Thronefall – the digital equivalent of mainlining dopamine – is touted by the developer, Grizzly Games, as a minimalist strategy game without the unnecessary headache.
And they’re not wrong. Gone are the esoteric research trees, gone are the gazillions of resources to manage. Instead, in their place is a tower defence/hack n’ slash mash-up that captures the sheer addictiveness of Vampire Survivor with the lo-fi strategy of the Kingdom series.
If you’ve played any of the games in the aforementioned Kingdom franchise, you’ll understand how Thronefall works. Essentially, you – the king – gallop around your kingdom spending gold in order to construct buildings. Some buildings will give you a steady income (houses, flour mills) while others provide defence (archery towers, barracks) against the wave of enemies that attack the settlement each night.
Providing you survive until the morning, you’ll gain gold from the spoils of the battlefield, as well as any income due from your subjects. Then, you can gallop around your kingdom once more, splash the cash to upgrade defences and bolster the coffers – rinse and repeat. *Chef’s kiss*.
Okay, there’s a little more depth to it than that, but in keeping the mechanics simple, Thronefall’s gameplay is a refreshing take on the genre that lets you take a step back from complex strategy to enjoy the instant gratification you get from slaying hordes of baddies.
But it isn’t just all mindless killing, in fact, the game can be pretty difficult at times. To claim victory in each level, you’ll need to manage the precarious balance between building income-creating buildings and boosting your defence up. Some of the more lucrative buildings like the flour mill, can be upgraded to have four fields of wheat, each producing 1 gold per day. But as these building types must be placed outside the castle walls, they become prime target for attack – setting up a great tension between risk and reward that makes Thronefall so engaging.
Heavy is the head
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty useless when it comes to strategy, so it’s no surprise that I yell at my inanimate laptop on occasions when I accidentally upgrade the wrong building and can’t undo it. Sure, it would be nice to have the option to undo genuine mistakes, but in getting you to commit firmly to your actions, Thronefall encourages you to think carefully about your placements in advance of each wave.
Thankfully, the game is fairly forgiving – at least in the opening few levels – and you’ll be able to claim victory even if your kingdom has taken a proper beating (as long as your castle hasn’t been destroyed). And with seemingly only a handful available at time of writing, (the developers have promised more content during the early access period) it makes sense that Thronefall uses a scoring system and leaderboard to get you replaying.
And it works! Levels are a bitesize nugget of pure dopamine, usually lasting no more than 15 – 20 minutes depending on your play style. Chasing your high score is addictive, not least because of the game’s optional challenges for each level – clearing a map without having a single building destroyed, for example, will net you an achievement and a sackful of points.
These points work as XP that unlocks various buffs and perks that you can use to modify your play between each run. For example, you can buff up your player character’s HP and get stuck into the fight, or choose a perk that automatically upgrades housing each day, increasing the amount of gold produced. It’s a well-balanced, minimalist system that allows you to adapt the game to your chosen play style.
Thronefall is a compulsive, pick-up-and-play strategy game that welcomingly trims the fat so often associated with the genre. While it only offers a handful of levels in its early access state, there’s oodles of replayability thanks to high-score challenges and an interesting modifier system of buffs, perks and debuffs.