King of Thieves [Free] is a game that shows the problems with review scores, because it exists at two diametrically-opposed extremes. On one hand, it's a remarkably cool concept: it takes auto-running trial platformers and puts it into a Clash of Clans [Free] style raiding system. You can design a dungeon, crafting gems to become more powerful, while trying to keep other players from getting your gems by way of making a dungeon too powerful for them to successfully raid. All the while, you're raiding others and playing through the singleplayer campaign, getting more money, upgrading your stats and traps to be better at raiding and to make raids tougher. But it's a game with a particularly annoying energy system that raises questions about its fairness. It's a game that doesn't go down smooth, particularly if you're not a free-to-play fan.

King of Thieves 1

Essentially, the game is about making it to the goal in each level, as you control a thief who can only really run forward. Said thief will stop at walls and jump up them, with the ability to slide down and jump off, which is their way of turning around. Each level takes place on one screen, so you always know where the enemies and traps are, and can always keep an eye on them as you make it to the end of each level. On its own, while the levels are small and relatively simple, it's a game that's very touch-friendly with consistent physics. As well, it's made by ZeptoLab, and they know production values. For people who tire of free-to-play games that feel like they aren't based on skill, King of Thieves will impress.

King of Thieves has a lot going for it. But problem number one with the game is its lockpicks mechanic. Serving as the primary energy system for the game, it winds up being rather ridiculous Essentially, to play a level in either multiplayer or in the singleplayer campaign that unlocks better dungeons down the road, you have to use a lockpick in order to break the correct lock from among a series of lock in order to play a level. The problem is that the lock which unlocks the level is entirely random with no hints as to which lock is the one that you break into. And the locks quickly become ridiculous: you may have a total of 13 picks to unlock a 9-lock level before you get to level 30 in the singleplayer. It's a system that swiftly descends into self-parody. The multiplayer is a bit more subjective as to how the player has chosen to upgrade their defenses, but it still feels silly.

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While the copious consumption of said picks is bad enough, it wouldn't be so bad if the lockpick system didn't feel so untrustworthy. It felt too often like it would take all of my lockpicks to open up a level, and sometimes one would open up on the first try if I was running low, to coax me to play more. It's a random system that never feels like it's actually random, like too often the game would make me open every single lock before I could play. The game lets you refill your lockpicks for a small amount of premium currency, or watch a video to get 2 more, and it's easy to imagine the system being weighted in such a way that it gets you to watch more ads. I don't mind, and in fact appreciate the the videos are there, and any picked locks will remain picked if you run out of picks. Plus, the picks regenerate at about 15 per hour by default, which isn't awful. But it's not great, because it's a system that actively stands against the player and infuriates them with regularity.

It's a very poor implementation of an energy system, too. I would rather get more opportunities to play in one burst with longer waits. But this is a challenging trial platformer! This is the kind of game built to be played again and again, making me stop playing is kind of against the point! While I understand free-to-play monetization has to run its course, this feels like a bad example of free-to-play, where the gameplay is something that could appeal to even the haters. They just run into an obtrusive system where they can maybe play one level per hour. It is possible to increase both the lockpick production and amount you have with just soft currency, however.

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It's a shame, because this game does a satisfactory job at balancing monetization and pay-to-win fears. You can buy better hazards for your dungeon, but unless you yourself can beat the layout that you yourself made, you're not going to be able to use it. It also ensures that you can't quite make an impossible dungeon. But still, you can buy a better set of traps with hard currency or with a greater amount of soft currency than the default traps. So, it's a balance between the evils of monetization and the joys of player-created content. Granted, the game is somewhat limited because there's only the limited number of traps available per level, so you will learn how the different hazards work - but there's still room for cleverness in the design. Everyone is working from the same blueprints, though.

