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Netflix's Kingdom: The Blood Game Is a Simplistic Action-RPG

I’ve never seen Kingdom, the Netflix K-drama that zombie-filled action-RPG Kingdom: The Blood is based on, so I can’t speak to how accurately the game adapts its characters and settings. But based on my limited-time hands-on preview, I can confidently say that as a melee-focused brawler, the high potential for customization and personalization in combat and quick pick-up-and-playability makes a strong first impression. However, with bothersome mobile game design galore and a real lack of challenge in the single-player campaign, it’s hard to know how much of a bite you could really take out of the experience.

After a tutorial fight and some account-creation digital paperwork, I was dropped into what would be an all-too-familiar layout of quests to track, blinking icons on a map, and lots of quick explanations about the various sorts of currencies you can earn by completing objectives. As a free-to-play game enjoyer myself, this wasn’t really a shock, but it did make understanding the best way to start engaging with the various modes and menus pretty daunting. I had some handy starting advice via PR tour guides, but I could see a brand-new player just ignore all of this completely.

Luckily, jumping into the single-player quests and chopping your way through the hordes is pretty simple. You have a special attack, which is a heavy blow that costs chi to use, and a basic attack that does less damage, is free, and actually restores chi when you connect with it. Stringing these basic attacks together in short combos punctuated by a special attack changes the latter. So instead of the big swinging chop you get from using it by itself, it could become a spinning kick that knocks enemies over. Some combos also make a burst attack available, which usually is a flashier technique that does more damage, but comes at the cost of a different resource called spirit. It's cool that different combos give you access to different tools for different combat scenarios, but in the single-player portion of my demo that spanned across four stages, I never needed to do much more than spam attacks and dodge defensively.

I never needed to do much more than spam attacks and dodge defensively.

Between stages of a level, you select one of three options for gaining resources from the fallen. You can choose to prioritize health or “souls” to drop from your enemies, or a balanced mix of both. Between rooms, you spend these souls on roguelite-style buffs, but the only ones available were different percentages of temporary attack buffs or pretty redundant healing bundles. There's certainly an opportunity to flesh out this part, as it feels very undercooked and had no real noticeable impact on my playthroughs so far.

I encountered two types of enemies: the much-advertised zombies and regular human soldiers. The zombies live up to their reputation of being mindless, as they were extremely predictable and easy to rout. In bigger groups they seemed to be slightly more of a threat since their lunging grab was tough to get away from or interrupt, yet could grab you clean out of a combo from any angle. But they never did so much damage that I had to worry. Boss undead had a few more tricks up their sleeves, like spitting blood at me and going through rage cycles where they become tough to stop for a limited time, but I can’t imagine anyone with some action game experience struggling through any of the early game. Regular soldiers, though more dynamic in their offense, were barely a threat either.

The most potential for depth is in the skills menu, where you can customize passive stat boosts but also equip new basic, special, and burst attacks. Not a lot of these were available during my time, but the concept alone had me thinking about all the possibilities. Tailoring your moveset for your task ahead, or developing a compatible set of moves to make a playstyle your own could really elevate a game like this and it’s what I am the most interested to learn more about in the future.

Where I found this potential to be most realized within the limitations of the demo was the 1v1 PvP mode, Clash. Me and my opponent, each playing different characters and me equipping new secondary abilities, had a tense back and forth looking for the right points in each other’s attack patterns to counter strike. Even if we played the same character with a different assortment of attacks, I imagine we would have a lot to learn on the fly about one another, and that quick tactical thinking is a hallmark of good competitive fighting gameplay. The other co-op mode, Raid, pits a team of four against a big computer controlled boss with a wide array of powerful attacks. This was above and beyond the most difficult part of my time with Kingdom, but it’s hard to know how any of that translates to the co-op experience as a whole.

Where I found this potential to be most realized within the limitations of the demo was the 1v1 PvP mode, Clash.

If you love the Netflix show that Kingdom: The Blood is based on and are clamoring for literally anything that will return you to that setting, then I see no harm in taking this bloody action-RPG for a spin. Diehard sword-slingers may find themselves wanting more of a challenge from the single-player campaign as it stands, as just about everything that slices, stabs, and bites at you are pushovers. But the opportunity for customization in all of your various attack styles, and how that enhances the overall PvP experience, might keep this adventure out of the grave long enough to convert you.

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