Sandbox RPGs such as Battle Brothers and Mount & Blade: Warband are few and far between. At least, good ones are. These games often task players with managing a company of soldiers and completing quests/contracts/missions for cold hard cash, most of which require players to go some place and kill some people.
Dead Monarchy is no different; it puts players in charge of a company of soldiers in a low-fantasy world, completing contracts in order to build up wealth and improve their company’s skills. In this sense, Dead Monarchy is similar to Battle Brothers, though its tactical turn-based combat takes place in a 3D environment.
Dead Monarchy’s story and world are fairly fitting and set the tone well, though the story is somewhat lacking after the initial exposition that’s given at the start of the game. It should be noted that this front-loaded lore is somewhat tempting to skip past, as it’s displayed as a large wall of text before the game has even begun.
However, Dead Monarchy’s story is clearly not its sole focus, and the effort made to set a solid toneand atmosphere for the game is admirable.
Dead Monarchy mostly revolves around taking on contracts at larger hub towns. These contracts, at least in the first three to four difficulties, come in two basic forms: kill contracts and fetch contracts. Kill contracts are what they sound like. They task the player with going to a location and killing everybody there. These contracts are dramatically more fun than the latter; fetch contracts task players with either purchasing a set amount of resources from the outposts scattered across the world, or finding a series of items. When compared to contracts in games like Battle Brothers, Dead Monarchy is relatively lacking in this department.
My main issue is that Dead Monarchy’s combat is its biggest selling point, and many of these contracts don’t require any combat encounters. By comparison, most of the contracts in Battle Brothers require combat to complete: destroy an enemy camp, protect a civilian settlement, escort a caravan, hunt down a dangerous beast. Even simple cargo delivery in Battle Brothers often results incombat thanks to the game’s roaming mobs. If Dead Monarchy’s gameplay focused more on consistently providing the player with meaningful combat encounters, I feel that the game would be more frequently engaging.
As I walked to and fro, completing contracts and improving my party, I couldn’t help but feel as though Dead Monarchy’s gameplay loop would have been tighter if the entire game were much, much faster. Furthermore, the game’s environments are extremely repetitive, making it hard to recognize any parts of the world. While Dead Monarchy is a low-fidelity project made by a single developer, I can’t help but feel as though a few landmarks scattered across the world and a set of different props for certain zones of the map wouldn’t go amiss. With all that said, the developer has informed me that roaming mobs are on their way to the game via a free update, which should hopefully make Dead Monarchy’s world feel less empty.
Despite all of my problems with Dead Monarchy’s gameplay loop and over-world exploration, the game’s combat is its greatest strength. While it’s certainly brutal, Dead Monarchy’s combat is a tactical experience. The game’s combat uses an AP system in which each side takes all their turns at once, with most of the strategy revolving around flanking, high ground, and the tactical use of skills. While it wasn’t apparent right away, this combat became more engaging as I expanded my company and began to unlock new skills.
However, the truth of the matter is that Dead Monarchy’s combat is not nearly as frequent as it should be, at least in my eyes; too often was I deprived of combat for long stretches of time while I traveled from one point to the next. However, combat, as well as the over-world exploration, can be sped up in the options menu by checking ‘Faster Movement’ and ‘Faster Combat’, which dramatically improves the overall experience.
Unfortunately, Dead Monarchy is so often slowed down by the rest of its gameplay mechanics, primarily the act of walking across large spans of land without combat (though, again, checking ‘Faster Movement’ dramatically helps with this). Dead Monarchy also features a “Company Morale” system that must be managed, or else party members will live under poor conditions. However, these conditions are never explained, and there’s no way to see what in particular is causing the lack of morale.
When a party member leaves, the game mentions that they may have left due to a lack of money or food. However, I once had my “Company Morale” stuck at 0% despite having more than enough gold to pay the Company’s wages and more than enough food to feed them. It wasn’t until I realized that certain foods and morale-boosting treats such as beer and cheese need to be used manually that I managed to improve my Company’s morale. A tool-tip that explains the reductions to Company Morale is severely lacking, and an option to automatically use morale-boosting items when Morale reaches 0% would be mightily appreciated.
