It's been some time since Sandlot's Westward series has graced our screens, but once you get your hands on Westward Kingdoms, all will be forgiven. The latest installment takes things in a different direction, forgoing the old west setting and the casual village simulation gameplay for a medieval setting and casual kingdom simulation gameplay. It's bigger, it's better, and yet it's still familiar to fans of earlier Westward games. Be prepared for much fun to be had!
You start the game as a young prince or princess who receives a note from the king. Unfortunately, it looks like you've been banished. Banished, that is, until you can prove you're worthy of running a kingdom on your own! To prove yourself, you'll travel to three nearby areas and help build them up using your royal intellect. After a lengthy tutorial, you'll learn the ropes of the game, which are largely centered around recruiting soldiers and villagers, and managing your buildings and resources.
Westward Kingdoms guides you with numerous quests given to you by characters you'll encounter during your travels. Little thought bubbles will appear and, once you click on them, your objectives will be listed at the top left corner of the screen. Even though you're a big bundle of royal awesomeness, you can't do all the work yourself. So you'll need to recruit helpers to build structures, harvest resources, and defend the village from barbarians.
The workers have needs, of course, and you'll need to tend to them just as fervently as you do your own supplies. Gold, food, stone and wood are your basic resources, and you'll use these to do just about everything in the game. To harvest gold, you'll need a mine. To actually get the gold from the mine, you'll need villagers to be employed there. And a villager without a home isn't very happy, so you'll need to make sure workers have places to live. The same is true for any resource-harvesting operation, so you'll need to keep your numbers high and workers content to get things done!
Analysis: The first thing you'll notice about Westward Kingdoms: it's not your typical Westward game. The interface is similar, and all games in the series share a quirky sense of humor and visual design (except the original Westward game, which looked quite different). But instead of dealing with bandits, dynamite and settlers, you're in a medieval world with peasants, barbarians, and huts. The gameplay is more open and satisfying as well, encouraging you to manage more aspects of the town than before.
One of the best things about the Westward games has always been the little surprises you discover as you play. Thankfully, this has been preserved in Westward Kingdoms. The gameplay is never run-of-the-mill, and just as you think you've got a handle on things, something new and surprising pops up to keep your interest at a high. No spoilers here, just go see for yourself!
It's good to see the Westward series expanding into new territory, but I can't help but feel that losing the old west theme wasn't the best idea. Very few games (let alone simulations) utilize the western genre, whereas every other simulation game is medievally-themed. Why abandon the originality? Despite the loss of what gave Westward its name, Westward Kingdoms is more of a treat to play than previous titles. Shed your tear for the loss of the old west, shrug your shoulders, then hop right in.
Despite cluttered menus and the loss of a wonderful setting, Westward Kingdoms is a superb addition to the village sim/building genre. It's easy to play, it's rewarding, there are plenty of things to unlock and discover, and it'll make you smile more often than you'd think!