Platform: iOS, Android

The decidedly Arthurian aesthetic of popular free-to-play iOS title Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North naturally encourages a comparison to the Romantic fiction of Tolkien. That is Romantic in the traditional sense though, in which the tales of high deeds are only outmatched by the high speech of the characters, which form the basis of the in-game dialogue of Kingdoms of Camelot. It therefore seems inevitable that with the upcoming film adaptation of The Hobbit and the soon to be torrential flood of multi-media tie-ins, a licensed title based on the popular Kabam! mobile title would make an appearance at some point for a quick buck. And a quick buck it makes indeed, since The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-Earth, available for iOS and Android, remains identical to the previous title in every sense but name.

For those unfamiliar with Kingdoms of Camelot, the game is a derivative of RTS that removes a direct combat element and replaces it with a more simple ‘send troops and await victory or destruction’ approach. However, before sending off your mighty army to glorious conquest, the player must build and prepare their city by researching weapons, training troops, producing resources and taxing citizens for gold. Kingdoms of Middle-Earth then, is an addictive experience, in which you end up lustily accumulating wealth and levelling up all buildings and research equipment in order to unlock all possible types of troops. This ultimately builds up your ‘Might’ number, a numerical representation of your military strength, but you play in constant fear of attack from other online players in which if the assailant is successful, diminishes your number to zero and reduces your hard earned stock of gold to empty. In many examples, this experience is nothing short of emasculating, leaving the player a frustrated wreck whose only solace is in the intention of reclaiming the hard earned treasure.

PhotobucketAs your city progresses, earning resources and gold becomes less of a chore, in which production becomes swifter, and the ability to capture ‘Wilds’ on the world map adds a percentage bonus to that overall production. Likewise, it is also possible to exert your broken masculinity and counter-attack an assailant in order to reclaim your lost resources, but in most cases it proves easier to simply steal from a weak and poorly defended city. The rule of picking on someone your own size is, sadly, a lost cause in the case of Kingdoms of Middle-Earth. This is mostly encouraged by the inclusion of alliances in the game, in which it is possible to ally yourself with other friends in order to provide relief, resources and protection. However, this results in huge alliances with a massive amount of Might behind them, in which it becomes impossible to defend yourself from or counter attack multiple assaults from a series of players from the same alliance. It’s like the medieval version of a gang-bang.

There are ways to deal with this, including items that temporarily protect you from attacks for a few hours, as well as one that moves your city to a different location on the world map. The emphasis on player identification through co-ordinates, rather than name means the latter item can be very useful when receiving a barrage of gold-horny assaults, often providing enough secrecy for the player to recuperate and hopefully build up a force to defend themselves. However, the whole experience of Kingdoms of Middle-Earth is based around luck. While it is possible to use items and specific war units to your advantage, it becomes an entirely whimsical game in which no matter how much you build up your Might, there will always be someone more devoted to the game with an entire alliance of highly committed friends to back them up. The only way to get ahead in the game is, lo-and-behold, by using your pounds sterling to gain special upgrades and items that give a distinct advantage to production and speed.

While watching your city grow and Might develop is rather satisfying, the sudden and relentless depletion of your army encourages the conclusion that Kingdoms of Middle-Earth, like its predecessor, is an incredibly fickle game that requires money, rather than skill or strategy, to succeed. This new The Hobbit inspired adaptation adds nothing new or interesting to the game, but uses the iconography and character of the Jackson films to capitulate on a flawed game and gain new players to its fanbase. It ultimately points out the irritating flaw of the majority of free-to-play games, in which it requires money to do anything of note.