the adventuring system, Orthrus Studios plans to keep things interesting by “adding hidden depth that allows the more experienced genre players to min-max to their heart’s content, whilst allowing more casual players to get by easier and beautify their world.” Their plan is to avoid punishing players for having different playstyles, so if you enjoy a more casual experience, you won’t have to milk every last resource-gathering building for all its worth. On the other hand, If you’re looking for a more hardcore experience, you’ll be rewarded for min-maxing in some to-be-determined ways.
Not to mention, as players’ cities grow larger, “they’ll encounter new challenges, like fire, crime, and illness, and have more people to feed, clothe, and areas to colonize and beautify”. Furthermore, the aforementioned dragons roaming the countryside, the imps that will almost certainly cause trouble, and magic in the hands of elves that don’t quite understand it fully will all cause a bit of “mischief and mayhem”.
Of Magic and Men
Speaking of magic, Smith consider it to be “at the heart of the game”, going on to say that it will “allow you to create portals to more easily traverse great distances on the map and create powerful spells and totems to affect values and modifiers around your world.” Beyond that, it has allowed the team to lean into the aesthetic of magic and fantasy, providing a unique art style for your fantasy cities.
In my playthrough of the demo, it appeared that using magic boosted a variety of different resource types, depending on how I used it. The ‘Foreman Totem’ could be placed in my city, using my mana resource, to boost the production of resource gathering buildings. However, it didn’t play much more of a part beyond that, just yet.
My time with the demo really stood out once I’d built a tavern and started recruiting heroes. That’s where the game really felt unique, as I began my adventuring.
A Tavern of Teams
Once I’d recruited a group of adventurers, I’d set them out to explore a neighboring area of my fledgling town. “Each candidate has different skills and costs associated with them”, so I chose two orcs, one human, and an elf and set off for the nearby hex to explore its wonders. Eventually, I came upon something that required my direction. “An encounter could mean one of three things: your adventurers have found something odd (like a mysterious empty tower), they’ve come across a creature patrolling its territory (like a dragon or a wraith, etc), or they’ve stumbled upon a dungeon.
I had found an old house and was presented with a narrative of the event and given choices on how to move forward. I was able to use my athletic orc to grab a second-floor window and get inside the house. As I made my way in, I was able to explore it and later, ended up dealing with a ‘house guest’ in a way that ended the short RPG-like story, leveled up a few of my characters, and cleared the hex. I’ve been told that in the full game, you’ll then be able to settle that area.
As your characters level up, they’ll one day be able to take on dungeons, which are like the above type of encounter, but are usually more difficult and take a while longer to complete. “Dungeons are typically structures left by the pantheon of gods that used to live on Ineron (the games’ world) and as such, provide great bonuses to their surrounding area, but until they’re cleared out by adventurers, they will have a negative effect, too.” They give us an example of a dungeon that may provide fertile soil in its hex - providing a large boost to any farm’s output - which could also be haunted, causing a decrease in your citizens’ happiness, as no one really wants to live or work there while the ghosts are milling about, scaring everyone.
So, it seems that incentivizing party exploration in order to nullify the maluses from dungeons is the developer’s plan to make character development even more important. You’ll want your characters testing themselves often in order to keep up with the need to clear out these locations in order to reap their underlying benefit.
Early Access: A Plan
Orthrus Studios are marching towards the Second Quarter of 2021 for its Early Access release. We asked about the scope of their plan to incorporate feedback and were told that they’re “not afraid to radically change certain parts of the game based upon player feedback…” and explained that they had already incorporated some suggestions from the Steam Games Festival demo.
In the demo, couriers, which are how resources are moved around the world, didn’t feel particularly user-friendly, so they have already rebuilt this system, gutting most of it and rebuilding it entirely, which had the added benefit of adding even more gameplay elements and making the system more transparent to players. With those changes, players are now limited to a pool of couriers at their warehouses, so balancing the receipt and delivery of goods is important, in order to make the most of your production setups.
Orthus Studios plans to solicit direct suggestions on a variety of content elements, including new buildings, new races, new creatures, new quests, and even new features. While they can’t promise that every great suggestion will be implemented, they do plan to actively consider them and if enough people want them, they’ll work hard to include them.
“We have a number of ideas ourselves that we’ll be revealing in an Early Access roadmap a little closer to release”, but it seems as though they’re actively planning to assess player feedback for potential on incorporating it.
Either way, they plan to treat Early Access a bit differently than other studios. “We want to deliver a polished, fun experience, worth the price, whilst allowing us to gather feedback as we add more features through the Early Access period to bring it to our finished vision in time for full release.” and a full release won’t be the end, as they have plans for more updates and more content post version 1.0.
I asked the developers if there was anything else that they wanted readers to know:
“I’d just like to encourage everyone to come and join our Discord to help check out work in progress art and design, feedback on what they’ve played and seen so far and keep up to date with our news. It sounds cheesy but it really is awesome interacting with the community there and I’d like to thank everyone for supporting us in our first AA title, I hope you all get to check it out in a few months’ time and I’m looking forward to seeing all your feedback!”
Of course, as Orthrus Studios gets closer to their Early Access release, we’ll be sure to provide early impressions beyond what the demo offered. With the combination of city-building gameplay and light RPG elements, presented in a fantasy setting, Distant Kingdoms looks to carve out its own slice of the genre’s pie. Hopefully, they can pull it off and the demo had me feeling pretty optimistic that they can. We should find out soon!
About Robert Honaker
Rob has been gaming since the Atari 2600, but ever since his first IBM 286, he's been a PC gamer first. Strategy, RPG and 4X games are his gaming passion!