Review: Knights of Pen and Paper 214 May 2015 1
We generally think of grinding in an RPG as the boring part and yet, Blizzard has made billions creating games in which running around and fighting is really the only thing to do. Both World of Warcraft and Diablo center around grinding in order to become a more powerful character, usually by finding more powerful loot.
Knights of Pen and Paper 2 follows suit, although I’m not sure the developers really get what makes those other games so successful. There, grinding is a means to an end, and we put up with it because that end is mighty shiny and also bonks monsters really well. Knights of Pen and Paper 2 ditches all that fancy loot and interesting character development which leaves us with just the grinding. This shouldn't be a secret, but grinding without a carrot dangling somewhere in front of me just isn't very much fun.
KoPP2 is, at its core, a digital RPG and doesn't deviate too far from its roots. It’s presented with a wink and a nudge to convince you that it’s so meta, but it ends up doing what it's poking fun at other games for doing. The premise is that we’re participating in a tabletop RPG both as the players and the game master, and that everything happening in the game is occurring in the imaginations of those players. It’s not a bad premise, and it makes for a few fun moments as they poke fun of the entire genre, but in the end it’s an RPG in which you control characters and fight monsters with the intention of becoming more powerful, and the game master's role is largely irrelevant.
The game master doles out the adventure that deals with saving the realm of Paperos (ho-ho!) from the Paper Knight who is trying to use 2nd edition rules while the world was written for 1st edition rules. I think it’s trying to be a meta-commentary on the edition wars that have ravaged tabletop gaming, and particularly D&D, over the last decade. It succeeds in the end, I guess, by declaring that editions don’t matter as long as your having fun. The problem is, by that point, I wasn’t having any.
The main problem with KoPP2 is that it devolves into doing the same thing over and over again for hours with no real change. What you're doing is combat. Everything in this game comes down to fighting. The problem is how damned boring the combat becomes. At first the combat is fun and tactical, but as you level up you realize that every combat becomes the same. Even the end game boss battles were like every battle before them, only they took an age to finish. The problem comes in the fact that each character has four abilities. That’s it for the entire game. As you add skill points to each ability it increases minutely. Thus, once all the skills have a point or two in them, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer. There’s nothing new and leveling up becomes a ho-hum experience in which you’ll get to add 1-2 more damage to an attack or spell. If you’re creating an RPG and leveling up is something that bores the hell out of your players, you’re doing it wrong.
There’s also a palpable dearth of loot in the game. Every now and then you’ll get some loot from combat, but nothing that you couldn’t just buy from the store. Magic items exist, but you have to craft them from the junk you earn in combat. Even then, I was only ever able to craft +2 and +3 weapons and armor which, to be honest, never made combat feel any different. Another way to get loot is by searching an area. You spend gold to roll dice and collect successes. It’s like playing a slot machine. You hit the button, dice roll and you’re told how many successes you have. When you’ve accumulated enough successes, you get some special loot. Again, most of it is stuff you can buy in the store, but every now and then you’ll find some super sword or staff. Again, once I equipped these items, combat didn’t appear to be any different than it was before.
RPGs exist as a sort of power fantasy. You start as a weak nobody and propel yourself to greatness and near godlike power over the course of a game. KoPP2 is lacking that sense of advancement. The items you find don’t feel like they make a difference, and your abilities never advance beyond what they were at level 4 or 5. Sure, numerically they advance, but you never feel like you’re getting more powerful.
What held the original KoPP above the average was its use of humor. Unfortunately, it’s not working in KoPP2. I don’t think I even chuckled at the references within the game this time around, although the Square Root of Evil did make me smile. Beyond not being funny, some of the design choices, like having you fight variables—literally letter “x” to the “y” power—were downright annoying. Maybe one fight like that would work, but having to repeatedly do it over the course of 4-5 battles? Blech. The entire game felt like that second hour of playing Munchkin. Sure, these cards were funny for the first half-hour, but now they just make you mad and want to hurt someone.
The game's not entirely terrible. I did play through the bitter end, just to see what would come next, but it really felt like a slog. Even some of the features outside the game, such as decking out your game room or buying things from game magazines, felt tacked on and didn’t make a real difference. Just another way to spend gold.
Speaking of the in-game gold, there is an option to purchase more of it via IAP if you wish, but I didn’t find it necessary at all. Eventually you’ll be crawling in the stuff, so if you can be patient and don’t need anything fancy right away, you’ll be fine.
In the end, Knights of Pen and Paper 2 isn’t a terrible game. It’s not a good game, either. It’s just there. It’s basically grinding for 8+ hours with nothing to really show for it and, unlike its forebear, doesn’t even have the humor to hold your interest all the way through.
This game was reviewed on an iPad Air.