This preview originally overstated the necessity of microtransactions within the game's design, and has been edited to make clear that you are never required to spend money to progress. Everything that can be bought with real money can be earned using in-game money. Thanks to the commenters who pointed this out!
Article by Craig Owens
You don't pick a character in Knights of Pen and Paper. You pick a player . Then, admittedly, you do in fact pick a character. It's all part of Knights and Pen and Paper's silly, self-conscious conceit. You're not playing a fearless band of adventurers journeying across a fantasy landscape in Behold Studio's meta-RPG, you're playing a bunch of pen-and-paper roleplayers who are merely pretending to do so.
What this means in practise is a cutesy pixel art RPG with a generous dollop of self-referential humour, but there are a few occasions when the concept spills over into the mechanics. You're playing both the Dungeon Master and the players in Knights, which means - weirdly enough - you have quite a lot of say in the form your quests and encounters take. Walk into a township and click on the quest icon and you'll be able to flick between a range of quest types (all of which seem to lead to monster killing, admittedly) as well as selecting the difficulty of the encounter.
Battles themselves can be customised too: before the turn-based fighting starts you're able to chuck in extra monster types like a child greedily stuffing a bag full of pick-and-mix sweets. Take on too many at once and the result is hubris-induced failure, judge what you're capable of taking on accurately, however, and you'll get an experience bonus at the end of the battle.
Back at the character creation screen, however, I'm trying to find a good class for Grandma to play. Her passive ability - loudness - gives her extra threat, so I cast her as Paladin to act as the tank for my adventurous crew. Next, I cast the group's Nerd as our mage. At this point, years of MMO-training kick in and start compelling me to round out the party with a healer and a physical damage dealer, so I click on of three remaining empty chairs around the gaming table.
Unfortunately I'm "Out of Gold". You earn gold in the game for almost everything you do, from completing quests to duffing up monsters. At this point I can either play more until I get the gold I need, or if I'm feeling lazy, I can click to buy more with real money. The game's microtransactions are only ever a shortcut, and never a bonus or necessity.
To be fair, the outset of the game is clearly balanced for two characters, and I'm soon able to round out my crew. But the micro transactions are merely one aspect of the game's mobile-legacy poking through. Get past the cartoony cheeriness of Knight of Pen and Paper's presentation and there's fairly simplistic RPG-template underpinning the game. Battles are engaging if you deliberately pit yourself against a greater force than you can actually handle, but that can backfire, and in the early stages I play there are already traces of grind.
Still, it's a robustly witty concept, and the self-conscious, reference packed script seems to do justice to it. This "+1 edition" contains extra content too, for those who played the touchscreen version but might yet be lured back to the game. Knights Of Pen and Paper isn't quite the post-modern deconstruction of the genre its conceit might suggest, but it's just self-conscious enough to make its well-worn tropes feel fresher than they really should.