Dead Monarchy’s character progression and customization are some of the biggest reasons to give it a chance over games like Battle Brothers. Dead Monarchy’s perk system is massively freeing, allowing players to deeply strategize and customize each and every party member. However, this level of customization also opens players up to making mistakes when constructing their team, which can have a huge knock-on effect on the rest of a playthrough. While this isn’t necessarily a negative, beginners to turn-based RPGs should be aware of the game’s inaccessibility.
Regardless, the character progression of Dead Monarchy and the power creep that players will begin to feel as they level up their Company are satisfying and rewarding systems that add a lot of depth and replay value to the experience.
While it’s true that Dead Monarchy’s visuals leave something to be desired, the low-fidelity old- school 3D environments and characters suit me perfectly fine. However, the game’s animations arerelatively rudimentary and, as mentioned, the over-world map and environments are somewhat repetitive.
My main issue with Dead Monarchy is its horrendous user interface. Character perks are particularly rough, with large icons that take up a lot of the screen but do little to display whether or not they’ve actually been unlocked. What shocked me most about this is that locked skills in Dead Monarchy are not greyed or faded out, instead displaying unlocked skills with a different outline. This isn’t a deal-
breaker, but it’s consistently irritating and makes the game harder to read at a glance.
Sound & Music
Dead Monarchy’s sound effects are perfectly fitting, though they lack variety. Furthermore, some sounds can feel a little unbalanced. The game’s music is fine, but it’s nothing to write home about. My biggest irk with the music is how repetitive its loops are, and after a couple of hours, I had already turned it off. However, none of this prevented me from enjoying the game, it just made the lack of polish feel more apparent.
Performance & Settings
Dead Monarchy does not perform well. The game consistently jitters during the over-world, though via a quick dive through the Steam forums, I managed to discover that hiding the over-world UI should reduce this jitter. Although, even after hiding the UI, the game still stuttered consistently for me.
However, Dead Monarchy is also riddled with loading screens. This is especially notable when switching from the over-world to the map, which triggers a loading screen, and closing the map, which also triggers a loading screen. This becomes a massive problem when Dead Monarchy continuously tasks players with venturing across the map, making checking the map a mandatory task.
There are also a multitude of loading screens when interacting with the vendors and NPCs in the game’s main Cities, where players will be spending most of their time. This gets annoying really fast, but Dead Monarchy actually has an option to circumvent these loading screens; in the game’s options menu, players can check ‘Quick Interactions’ to access all options in the Cities without wading through loading screens. Why ‘Quick Interactions’ isn’t enabled by default, I have no idea.
One last note is that I did encounter what appeared to be a serious bug that forced me to restart my game. This happened in the deployment phase of combat, during which the deployment zone disappeared and essentially soft-locked me.
Furthermore, Dead Monarchy features a pause feature when exploring the over-world map, but pausing in-game time also prevents the use of any UI elements, including the map and actual pausemenu. While this doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way, it’s extremely irritating.
My thoughts on Dead Monarchy are relatively conflicted. On one hand, Dead Monarchy is a tactical experience packed with high levels of customization and strategy, all made by a single dedicated indie developer. But on the other hand, Dead Monarchy is extremely janky, packed with small annoyances and severely lacking many quality of life features.
Although at its low price point I can still recommend Dead Monarchy to hardcore fans of tactical sandbox RPGs, players should go into the experience aware of the game’s shortcomings. In reality, Dead Monarchy should still be in Early Access, as it does not come across as a finished game. It’s simply lacking in too many areas, despite the fact that the one thing it isn’t lacking is content.
However, if players treat this like an Early Access title and manage to grind past the game’s slow-start, Dead Monarchy has some satisfying systems under its hood that reward players for their patience. Furthermore, the developer behind Dead Monarchy is still actively working on the game, and updates seem to be fairly regular. With another year or so of updates, Dead Monarchy could really be something special, but until then, I recommend it only to those who can look past the game’s low quality of life.
For those that do decide to take a chance on Dead Monarchy, I recommend turning on ‘Quick Interactions’, ‘Faster Combat’, and ‘Faster Movement’ in the game’s options menu. Trust me, it results in a faster-paced experience that makes some of the game’s more tedious moments less frustrating.
Thank you to the dedicated developer behind Dead Monarchy, Kevin Zhang, for providing us with a review key.