Sometimes I’m remiss in my duties as a gamer. This is usually due to not having up-to-date equipment or a lack of funds to get the hottest new games. I’m more often familiar with older games, ones I’ve had the time to discover and which run on my dilapidated machinery. So I’m not sure how I became the last person to discover A Sharp’s King of Dragon Pass, which is quite literally the best and deepest text-based game I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, this classic is held back by a number of bugs that hamper its playability.
King of Dragon Pass casts you as the leader of a tribe of barbarians (essentially magic Vikings) that has fled from their homeland. The wicked Pharaoh has been terrorizing the proud natives of Heortland, and many can bear it no longer. Your clan and many others have journeyed to Dragon Pass, a part of the world where dragons once ate hundreds of your kin, to start a new life. (Incidentally, RuneScape players may recognize these names, since the two games are both set in the same fantasy world.)
You begin the game by determining your clan’s roots and how they related to their gods prior to the start of the story. This begins the process of intricate decision-making that composes the core appeal of King of Dragon Pass. The sheer variety of options at your disposal creates a sense that this game is every bit as open as Skyrim, even if there’s no animation. It’s a tremendously freeing feeling, a refreshing change of pace from the railroad storylines of most text-based RPGs.
For another thing, you’ll notice right off the bat that even without animation, King of Dragon Pass is gorgeous. The art is comprised of over 400 hand-painted illustrations that are gloriously detailed and represent every facet of your tribe’s life. King of Dragon Pass might be text-based, but its soul is very much a visual one.
Your job as clan chief is to help the clan navigate the various trials and tribulations pioneers face on a magical frontier like Dragon Pass. Sometimes this takes the form of high fantasy action, like sending your warriors on Hero Quests to bring favor from the gods; other times, you’ll just need to figure out how to increase the number of cattle you own and drive off bandits that plague your farmers. The true genius of King of Dragon Pass is that both types of actions feel equally important. I never felt like mundane tasks were a chore; dealing with tricky matters of internal politics is every bit as exciting as raiding your neighbors to rescue captives or performing magic rituals.
But so far, everything I’ve talked about has been true since the first edition of the game back in 1999. If you’re already a fan of King of Dragon Pass, this doesn’t tell you anything new. So for those of you who already knew about this game (and didn’t tell me about it, because you’re rude), should you fork over ten bucks to get it on your Android device? That’s a complicated issue, and your mileage may vary, but I’m inclined to say yes—although you might want to delay your purchase for now.
By far my biggest gripe with King of Dragon Pass is its instability. I’ve experienced a crash roughly every twenty to thirty minutes on average while playing, and while restarting is not a long or difficult process (the game automatically returns you to the beginning of the last event), it totally destroys the otherwise complete immersion King of Dragon Pass works so hard to create.
The second most annoying thing in King of Dragon Pass is the touch control system. When you have to drag text to scroll through it, and also need to tap on that same text to make an important decision, you’ve got a really great chance of choosing an action you didn’t want to select. This is especially buggy in the backstory portion of a new game, which drags down the immersion from the start.
There are also a few smaller bugs here and there—no text appearing during a scene, and so forth—but those are the big issues. Given the remarkably high price point, I recommend anyone who’s on the fence about King of Dragon Pass to wait until the bugs have been fixed before buying. But if you think you can get past the glitches, then fork over a Hamilton and get ready to embark on the greatest adventure your phone’s ever seen.
Despite some terrible bugs, the glory of Orlanth shines through in this engrossing mobile port.