As retro throwbacks go, Knights of Pen & Paper goes back about as far as you can in the Role Playing Game genre. This isn’t just about graphics, narrative and gameplay, but about stepping out of the video gaming world and into that of pen and paper RPGs. Except it’s still a video game.
Just as in the original game that arrived on mobile and PC back in 2012, Knights of Pen & Paper 2 has you take control of a whole party of RPG players as they literally sit across the table from the DM and go on an adventure. Along the way, it pokes fun at pretty much every single game and pop culture reference it can get away with, while pitting you against plenty of enemies as you journey through the world.
It even pokes fun at itself, as you start a new game and take control of a player whose character has already hit level 100 and features all sorts of wards and weapons that excel at taking down the end game character that the DM throws at him. But what’s this? It turns out the character was created using the newer and more powerful second edition rules, while the DM just wants to play the first edition.
It’s a running theme throughout the early parts of the game, as he boots out this overpowered veteran and inducts his friends to create new characters and play. The realm of Paperos is beset by the excessive influence of more powerful characters that are wreaking havoc where they don’t belong. The village’s summoning circle, the portal through which new players can enter the world, is damaged, a nearby chest in a dungeon is being farmed for all it’s worth, and so on. Those dastardly second editioners!
There’s plenty of returning gags and wheezes though, with Default Village replaced by Spawn Point Village, and nearby locales given such delightfully generic names as ‘Big Town’, ‘Nameless Bridge’ – under which a troll lives – and ‘Nearby Cave’. Yet there’s also plenty of new material, with the Vault an homage to Fallout, full of shambling investment bankers who at one point face a kind of Occupy Wall Street movement, though for thoroughly unexpected reasons.
In truth, while KOPP2 protests that it’s the first edition, it’s really evolved into something more than the original game. When picking players, character race and classes, the options available to you have been altered quite significantly. For example, the somewhat overpowered Rogue is no longer there – or at least not available from the off – while the Warrior’s passive and hugely useful ability to heal each turn has been removed. Whether the player is a Goth, Hipster, Cheerleader or whatever also now has an influence on the character’s base stats as well as a unique passive ability, so picking the right combination can lead to a Mage that naturally has more magic points, which always comes in handy.
There’s a wide range of such relatively minor sounding tweaks and changes across the game, which add up to something that feels and plays better. There’s a greater chance of failure, and a little more strategy comes into play during battles, as the back row of enemies can only be reached if those in front are dispatched first, or by way of certain special abilities. Picking which enemy to attack first, so that you’re not forced to use your most powerful character to kill something on the tiniest sliver of health, which to try and stun, and where to place area of effect attacks are all important too.
Then there are changes to rolls of chance when trying to camp and recover after a battle, the occasional decision to be made, rather than always being led through a quest by the DM, and even randomly generated dungeons for you to explore, fight your way through and test your luck with a d20. Perhaps the biggest leap comes from the graphics though.
The original touted a retro 8-bit style, and even the most forgiving out there would admit that the chunky and simplistic visuals could wear a little thin after a while. The jump to a 16-bit style might not draw in those who despise all things with faux retro styling, but it certainly looks a lot better for those who can live with it.
There’s just a lot more finesse and refinement to what’s on show and that sums up Knights of Pen & Paper 2 to a tee. It takes what was a quirky little idea in the original and adds more polish to it on every level, though at its heart, it’s still the same easy-going RPG.