Reigns: Her Majesty
By: Devolver Digital
Last year, the stylish and unique Reigns released, a game designed specifically for touchscreens, where the main controls are simply swiping left or right to make binary decisions. I didn’t review the game, but I still spent a ton of time with it and enjoyed it quite a bit. It utilized a novel idea that felt perfect on iPhone, then threw in a clever story, humorous characters, supernatural craziness, and some tricky meta puzzles. On top of it, there was a high-score chasing aspect to give the game some replay value. While that wasn’t my favorite part of the game, I could appreciate how well it fit in with everything else. It made for an overall enjoyable experience, even when it faltered. The humor and surprises were by far my favorite aspects of the game, so I was thrilled to hear that a sequel was in the works called Reigns: Her Majesty.
For those who haven’t played the original, let me explain a bit how it works. In the first game, you fill the role of a king running a kingdom. A single card is placed in front of you at a time, usually — but not always — in the form of some character. They say something and you usually have two ways to respond, by swiping left or right. You have four factions you need to keep balanced — the church, townsfolk, army, and treasury. When you start to swipe the card either left or right, the game shows you which factions your answer would affect, but it doesn’t tell you whether it will do so positively or negatively. So it’s part deduction, part risk, and part memory if you’ve seen that card before. If any of the factions dips down to 0% or fills up to 100%, your reign ends in a gruesome death, unless you have some sort of item in place that protects you against that particular situation. The goal is to try and last as long as you can, but if you die you’ll just be reborn. That’s your curse. I won’t say much more about that because I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t played.
Besides trying for a high score, there are characters and other cards to unlock, different endings that you get for playing a certain way, and objectives that are like achievements that unlock new cards and help you keep track of how much of the game you’ve seen. Things work pretty much the same way this time around, but you play as the queen — as the title suggests — and there are some other changes and additions that mix things up a bit. But in case you think that it’s just a swap between male and female roles, let me reassure you. The king is still the ruler of the kingdom. You’re his wife, meddling in some things and staying out of others. You’re not exactly in charge, so things feel very different. But I’ll get deeper into that later. Let’s talk about the technical changes first.
The game is a little more accessible this time around. One common complaint with the original was the status effects that increase or decrease a faction over time, instead of per card. For instance, a plague could cause your townsfolk and treasury to start draining every second, no matter what you do. Or you might find the Silk Road and have so much wealth pouring in that you can’t spend it fast enough. This means you’d have to work against the clock to try and keep things balanced, making it more of a hectic game and less relaxing. I had mixed feelings about those, as they did stress me out sometimes, but they also added more excitement. In any case, the developer seems to have listened to players, as you’ll see those effects only on very rare occasions. So if you prefer to relax with your games and take your time with your decision-making, you should be happy with that change. It’s also a bit more forgiving because there’s no time limit on working towards the ending. You can’t miss your chance simply because you’re taking too long to do it. The dueling system has also gotten a makeover in this game and I prefer it this way. They’re more like riddles. I never quite got the hang of the duels in the first game, so I was happy to see it overhauled.
Another major change is the addition of an inventory. There were items in the original game, but they were more passive. If you had them, you could respond accordingly, but you didn’t have control over the items themselves. This time, you collect items that you can then drag to use on different cards. These objects are permanent throughout your game, so you don’t lose them in death. There’s a lot to them that I rather not spoil, but they add a whole new layer to the game. And lest you think you can just force your way through the game by trying every item on every card, the game stops you from doing that. You might not get into too much trouble using the wrong item once in a while, but do it a few times in a row and you’ll wind up dead. It’s an interesting way to prevent the “try inventory items on everything” trick when you get stuck in a point-and-click adventure. If you pay attention to the hints, though, you’ll discover that some items can help you cheat death and achieve a longer reign. I’ve been finding it pretty hard to keep the factions balanced for long, so that was a happy surprise when I discovered it.
But what really makes this game stand out from the original is how unapologetically feminist it is. I’m not going to lie: I absolutely loved that aspect of it. Leigh Alexander is responsible for the writing and it’s both entertaining and relieving to read. As the queen, you’re constantly being told what to do, and you can either comply or be more defiant. For instance, someone might tell you to smile and you have the option to do so or tell them to get lost, basically. Interestingly enough, the townsfolk are happier when you refuse to smile, but the Cardinal won’t be pleased. You also get to decide whether you want to try to get pregnant or push it off. You can take a woman as a lover and even allow your husband, the King, to take a male lover. In fact, there’s a lot of sleeping around and everyone besides the church seems surprisingly ok with it. In general, this is a much more progressive game, though you can choose to support the church if you so desire. I had a really hard time complying with the church this time around, so I think one of my most common deaths was being burned at the stake. It was just too hard to resist giving the Cardinal the middle finger.
