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The Castle Doctrine is built around a simple idea, the evil side within humanity. There is no “good” or “right” way to play, there is only the idea of how to help yourself by ruining others in this fascinating massively multiplayer experience. There is absolutely nothing else like the Castle Doctrine currently. It is an intriguing, creative and sometimes controversial experience by the simple nature of the name. However, these feelings slowly fade as the dependence of luck and guesswork play a major factor into your success, making it a constantly punishing and frustrating experience.
There are two ways to play The Castle Doctrine, each used to inflate your funds from the $2000 dollars you start with inside your safe. You may set up your house, creating a horrifying maze filled with traps, pit bulls and other sinister items meant to kill an intruder at every turn. If waiting for a helpless victims to enter your home isn’t your cup of tea, you may choose to focus more on breaking into other players houses, attempting to outsmart the creator’s death traps in order to reach their precious safe.
Of course, the safe isn’t the only thing precious in the home, the creator’s family is also there, trying to flee from you, the man who has just invaded their home. Kill the family if you want, the wife has some cash on her and the children can be used as a sick message, to show just how powerful you are. Each home has a built in security camera, so when the player returns to see his family ruthlessly slaughtered, his safe cracked, he will know exactly who did this and how. Maybe the best course of action now is for them to commit suicide, they have no money, no family, nothing. Once death ensues, the game starts over, new family, new safe, new money. The tone never changes, it’s always abrasive, grim and evil and it seems to be that way on purpose.
The game obviously reaches to send a message, and somewhat succeeds in doing so, however the gameplay portion rapidly falls apart, especially for new players just starting the game out. This is a rogue-like in nature, when you die, you die. The name you are given for your character is gone, your house is gone, everything goes away and you begin again fresh. When you initially start out, you are encouraged to build your house first. It can be long and treacherous, costing you most of your starting cash, or it can be short; consisting only some of your cash which can then be spent on items to making robbing a house just a tad easier.
The catch is you cannot simply create an impossible maze and be on your way; not only do you need to have a clear path for your family (that includes not putting a door in front of them) but you must complete your house with zero tools. If you die while testing your house, you are dead and must start again from scratch. This situation happens quite a bit during the beginning and completely destroys any momentum you previously had with the game. Spending 30 minutes to build a really fantastic trap only to have it all trashed based on a simple miscalculation is utterly heartbreaking.
There are ways to make your house safer for you to test, put down indicator lights instead of the electric floor to make sure your wiring is correct or replace a vicious pit bull with a chiwawa to make sure it doesn’t force you in an impossible situation. You can do all these things but you don’t get your funds back from using safe items, if you spend $300 dollars on chiwawa in place of pit bulls, kiss that cash goodbye cause it isn’t coming back. The build tool is also lacking, you cannot see the entire of the layout as you build. It’s extremely tedious to have to walk around the map and build your maze, making sure everything is set correctly so you don’t parish in your own home.
Once your house has been set and you have been able to make it through your maze without dying, your house is uploaded to a server so others can try and break into your house while you attempt robberies of your own; or you can wait to see how your house fares against players via security tapes. Robbing someone else’s mischievous house is nearly futile, leaning more on things like luck rather than skill or tactics. One wrong turn in many houses lead to your death, and the vicious circle continues of starting over again, building your house from scratch again.
There are items that help with breaking in but they are one use items and aren’t carried over into other houses meaning you can effectively lose money by being over prepared. On top of this, not a single item is explained, you can take a good guess what they are for but some sort of description would go a long way. Based on my 15 hours of experience with the game, success is found much more in sitting tight, letting other people foolishly attempt to stumble onto your safe. The rich seemingly get richer, building a more devious house making it more impossible to break into, causing more deaths, raking in even more cash.
That’s not to say robbing is impossible, successfully maneuvering through a house to find the safe filled with cash and items is immensely rewarding and gives a true sense of accomplishment. However, these are so few and far between that they are hardly exist at all. Much of your success also tends to come from blind luck; it’s extremely common to walk into a small house with five or six hallways, one leads to the safe, the rest to certain death. Extremely experienced players may begin to pick up on small tropes that are common but that doesn’t change the fact that so much of the game is based on you “picking the right hall.”
The Castle Doctrine is fundamentally a great and interesting idea that is just too punishing and frustrating for most players to get into. There are fantastic and exhilarating moments that occur in the game, compelling you to give it just one more go usually ending in yet another death and brand new start. A niche community will surely set in, spending hundreds of hours in the game but for most players, the first few hours will be enough to turn them away forever. Unless you plan to put in the time to get over the absurd learning curve and quirks of the systems, it’s best you leave The Castle Doctrine in the safe where you found it.