When Kingdoms Reborn washed ashore on Steam last November, it didn’t look like an Early Access title. The medieval city builder by Thai-studio Earthshine evokes a production value unheard of for many games still in early development. The feature list is already quite expansive and shows interesting additions to shake up the genre’s usual gameplay. We’ve taken a thorough look at the game’s current state and what to expect from it in the future.

We can generate a new map for each game, so no playthrough will be exactly the same.

As soon as we jump into a new game, a map of our freshly-generated world shows up, where players can freely choose the starting area for their first colony. It marks the first test for strategic minds, as not all locations are created equal, and some provide much better access to valuable resources than others. With our first town hall placed, it’s now our job to keep our settlers alive and happy.

A small, but well-structured colony.

As in most city builders, our citizens have many needs to fulfil to ensure their survival. Resources like food and wood as fuel are a given, but our people are also susceptible to diseases and require luxury goods and building modernisations to expedite our kingdom’s growth.

Every turn, players can choose from among various building cards, or policy cards such as the Desert Pilgrim card pictured here.

And this is where the game’s big twist comes in. Players can’t freely construct whichever building they want whenever they want. Instead, each player picks new cards from a randomised deck every turn. These cards are the only way to place new structures, perform unique actions or enact policy updates for our town hall. This system adds a deep strategic component to the game that becomes especially important in multiplayer mode.

Besides the card system, players will recognise many mechanics featured in genre classics such as Anno or Civilization. Science Points, produced by our settlers, allow us to unlock innovations for each new era in the game’s expansive technology tree. A second improvement tree requires upgrading our citizenry’s dwellings instead.

Innovations don’t get unlocked in one go, but get studied over time, as our citizens produce more Science Points.

Players can also take military actions to steal land or even turn an entire colony into a vassal state. Rather than pushing units around the map, a more abstract system using influence points represents these incursions. It’s sad news for everyone fond of watching their brave soldiers punch other soldiers into their weather-worn faces, but great news for everyone looking for a more relaxed experience.

The poor pigs didn’t stand a chance against my invading forces.

Players can also expand their card decks with cheeky little manoeuvres like kidnapping someone else’s citizens or robbing their treasury. It’s a more subdued type of warfare, like dozens of mosquito bites that steadily wear your opponents down. Of course, you could also choose to cooperate with other factions instead, and the game provides some cards and other methods for sharing resources, too.

All of this makes for a pretty entertaining experience already. But, as expected from an Early Access-title, some crucial issues remain. The game is a lot of fun during the first few hours. But soon after, things, unfortunately, start falling apart.

First and foremost, some heavy performance issues hit the game after reaching a certain number of citizens, even when meeting the recommended system requirements. It’s twice as daunting since unlocking the tech- and dwelling-trees already starts feeling like a chore later on and win-conditions are unclear. The card system, one of the game’s USPs, betrays itself by adding wildcards early on, which removes a lot of the strategic tension. When playing the singleplayer mode, it soon becomes apparent that many of the features aren’t as much fun when playing against AI-opponents. Not only do they not fight back against military aggression, but they also seem to forget how to build functional colonies at some point.

By year 100, this AI-opponent had long forgotten to build new dwellings or storage space, leaving their people homeless and the kingdom swamped with unused resources.

That said, I’m very excited about Kingdoms Reborn regardless. The game is still in early development, and it’s already more fun than many fully released games in the same genre. So far, the developer has posted updates at least once a month, which means most of what seems amiss right now will likely get addressed soon enough. The studio also hopes to expand its team to give the game an additional boost now that it’s in Early Access.

Earthshine is a solo-developer, which makes the game’s progress so far all the more remarkable. The audio, created by Alistair Lindsay, whom you might recognise from the soundtracks for RimWorld or Prison Architect, marks the only outside-contribution. There’s no telling how much greater the game can get until its final release, with a bigger team and more opportunities.

Kingdoms Reborn will be in Early Access on Steam for approximately two more years, with regular, community-driven updates. It’s one of those titles that may not be perfect yet, but well-worth being on the lookout for.

Kingdoms Reborn is available for PC on Steam (Early Access). This review is based on a free review copy provided by the developer.

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