Kingdom of Loathing: A Snarky Browser-Based MMO for Snarky Nerds
Kingdom of Loathing is a parody MMO by Asymmetric Publications. It has run constantly since early 2003 until today. I first played Kingdom of Loathing in late 2005. Its addictive nature and surreal humor helped me out during a hard time in my life when my family members kept kicking the bucket. Saber-toothed limes, Fallen Archfiends, bugged bugbear familiars, Meat Loaf and Silence of the Lambs references; this is a surreal and perplexingly game, much like the Mother series.
Gameplay involves exploring places, turn-based combat, getting loot, and grinding out levels. But what separates it from the pack is its peculiar humor, unorthodox method of progression, and complete lack of fees or advertising. This is an online game where “The Ghost of the English Language” appears and requires you to pass a test of your basic grammar skills before you can chat with other players. If you like the sound of that, Kingdom of Loathing is the game for you.
There are six available classes, and not all of them are made equal. The Muscle classes are definitely easier to play than Mysticality and Moxie, especially on your first run. Don’t worry, though, because you’re not stuck in any of them permanently; you have all sorts of options available to you and you will never be pigeonholed into any particular role.
There are two specific mechanics that make Kingdom of Loathing more addictive than oxygen: a limited amount of “adventures” given per day, and ascension. The former is the tried-and-maddeningly-true principle of tantalizing someone by giving them a taste of something they enjoy without letting them bask in unlimited amounts of it. The latter ensures that after the main quest is completed, the game can be restarted as a new character class but with some of the benefits of the previous character you “ascended” with. You may recognize both of these as coming from mid-90s BBS games such as Legend of the Red Dragon. Limited adventures keep you coming back every day for a new fix and ascensions keep you coming back for years to come. It’s a fantastic business model that also makes for excellent gameplay; a true rarity in the gaming business.
After ascension, you are in “ronin” for a time, meaning you have access to all of the skills you learned last time as well as a limited amount of daily withdrawals from your item banks. Don’t like the sound of that? Go to casual mode, where there are no restrictions but also no rewards. Or you can go hardcore, Bad Moon, or even beyond for the crazy good loot. Kingdom of Loathing is extremely flexible to player’s needs, and you won’t feel left out whether you’re a stupid casual or a spergy tryhard.
There is an overwhelming amount of content available, and it updates on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis with even more. The elementary nature of the art and gameplay makes it easy to create new areas, enemies, items, and skills. Every year for Christmas there is an even greater bounty of new stuff for the legendary “Crimbo” ingame holiday. But at level 1 with a new account, you won’t be able to see it all immediately, so there’s little chance of you being overwhelmed. The two dudes in charge of the game have made Kingdom of Loathing very accessible despite it having almost a decade of a backlog of things for you to find.
Some of the content is available for a limited time, further encouraging players to sink into the game and let it permeate their psyche. There’s a wiki that you can use to spoil the thousands of things you can discover or to improve your builds for speedruns or item/meat farming. There’s even a nice program if you just want help grinding. But if you like figuring things out on your own, there’s a gargantuan amount of content available, all of it accompanied by paragraphs of snide commentary on the ridiculousness of what you’re encountering with a reference to Wesley Willis thrown into the mix. It’s such a refreshing mix of quality and quantity.
Aside from regular enemies there are many boss battles, some of which are maddening puzzles that would make Roberta Williams proud. I admit to using Google the first time I got to the Naughty Sorceress’s Tower and had to face a vicious globe monster (Kill it with an NG item, a reference to They Might Be Giants) and my own shadow. (A possible reference to The Adventure of Link? Who knows what was going through Jick and/or Mr Skullhead’s heads when they wrote that bit.)
Collect food and booze (or, bizarrely, “spleen” items) to get stat increases, buffs, or additional adventures per day. Or concentrate on getting rad equipment to improve your killing abilities. Player vs. player is present, too; it’s optional and deliberately designed to prevent griefing. Instead of simply pitting players against one another in combat, they engage in various contests of matching stats. And, of course, there is much unique phat loot to be found in doing so. There is such a gargantuan amount of content available for you to Loathe. I’ve still seen never seen another player equipped with an Ultra Rare.
Simplistic stick figure art as a replacement for more detailed work has been around since Neanderthals failed to keep up with Homo Sapiens’ killing abilities. Kingdom of Loathing’s stark, basic stickmen can not only be created very quickly to match the pace of the release of new content, but they offer more personality than, say, XKCD’s. Maybe because they actually have little faces and aren’t stalking their best friend’s wife.
The rudimentary art conveys all of the information necessary to understand what’s going on. The text is primarily there for comedy. And if you don’t appreciate that comedy, the gameplay is good enough to stand on its own.
Kingdom of Loathing uses frames. In the 21st century. This is perhaps another wacky ironic throwback to old internet tropes, but it surprisingly makes sense given the HTML programming and the amount of information thrown at you at one time. One frame has your current location/adventure/combat info with its accompanying comedic text, and the others with relevant character information, the weather (which has gameplay effects), and chat. And the Kingdom has a great community. If you ask for help, they’ll stop whatever they’re doing to give you advice. Try that on most video game forums or ingame chats and you’ll just get called a dumb gay gypsy for your trouble. But KoL fans are chill as can be.
Oh, and KoL has a huge history of lore, rumors, urban legends, and all the other rich heritage of malarkey you’d expect from such a long-running game. There was at one point a bug wherein players could acquire nearly infinite meat (the ingame currency), but instead of just taking it all away and potentially angering players, they introduced “meatsinks” where loophole abusers could spend their easy-earned cash on ludicrously overpriced items. This is a great symptom of the positive attitude that Jick and Mr Skullhead have, not to mention their obvious appreciation for their fans.
Kingdom of Loathing is an entertaining and creative game. I don’t even particularly like MMOs, but this one has stood out amongst its bland fantasy brethren. Give it a shot and buy a Mr. Accessory if you like what you see. Loathing is a labor of love that is truly exceptional in this world of shameless corporate cash-ins, big name snoozefests, and indie ephemera.