Seven years after the release of King’s Bounty: Dark Side, developer 1C-Softclub returns with a follow-up that updates some of the timeworn traits while preserving the series’ turn-base battles.
Developer: 1C Entertainment
Publisher: 1C Entertainment, Prime Matter
Release date: August 24th, 2021
Price: TBA via Steam
Much like the Wizardry series, which branched off into a mainline Western series and succession of spin-offs in Japan, King’s Bounty has a splintered legacy. Originally released for MS-DOS and Commodore computers by New World Computing 1990, the inaugural game also received an upgraded SEGA Genesis port a year later.
Creator Jon Van Caneghem and New World Computing would use the foundations of King’s Bounty to build Heroes of Might and Magic, spawning a franchise that eventually overshadowed the inspiration. The two series have so many similarities that that the original King’s Bounty was remade and released as Heroes of Might and Magic: Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff for the PlayStation 2.
From Captive to Savior
As such, it’s little surprise that the upcoming release of King’s Bounty II has some distinctly Might and Magic-style mechanics. Delve into the title, and you’ll find yourself in a situation that should be familiar with Western role-playing fans, with the preface detailing your release from a prison.
This kind of benevolence is rare, various NPCs remind you, especially given the turbulence afflicting the land of Antara. From smaller countries contesting the authority of the crown to the increased presence of hostile creatures on the outskirts of villages, the state of affairs is becoming increasingly dire. Perhaps that’s why Prince Adrian has ordered your liberation and even supplied enough gold and manpower for a meager war party.
Third-Person Exploration in An Empty Realm
Much like previous King’s Bounty outings, you’ll start the game by selecting one of the archetypical classes. There’s Aivar the warrior, who offers balance for newcomers as well as Katharine the mage, the requisite magic user. As expected, she’s a bit more complicated, with spells requiring careful usage of your mana pool, but with abilities that make the duties of management worthwhile. Finally, there’s a paladin, but information of him is still under embargo.
But where preceding King’s Bounty games typically handled exposition and exploration from a lofty, overhead perspective, now you’ll enjoy a third-person, over-the-shoulder point of view. Moving from your dingy cell to the castle’s snow-filled keep demonstrates the game’s ambitions for building an immersive context. Although the pathways that wind through King Bounty II means it’s not a completely open-world title, there are a few explorational alcoves to explore. There are even a few simple puzzles around Antara. Replacing the arms on a broken statue triggered a mechanics that hoisted up a treasure chest.
My Life as a Chaotic Schemer
Additionally, every line of dialog is fully voiced, helping the game construct a convincing world. While there’s still a bit of perceptible glitches with characters and uneven vocal performances, the protagonist charmingly disregards any arrogance displayed by NPCs. But soon, interactions will be shaping the mortality of the protagonist across two opposing continuums: Order and Anarchy as well as Power and Finesse.
Unsurprisingly, the former evaluates the ethics of your actions, so alerting a city watch guard to criminal activity will bolster your allegiance to Order, opening up certain perks on in your character’s tech tree-like book of magic or providing bonuses when recruiting specific kind of unit for combat. Give a crucial bit of evidence to members of the local thieves’ guild, and troops aligned with murkier moralities, like assassins and the undead will have an advantage.
Brute force you way through conflicts and situations and you’ll increase your Power stat, giving the command of forces like bears, wolves, and mighty dwarves strategically sound. Alternatively, Finesse favors magical creatures like golems and elementals, favoring a tactical approach on the battlefield. While it’s still a bit early to determine if the morality mechanics feels organic and is properly balanced, there seems to be enough divergence to endow playthroughs with distinction. Like the game’s maps, I wouldn’t expect complete autonomy, but there’s enough choice to make sure King’s Bounty II doesn’t feel too linear.
Combat That Needs a Bit of Polish
Challenging players with unit management and the financial cost of warfare, King’s Bounty was built around a rather practical approach to confrontation. Here, the game revisits the familiar hex-shaped battlefields. But this time out, the arenas mimic the type of terrain that you’re in, complete with environmental obstructions that might affect the line of sight for ranged units. Some of the challenge stems from unit complexities. As such, allied humans and skeletons might not mesh, resulting in a loss in initiative as well as the prospect of missing turns.
While your lead is on the sidelines casting spells, your various types of troops alternate with enemies, offering the possibility to moving and attacking on every turn. King’s Bounty has long favored using expendable troops to protect, say archers from marauding enemies. And with the latest title, play retains this quality, alongside saving enough money to nurse the wounded. Additionally, keeping a well-stocked supply of reserve fighters remains a sensible tactic.
At present, there are a few issues needing to be ironed out. Indications of what allied unit is active aren’t always clear. Initiative could also be clarified as well. Although players can learn new spells in the game’s book of magic, it’s not clear how exactly how these upgrades are accomplished. But arguably the biggest problem is travelling through the game’s world. There are fast-travel nodes, but even getting to this with your character’s sluggish jog can be a hassle. There’s a nagging emptiness around Antara.