I know the writing is the main reason for this, as the church does keep trying to tell the Queen how to behave. Wear more modest clothing, stop funding science and exploration, stop performing witchcraft. I simply won’t have it! It triggered my deep-seated resentment of religion that I acquired after growing up with it and having it control most of my life. I’ve had — and still have — my share of “are you sure you don’t want any kids?” And I got in trouble in my religious high school just for trying to wear shorter sleeves in the summer when I was hot. Or trying to wear pants under my skirt on the way to school in the winter when I had gym as my first class of the day. I absolutely despise pantyhose and would rather freeze to death than wear them, so that seemed like a good compromise to me. But nope. Once I was old enough to escape all these silly rules, I did. That includes the dress code and anything that tells us that men can do things women can’t. So I’m sure a big part of my unwillingness to appease the church in the game is that it really hit home for me and tapped into that deep-seated resentment I have towards religion as a woman. And it’s too much fun to tell them to piss off, remembering all those times when I was younger and couldn’t do so.
Besides offending the church, you get to toy around with other men. A nice chunk of the dialogue is also straight trolling and I love it. Without giving too much away, there’s a sect of anti-feminists that’s obviously meant as a jab at internet trolls and men who throw a hissy fit over things like all-women showings of a female superhero movie. All these little jokes are more fun to discover yourself, so I don’t want to spoil too many of them. If you’re even the slightest bit feminist, you should have a blast with this game. It’s meant for women who are frustrated and the men who respect and sympathize with us. If you’re a man, hopefully your skin is thick enough to enjoy it without getting offended because, for a change, men aren’t the center of the universe.
Considering the state America and the U.K. are in right now, it gave me a much needed laugh and — strange as this sounds — some comfort, some reassurance that I’m not alone. I’ve been mostly using games to distract me from the impending apocalypse and all the things that are being broken by this administration every day. Learning about protections being removed from public parks and open season declared on endangered species again, it’s really hard not to lose all hope in this country and planet. So it’s nice sometimes to have a reminder that I’m not alone and maybe we can laugh at everything, even if it is scary to watch the country plunge back into the Dark Ages. Even if we’re having to fight all over again for our right to an abortion, at least we can laugh at sexists in a game, right? Right?!
I said early on that original faltered sometimes, and the sequel suffers from the same issues. It’s great fun while you’re unlocking new cards and characters. But when it slows down and you’re stuck trying to figure out how to make more progress, it can get repetitive and tedious. You’re at the mercy, to some degree, of the game’s randomness. The game does offer some ways to force certain events to happen, but not all of them are apparent. And even so, you’re often left waiting for a card you need to show up so you can have another (or even just your first) attempt at pushing the story along. Unlike most adventure games, you can’t just look around for what you missed. It’s more similar to a choose your own adventure where if you made the wrong choice, you may have a chance to fix it but only when the game brings that choice back around.
With the first game, I found the story and puzzles more entertaining than trying for a high score, and that hasn’t changed here. I still appreciate that the game has the high score aspect for replay-ability, but for me personally I don’t find the score to be enough of a carrot to keep reading the same cards over and over. I spent a lot of time with it already and did complete the game (with a little bit of help from the developer), but I’m still missing a lot of cards and some characters and deaths. So I will continue playing, but how long I’ll do that for depends on how hard a time I have finding new cards. It bums me out a bit that there’s still a lot of cards I haven’t seen — and may never see — since that’s my favorite part of the series.
I also found some clues a bit too cryptic, and it’s hard to keep track of everything if you don’t constantly take screenshots or jot down notes. Granted, the good ending, like in the first one, is not necessary for enjoying the game and is meant for those who want to put in the effort to get it. But it does take a lot of time, especially if you mess up and have to start over to get it. Also, it might have been nice if messages that were clues would stop showing up after you already solved those puzzles. It’s confusing as is, because it makes it seem like the clue is still important even though it’s not. Perhaps those cards could have been replaced with new ones to remind you of what you have to do next. I also encountered a few bugs while playing, but the game-breaking ones appear to have been squashed already. There are some minor ones left related to achievements that may bother completionists, and I can’t get the high score leaderboards to work, but hopefully those will be fixed soon as well.
Despite these complaints, I still very much recommend Reigns: Her Majesty. It’s got all the charm and humor of the first game, with a heavy dose of feminism. Even if you don’t manage to see everything the game has to offer, you’ll still get plenty of laughs and entertainment out of it. And for those worried about getting opinions shoved down your throat, it’s all tongue-in-cheek and there’s thankfully no direct references to Trump or any of that nonsense, at least not in all the cards I’ve seen. You can also play this one without having played the first, but you will miss out on some small inside jokes. Bottom line is, if you liked the first one, you should be happy with more Reigns. If you haven’t played that yet, this one is more accessible and may be a better place to start. You’ll especially enjoy it if you like sticking it to the man. If all this sounds good to you, stop reading this and grab the game here. You can also watch some gameplay video below.
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