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The raiding system is a really cool idea because of the customization that each player has, and the idea that you can genuinely steal things from other players by playing well. However, the lottery system to decide if you get their gem is kind of shady because, again, I don't trust the lockpicks to be all that fair, and I don't trust a random spinner where I get more attempts for more hard currency, at an ever-increasing amount. But it's kind of cool and genuine to not have to play with some sort of AI version of an opponent: you're taking on an actual opponent. Of course, it's also very annoying to try and get revenge on an opponent and find that they're currently online when you try to raid them, or find out that someone else is raiding them, which is silly when I should have priority because they literally just attacked me. Joe Schmo can wait. Or finding out someone has a shield when I try to avenge myself. Some warning would be nice. Also, giving up a shield in order to attack someone who can't be attacked is infuriating.

If I seem conflicted about King of Thieves, it's because I really am. We have a game that emphasizes the best and worst of free-to-play. The game has a lot of cool aspects to it, but so much of it also emphasizes the worst things that monetization can bring to the table. If you have a strong distaste for free-to-play, stay far away from King of Thieves. If not, then I really like the concept enough to check it out, even if it's nowhere near perfect yet.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Tim G

    Great article about what I hope will someday be a great game. The core mechanic is awesome but the first time I came across a lock that needed three lock picks to break in the single player mode, I thought the game was glitching by making me watch video after video. You also documented my biggest complaint - giving up my shield to get revenge on someone only to find that they are under a shield themselves! That kind of information should be on the summary screen showing who raided me. C'mob Zepto, you're at the 20 yard line. Make some tweaks and it's a touchdown!

  • InkyTheGhost

    Solid review. There's a lot to enjoy and a lot to dislike. I love the platforming, and creating a tough dungeon. Hate the keys and potions. It's extremely fun to blaze through someone's defenses. I wonder if they made any changes after the soft launch...

  • Goggles789

    That lock pick system sounds terrible.

  • Rhobus

    I disliked the gem combination totems. Once you get a few gems combined you can only keep upgrading the higher value ones, and by then all the free currency to speed through the process is spent out. If anyone invades you while the combination ritual is on, which takes an hour, there's a decent chance you will lose one of your gems. And there's no guarantee that even if you luck out and get revenge right away, that you will be able to get your gem back, because only gems that are being combined can be stolen. Yes, there are outfits you can get to improve odds of stealing the better gem in a totem, but I feel like if you get revenge with a three-star rating you aught to get that gem back.

    • Menel

      Just wait... it takes me 8 hours for a ritual now.

      • http://www.dreampod.com Kevin Y

        Yea 8-10 hours here.

      • Thomas

        12-24 depending on the upgrades

    • Gabriel

      It takes some figuring out, but losing a gem in the ritual can actually be an advantage if you time it right. It allows you to replace it with a higher gem, this way you can 'hide' the good gems and swap them in at the end. There's some depth there.

      • Rhobus

        okay, that's something I missed. thanks!

      • http://www.dreampod.com Kevin Y

        Yea, that strategy works but you have to risk something to move up in league. I'm hesitant to drop in 2000+ gems because it's so easy to lose your shirt.

    • Guest

      Mine takes 8-10 minimum. and if they swipe a 3000 rating gem it causes you to drop a few spots in league.

  • Xandrak

    Nice job summarizing the good and the bad. I want to like the game for the reasons you state, but have quit it because they don't overcome how much I dislike the negatives. Not worth my time.

  • dragon2777

    The game can be great. My biggest issue is that it is way too easy to loose a gem. It takes me 8 hours to combine a gem now and the shield only lasts 40 minutes or so now it used to be a lot less. As soon as the shield runs out I get raided by a ton of people and loose a gem that means at least 8 gems will be lost by me just to combine something. And I have to assume since the totems are only good for a certain amount of combines that when you move into the last dungeon when you combine your last one you have no more space for more gems is that it? All in all I really want to like the game just needs some tweaks

    • anada

      If you are losing gems too often you need to improve your trap layout, sounds like players are breaking through too easily and thus granting them a higher chance of stealing a gem. Also never use the default trap layout, I can't count the number of times I've raided a dungeon, recognised the layout and beat it in one go on memory.

