Recently, I have had the (at times dubious) honour of reviewing many Vampire Survivor clones, and to be honest, most games of this type that I have played have been bland, poorly optimised, overpriced, and in almost every case, a worse game than Vampire Survivor itself.
If a developer aspires to latch onto the success of another title, they must do at least two of the following: be better, be cheaper, and, most importantly, be unique.
Unfortunately, almost every Vampire Survivors clone fails to follow these three simple rules. That is until I tried Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood, which, while failing two of the three rules (it is more expensive and isn’t a better game than Vampire Survivors), it barely fails on both, and most importantly it is unique and offers a gameplay experience that while not superior to Vampire Survivors, is very close to equaling it.
This alone is huge; finally, after dozens of unoptimised and overpriced Vampire Survivors clones, we have a title that has a real chance of being a real rival to the market leader.
Being able to recruit a diverse group of mercenaries and do battle with swarms of enemy combatants as a unit is incredibly rewarding, and while this system does have its flaws(which I will expand upon shortly), it offers Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood the slim, but unmissable chance of establishing itself as the market leader of a new army-based variation of the Vampire Survivor formula.
The mercenary system is fantastic, and being able to recruit hundreds of mercenaries and equip them with unity gear that changes their appearance is fantastic; however, this means players will be forced to spend excessive time in various menus equipping, upgrading, and healing their units.
While this would be manageable if it were a few units, trying to manage 100+ units is a nightmare that results in stuttering gameplay and players being forced to pause the game multiple times per minute during later stages of each round.
Fortunately, this problem is possible to address in a way that has been used by various JRPGs for decades, allowing players to assign each companion (mercenary) a custom or default class and granting players the ability to upgrade units and equip armour, with armour and equipment being automatically assigned to mercenaries based on their class.
In addition, the best way to acquire new equipment is via chests, but unfortunately, this too results in a pause screen while players click or drag the items to their inventory; in a game like this, such action should be automatic, and honestly, auto loot, when combined with auto equip, and custom classes (when combined with the already implemented custom formations), would make Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood one of the best indie games of the year, and set it on course to become as iconic and popular as titles such as Rimworld, Factorio, and of course Vampire Survivors.
Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood, upon entering early access, is not a game in the traditional sense of the word; with no form of progress nor mission type beyond random endless runs, there is no real gameplay beyond seeing how long you can survive.
While this foundation is rock solid, I feel it is too early to call Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood a game at this time; that being said, it is fairly priced, and if the developer can incorporate basic survival objectives (let alone their planned story mode), Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood will be very successful, assuming it gets the publicity it needs for the wider gaming community even to be aware of its existence.
Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood looks fantastic and performs very well on a wide variety of hardware, something which is critical in an action roguelike.
While many of the sprites appear to be from asset packs, the map is well designed, and honestly, asset store assets or not, the unit selection is impressive, and the ability to customise the player-controlled mercenaries is very impressive for an indie title of this scale and price point.
Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood is a action rogue-like video game developed and published by Insane Dreamers, it was released on 4 October 2023 and retails for $6.29.
Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood is available exclusively on PC.
The following peripherals are officially supported:
Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood is unrated and contains the following:
While Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood is very light on content upon entering early access, the foundations are solid, and if the developer makes enough sales to ensure that development continues at a good pace throughout the entirety of its time in early access, Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood could very well become the first Vampire Survivors clone to have a legitimate chance of rivalling and possibly surpassing Vampire Survivors.
Does Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood have a good chance of unseating Vampire Survivors as king of the genre? No, but the fact it has a chance at all of doing so is very exciting. I am saying this as a huge fan of Vampire Survivors and someone who hopes it, and by extension the entire action roguelike genre, continues growing, encouraging established and upcoming developers to develop new titles in the same genre.
Whatever happens over the next 12-18 months, Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood has shown the gaming world the first glimpses of yet another action roguelike genre, and one that one will, way or another, influence the future of the genre even if Mercenaries Of The Kingdom: First Blood is not the game that will see the concept through to the finish line.