Mindless Tapping Not Included
Prepare your swords, shields, bows, potions, and gaming fingers, because Unknown Knights isn’t going to allow you to be lazy. Teamarex brings action, strategy, and roguelike elements to a high stakes player-driven story, accompanied with hand-drawn graphics and a killer soundtrack involving a haunting combination of piano, drums and guitar that does an exemplary job of setting the stage for the road ahead.
Unknown Knights favors real-time combat over turn-based, with a dose of claustrophobic map design. Knights can parry, negating damage that could have killed them, but the move requires you to throw your shield up at the right time. Can’t parry? The knights’ shields reduce oncoming damage. Is it raining? Use the weather to your advantage, such as Shock Arrows. Normally, Shock Arrows will stun, but if it’s raining, they’ll stun as well as call lightning down on the heads of your enemies. Weather can turn the tide of battle.
The leveling system is fluid. How you follow an upgrade path can determine your playstyle. Upgrading damage isn’t the only concern, but how knights function as well. For example, I beefed up my frontline knights to withstand damage, rather than dish it out. I then dumped my damage upgrades into my archers. While my swordsmen acted as a bulwark, my archers decimated the field with a hail of arrows.
Knights also have backgrounds. This deepens combat further by giving knights an element of specialization. For example, if one knight has a history of being a treasure hunter, they can open locked chests you find on your journey. Knights can gain bonuses from being placed in the back row as an archer, rather than the frontline, offering perks such as additional magic arrows or bomb arrows. Others come with expertise in speechcraft, helping the group escape unnecessary fights or pocket some additional gold for completing a quest. It’s hard to know who to thank during encounters, as the developers chose to paint your party a white silhouette during your travels. It completely removes the option to play favorites. Against the dark skies, every man is important and none stand above the rest.
A Dash of Roguelike
Like all roguelikes, Unknown Knights is characterized by its randomness. The make-up of the map, the encounters, even outcomes will be different from the last. At the start of the game, you’re given three knights. Two of the knights are random, with the third being somewhat random. The game asks a question and the answers are knights you can choose.
Combat is the most active part of the game, and if you aren’t paying attention, you will die. But that isn’t the end. Before the start of a new game, you can choose a Relic. These Relics are available after the first time you bite the dust. They can provide small, but meaningful bonuses, such as an additional knight at the start of a new game or Mythril, which you’ll need plenty of for upgrades.
And can I just say, Teamarex deserves a pat on the back for keeping microtransactions out of their game. The value behind Relics is something big name mobile publishers would have monetized in heartbeat. It’s a breath of fresh air knowing I can unlock content by simply playing the game. Who would’ve thought?
A Home Run Here, a Bunt There
The combat is by far the juiciest part of what Unknown Knights has to offer and, in my book, is worth the price of admission alone. The story, on the other hand, is by no means terrible—a serviceable fantasy story, à la Lord of the Rings. You know, another Dark Lord needs to be destroyed. It’s enough to add context to your actions.
Then there’s the fatigue mechanic which leaves a lot to be desired. As you travel the map your fatigue builds up, indicated by the bar in the upper-left corner. If your party experiences too much, knights can take damage or worse, they’ll leave. It builds up too quickly and I felt it was a bit too punishing. You do find locations to rest at, such as fairie gardens and inns, but the former can result in an encounter. I had a fatigued party and chose to rest at a fairie garden. Before my group could sleep, my party was killed by a pack of zombies. It felt cheap, to say the least.
My final gripe is with the unit AI. You can’t control where arrows land, nor can you direct your frontline knights to a specific target. I would much rather have the ability to command my knights to prioritize certain mobs rather than leave it to AI. For a strategy game, that is a bona fide misstep.
It’s Worth Every Penny
Unknown Knights offers a lot of depth in its combat for the price it’s asking. This is further compounded with hidden bosses, achievements, relics to collect and choices that provide unique outcomes—both good and bad.
Due to its roguelike elements and upgrades, there’s so much replayability that I feel I need to buy the game twice, just to justify what I get out of it. The game earned its spot on the Top 10 list of 2019’s Google Indie Game Festival, as well as my personal list. It’s a serious contender as one of the best Android strategy games to date. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Dark Lord to vanquish.
Is it Hardcore?
Unknown Knights is what you get when passion meets game development. Combat is challenging and deep, with several moving parts that require quick thinking and strategy. Manage your resources and your loyal knights, and they will take you to the doorstep of the Dark Lord’s tower. All of that without a whiff of in-app purchases.