Thanks to dating app Tinder, swiping left and right on phones has become a daily ritual for many. So, it’s interesting to see that a mechanic that is so synonymous with online dating, swiping left to deny and swiping right for approval, being used in a video game. That’s the core hook to Reigns, a PC and mobile title by Nerial that has players swiping not to hook up, but to rule over an entire kingdom.
When I started up Reigns, I was expecting the game to be filled with different moral dilemmas. It is, and I was often presented with difficult choices to make, such as deciding if the army or the villagers deserved food after a poor year of harvest. That said, it quickly becomes apparent that Reigns is more of a balancing act than anything else.
There are four meters to keep track of: religion, village, army, and money. If any of these meters are depleted, it’s game over. Most of the time the deaths in the game make sense; if I didn’t have an army backing my kingdom, then it’s only natural that a neighboring country would invade. However, the game also punishes players if a bar is filled completely, so it’s completely possible to have too much of a good thing.
After a few hours of play, I lost track of how many times I ended up dying due to throwing a fancy party and choking on cake. That’s the result of having too much money (which is a problem I’d love to have in real life). So, I quickly adapted my play style and started spending money whenever I had a surplus. I quickly stopped ruling as I actually would in real life, and started treating Reigns like the give and take it really is.
Death comes quickly in Reigns, and it’s not uncommon to die after just a few years on the throne. That’s fine, as a new king is then declared and the game picks up where it left off. It’s really not unlike Rogue Legacy, as death is just a part of the core gameplay loop and isn’t something to be dismayed at. It’s also worth noting that the same characters are around for the thousands of years you’ll play. It doesn’t always make a ton of sense from a narrative perspective, but the sense of familiarity does help gameplay-wise.
One thing that Nerial does a great job of is adding a lot of variety to the repetitive process of swiping left and right. These mechanics are used to simulate combat and there are even parts of the game where it plays like a dungeon crawler. The versatility of allowing players to choose one of two actions really shines here, and Nerial also does a great job of keeping things feeling fresh by introducing mechanics such as old age. The game shows how difficult it is to rule when your mental well-being is rapidly declining. It plays with linguistic drift, and the text on cards become difficult to read and only a few words can be understood.
There’s also a great sense of progression as your choices often lead to new characters getting introduced to the game. As such, new cards are added, and more scenarios are presented. These additions stick with you permanently, so I always had access to these new characters after I would inevitably die. Ultimately, it just feels good to have had a lasting impact during your rule and feel like it wasn’t completely fruitless.
Generation after generation the endgame stays the same: defeat the devil. It’s a large task (and one that players will have to use their wits to solve), but there are dozens of smaller goals to accomplish before you defeat Satan himself. Intelligently, Reigns lists three vague goals, such as “start a crusade” or “recruit the spy,” in the corner of the screen at all times. This adds a sense of direction into the game, and always encouraged me to try new things. I never would get into the slave trade on my own accord, but I might as well swipe right and see what it does, right?
In a way, the simple mechanic of swiping left and right began to desensitize myself from the decisions I was making. Sure, it’s only a video game, but it was pretty jarring how easily I was able to switch my way of thinking. Once I realized that I don’t have to see the aftermath of my decisions, it became very easy to make people starve. After all, I’m just making sure this meter goes down. After some time, it made me think a lot about the struggles of actual elected officials, and if they ever begin to treat the real world like I started to treat this virtual one.
Despite this, Reigns always has a lighthearted tone to it. Sure, my remains got fed to a bunch of dogs, but about 10 minutes later I had entered a risqué relationship with a pigeon. There’s an enjoyable sense of humor that keeps the darker undertones at bay, and one that makes its horrible deaths fun to see.
No matter if you swipe left or right, you’ll probably end up dead in Reigns. A brand new start is just moments away, and that’s the brilliance of the game. No matter how many failed attempts at leadership, I always thought I was just a few more tries away from doing something meaningful. This is a steal at $2.99 and will gladly keep players busy during commutes or entertained for longer play sessions at home.
This review is based on the PC version, which we were provided with.
Reigns provides hours of entertainment for a cheap price. Presenting more of a balancing act than a moral dilemma, it can be equally as satisfying as it is frustrating at times. One thing it always does, though, is it keeps players interested.