Version tested: Xbox 360
It's a pity that the vagaries of publishing schedules mean that this review will be appearing in early January, rather than alongside the shrewd pre-Christmas release date of A World of Keflings, because in more ways than one this is a very festive game. Not just for the snowy landscapes that have been placed front and centre in its Xbox Live promotions (they're hardly central to the game, it turns out) but for the sheer generosity of spirit that infuses the experience.
This is a game that almost falls over itself in its puppy dog rush to give you stuff. "Have some Achievements," it smiles. "Oh, go on, here's some gamer pictures as well," it adds. "You've earned them. And, look, these avatar items are just sitting around in a cupboard. You can have those too." They're proper avatar items and all – a comedy winged helmet and a pet dragon, not just a t-shirt with a logo on it. "Thank you, A World of Keflings," you'll sigh, as you snuggle into its cosy, comfy routine, letting the gifts roll in.
Much like its 2008 predecessor, A Kingdom for Keflings, A World of Keflings is gaming comfort food. A thick winter warmer of a game, served with a toasted crusty roll. It is, however, virtually the same recipe we were served before.
The concept is identical. Your avatar has entered the domain of the Keflings, curious Trumpton-style characters who desperately need some help in building up their world. Towering over your newfound friends, and with an understanding of resource management and planning games drawn from years of Sim City and The Settlers, you're perfectly placed to help shape their dreams.
Interaction is as simple as walking over to a Kefling and picking them up. Put them down next to a tree and they'll become a woodcutter, and will start chopping away until you tell them otherwise. Put them next to a rock and they become a miner. Put them next to a pile of mined rock or chopped wood and they become a transporter. Just pick them up and plop them down wherever you need the goods delivered and they'll follow the path back and forth, taking the resources to the next stage of the operation.
That would be workshops, where the composite parts of new buildings are created. Gradually, as you work your way through the resources of the Kefling world, you'll go from using raw logs to cut planks to carved wooden features, or whatever the appropriate path is for each resource. Putting new buildings together is simply a matter of getting the blueprint, ordering the parts from the various workshops, and then placing the pieces in the correct pattern on the ground. Once in place, the building pops into life.
Wood, stone and magic crystals are all in plentiful supply, but your most finite resource is the number of tiny helpers carrying out your orders. New Keflings join the fray whenever you build a new house or cottage, but these must be activated with a love heart, earned for meeting the needs of the Kefling population or unearthed during your exploration or excavations. It is, in most respects, the exact same game from 2008, right down to the building types available and the order they become available.
The most obvious difference comes from the expanded locations, although this proves to be something of a bait-and-switch. You start the game in the snowy land of the Kefkimos, where ice replaces rock and brambles replace trees. The effect is much the same, however. After a short while, you open a portal to the forest kingdom, familiar from the previous title, where the bulk of the game takes place. Later still you unlock a desert kingdom, where sand fills in for ice and rock, while palm fronds fulfil the role of wood. Again, it's more of a palette swap than a new gameplay challenge. The resources change, but their uses do not.
There is a better story strand running through the game this time, and this in turn feeds into the gameplay when the snow and desert kingdoms begin supplying metal and glass to their forest neighbours. There's an inescapable feeling that these auxiliary worlds are being given short shrift, however, and the interactions between the realms are basic at best. Thankfully, the writing has improved massively, and while the world feels thin and perfunctory, it's at least populated by an enjoyable cast of genuinely funny characters, delivering enjoyable gags alongside their objective-based mission requests.
If the game fumbles its attempt at broadened horizons, it does a much better job of addressing gameplay issues from the original. Most valuable is the addition of building assistants. As you progress through the game, you gather the various members of a Kefling family who will follow you around and help out with the construction work. They'll fetch whatever you've requested from the workshops and bring it to wherever you are, and once they've seen you put together a new building type once, they can be trusted to finish off any constructions once you've placed the first piece as a starting point. This cuts down on a lot of the tiresome donkey work, and speeds up the whole process in a suitably whimsical manner.
Also useful is the ability to move finished buildings around with a giant-sized shove. Clearing space is as simple as a shunt in the required direction, and while it won't save you from unwieldy tangles of buildings accrued through poor planning, it does give you enough wiggle room to prevent your mistakes becoming a hassle.
Online multiplayer is now joined by local, but there's a dearth of things to do together and the lack of freedom to break out of the rigidly prescribed development tree means there's little impetus to play again, or play differently. The handful of new items don't produce lasting changes to the gameplay. You build a perch for a dragon, but then it just sits there, its function fulfilled. You help to build a robot, but it just joins the throng of characters scurrying around your feet, impacting the actual mechanics not one jot. This is a game that would benefit enormously from secrets, Easter eggs and quirky moments only available to experimental players. There's only ever one real path to follow though, and once you reach the end you've seen everything on offer.
In that respect, A World of Keflings feels more like an enhanced remake rather than a true sequel, and anyone who played through the original will quickly get déjà vu from the identical journey from basic houses up to an ornate game-winning castle. There are a smattering of new buildings, but none are enough to tug the game from its comfortable trajectory. The moreish compulsion to keep building and harvesting is enough to make this another genial way to spend a dark winter weekend, and the breezy humour and generous unlockables make it all but impossible to dislike, but a far better game still lurks untapped within the Kefling template.
7 / 10