      • Gabriel

        I think losing gems to the other players is part of the game. The way to counter this is to raid other people and steal theirs. Zero sum. If you can get some friends to retrieve your gems once in a while it's a profit. Also, you can raid multiple people in a row but only 1 person can steal your gem as your shield then goes up. All part of the game dynamic.

  • MirriamE

    There's a lot of truth to the concerns raised in this review but the score seems a bit harsh. A game like Crossy Road gets 5 stars which I think is a very shallow and frankly boring game with a very nice presentation compared to this game which is inventive, addictive and has a very cool multiplayer gameplay. You could have docked it half a star for the aggressive monetization but I don't think it helps to demonize game companies for trying to make money. It just fuels the race to the bottom mentality.

    The game never forces you to pay and who says you shouldn't get an advantage in a game if you actually fork over some cash to support the developer. Do you want an app store that is all just free games made by hobbyists or do you want quality games made by developers that can actually afford to feed themselves and have a life?

  • dmn002

    This is the worst (or best?) example of f2p, there's the bare minimum of gameplay followed by an obtrusive energy system and timers. EA would be proud. This is what these apps have become, a way to make users watch endless videos and ads, or wait / pay up. It's ironic that Apple are promoting it alongside the "pay once and play" apps.

  • MasonHurst

    Well at least this formula is out there for another dev to take a stab at doing in a more fair and less frustrating manner. That's if this crew decides NOT to adjust the game as it is... The door is open for another dev to steal the concept if they don't close it fairly quick. Seems appropriate considering the game's theme.

  • anada

    Great article, really does a great job explaining the good and bad of this game. It definitely shows a lot of promise but a few things hold it back. I think watching a video should grant more keys, maybe 50% of your key capacity, or at least bump it up from 2 to 6. Also if a potion is used (aside from the gold multiplier) then the thief shouldn't be able to steal a gem in my opinion. It's a cheap way of beating an otherwise formidable base and they shouldn't be rewarded like someone who was able to 3 star my dungeon using skill alone.
    I'm enjoying this game at the moment so hopefully Zeptolab make a few improvements on the system to keep people keen, because I can see as the game goes on that issues will arise regarding keys. In my campaign the locks have cost 3 keys a pop for awhile now and if that goes up as I advance (to say, 6 keys a lock), then watching an ad for a measly 2 keys is pointless

  • Sven Viking

    The first game that made me strongly wish I could pay for it to avoid all the F2P stuff. Usually they're not fun enough to begin with or the F2P elements aren't as annoying. Still having fun with it for now, but I'm afraid that may change as they ramp up costs and time requirements further in the game.

    I also found that needing to break every single lock becomes the expected thing. It's not every time, but if it's a coincidence or trick of the mind, it's an impressive one.

    "...giving up a shield in order to attack someone who can't be attacked is infuriating."

    My thoughts precisely! Don't break the shield unless you actually raid someone, or add an icon to the revenge list to show who can actually be raided.

  • Dennis

    Great game with tons of charm and potential, ruined by timers and IAP.

  • edMenFer

    After investing the last couple of weeks and close to 50 bucks because I first thought this would be a wonderful pvp platformer, I am deleting it today for the same reasons mentioned in this review and the above comments.
    It now seems like this game and zeptolab are the Kings Of Thieves themself. Frustrating and dissapointing to fall for a title with such unloyal paywalls.
    Bye bye zepto lab, lost me.

    • edMenFer

      In other words, it could have been a lasting and fulfilling relationship, but you were way to needy, demanding, unrewarding, descriminating and unloyal. NEXT

  • colbertj

    Either this 'review' is to motivate change or you're just bitter. Let's be honest, the is fun, creative, unique, but you can't play hours at a time for free or a buck. Take the perspective that it's supposed to be a bite-sized game that you play when it notifies you. If that's the case, it's a five-star game. Did you really need to focus the majority of your review on the energy system when it is what it is? Get over it, enjoy the game and have fun!!

