Reigns: Her Majesty
Developed by: Neriel
Published by: Devolver Digital
Release date: 12/07/2017
Available on: Apple App Store, Google Play (Android), Steam (PC/Mac/Linux)
Reviewed on: Google Play (Android) (Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge)
The following contains some gameplay and minor story/premise spoilers
Reigns, the popular, satirical, choose your adventure-type game, returns in the form of a stand-alone spin-off affair, this time putting you in the shoes (or heels?) of a newly-married and imported Queen.
For the uninitiated, Reigns: Her Majesty, like the original, is an adventure game with mechanics inspired by dating apps like Tinder, in which you assume the role of a ruler (this time around, a Queen, while the original had you take the role of a King) stuck in a cyclic re-birth scheme. To succeed, one must learn from the mistakes of their ancestors.
To play, you swipe either left or right when faced with a card from a deck. Each card represents a character and a coordinating decision to be made. These decisions lead to outcomes that, in turn, lead to additional choices and resulting outcomes added to the deck you must face later. You can’t just blindly swipe, however, with the hopes that everything will turn out OK. It won’t.
An inventory, and with an item evolution and management system, is a new addition that adds another layer of complicated to how you end up interacting with characters and situations present by the cards.
While making all decisions, your first goal is to balance the level of happiness reflected in the four pillars that make up your kingdom: The Church, the People, the Army and the Treasury.
Most importantly, you also have to figure out a way to break the cycle of re-birth—in the case of the original Reigns, the breaking out part was pretty literal; a curse to overcome. In Reigns: Her Majesty, your purpose for ending the cycle isn’t exactly all that obvious; something not cryptic in the positive, fun, puzzle sense either. This is where it all starts tumbling a bit, and the issues with Her Majesty start becoming apparent.
Perhaps it’s the linearity of the narrative this time around– not in scale, but in scope– that makes Her Majesty not as interesting as the first game.
In the first game, your choices felt more open and the world around you felt expansive. As a result, things felt like they were at actual stake, propelling your desire to stick around to see what happens. Sure, selfishness is the name of the game (outside of the actual name of the game), but that selfishness is something you had to struggle with to achieve your goals.
The balancing act of the four pillars from the first Reigns is still here, but only seems to exist in a very shallow, “it’s here because it was there in Reigns 1” way.
There isn’t a meaningful point to it as a game mechanic outside of making sure the Queen doesn’t end up dead so you can keep playing the game. Ultimately, it just feels like a game-over interruption rather than the learning experience it was previously.
The narrative and dialogue within the game is a bit confused and can’t decide exactly what it wants to be. The original takes historical trivia and factoids, medieval folklore and beliefs, and makes it all act out comedically within a modern retrospective, all while still respecting history (not dissimilar to the Hark a Vagrant! webcomic). The narrative in Her Majesty, however, oversteps into very thinly-veiled social media/Twitter-age, vaguely, political diatribes that do not feel like they belong.
That isn’t to say that a game exploring those themes can’t be done, and done well, but it’s rather off-topic when compared to the nuances of the original and the real-life history and folklore it drew from. The execution here in Her Majesty cheapens the atmosphere laid out by Reigns, especially when the humor stems from a specific bubble of forced current events and Internet culture coupled with a misunderstanding of Paganism (which fails to be funny “ironically”, as a result)
The choices I made in the game, fortunately, shielded me from additional cringey moments and outcomes, I’m wholly surprised that I didn’t come across characters “ironically” spewing words like “woke”, “bae” or, I shudder to imagine, “yass”. It wouldn’t have seemed at all out of place with the kind of humor Her Majesty tries to pursue.
At its core, the fundamental gameplay ideas of the original game that made it a fun, intelligent and enjoyable experience are still there in this sequel.
You can still find some enjoyment if you chose to ignore the lack of depth of the overall story and think of the game as a meandering but ambitious fan-made mod for the original Reigns base-game.
Treating the game as such, tuning out what should be its core driving force, might seem counter-intuitive to the whole point the game sets out to make, but there you have the conundrum of Reigns: Her Majesty. I still have the first Reigns installed on my phone, and I’m sure to go back to that instead of continuing with its pseudo-sequel.