  • edMenFer

    After spending 50 bucks on it, I would think I'm entitled to play the game whenever "I" choose to and not when and how often the game considers I should be able to play the next level.
    Wait til you get to the levels with the purple keyholes.

    The game is cute and is original. Nice platforming, but perhaps the old stars open up new levels would have been better.

    I don't know, maybe its just me but this is a game that seems to want its cuatumers to spend hundreds or thousands of bucks to pregress. The ratio at which you can wait instead of paying is way off and unbalanced imho.

    • edMenFer

      Sorry for the typos.

      • colbertj

        Again, I don't think you quite grasp the concept of the game mechanic! The money you spend is to increase chances, not for extended play time. I really don't fault the developers on this one.

  • Francisco Ragland

    I love ZeptoLab very dearly. I'm going to ride this one out for the long haul. I have hope and faith that they will make the necessary adjustments to make the game into what we all know it can be.

    I think that since this is their first game with this "free-to-play" model that they are just feeling out where the game succeeds in bringing in the most revenue. Once they see where the stream is strongest they may back off of the others and focus fully on what brings in the money. I hope this is the case. In my opinion they have more than enough collection methods for this one game:

    Speed up upgrades
    Buy outfits
    Buy ingredients for outfits
    Buy lock picks
    Buy extra spin (for another chance to get a gem)
    Buy potions
    Buy "best defense"

    From what I have seen, the "free-to-play" business model is commonly accepted when all the customer buys is an advance in time, this is very non-intrusive. As it is now, there are too many purchases that are actually premium and offer too much of an advantage for any genuine competition to transpire.

    I would eliminate potions and the option to purchase a premium defense. The use of keys as they are in the early game ought to be the way they remain thoughout the game. When one single lock piece begins to cost three lock picks, the game's playability is hampered by the regeneration rate of keys, which at this point has begun to plateau and waiting times between raids starts to increase.

    This was too much of a grab from other games with this model. I'm certain ZeptoLab will see where the flaws are and rub them out in short time.

  • http://www.dreampod.com Kevin Y

    I think it's a free-to-play game that's pay to win if you want to play above bronze level.The amount of raiding that happens on your dungeon is constant, and players can disable your traps via a boost as to make losing a gem a 50-50 chance. So what I do is place 2 smaller gems with 1 bigger gem for protection. Some douchey players will only raid and rig up 3 crappy gems, but they will never make it out of their league.

    The better players tend to destroy your totem, but at least you have a chance to continue the ritual with a bigger gem. The gem-based rating system is innovative, and it's akin to capture the flag.

    • Michael Speth

      This game is now full of hackers. The forums are littered with hack posts where zepto keeps saying stop posting about hacked dungeons.

      The design of how maps are verified (by the player) is the downfall of the game. Expect as time goes on, the only way to compete is to hack ur map.

  • Thomas

    I've been playing about a year now and I disagree with a fair amount of this. Part of the game is upgrading or not upgrading the right things. If you're having trouble with things you should prioritize upgrading them. When you increase key capacity the ads give you more keys too. It maxes at 66, you can upgrade to get a 50% chance of keeping your pick on bad locks and upgrade key generation I think i get a key about every minute 20 seconds. It also prevents someone from raiding tons of people all at once which aids the monetary system so keys really aren't broken IMO either. The shield system and such are neccesary to prevent the latter as well. It also prevents people from being gone for half an hour and having everything stolen. I think part of what makes the game so great is the balanced mechanics. There's also no need to buy anything everything but 3 cosmetic costumes can be unlocked free.

    One thing I can't agree with is the seemingly unfair spinners. I think there's an algorithm to basically chanceverything it on who needs/deserves it more but it is broken.

King of Thieves Reviewed by Carter Dotson on . Rating: 3