The long-awaited sequel to 2008’s King’s Bounty: The Legend is here, propelling players into a ruthless realm where conspiracy and adversity are pervasive. Success means mastering the intricacies of combat, and woefully, undertaking an interminable succession of side missions.
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Developer: 1C Entertainment
Publisher: 1C Entertainment, Prime Matter
Release date: August 24th, 2021
Availability: Physical and Digital
Price: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (console) via retailers and digital marketplaces
King’s Bounty II is a game that afflicted by a personality crisis. Most of the game’s best moments take place on hexed battlegrounds, where turn-based battles have you directing fantastical troops like skeletons, gargoyles, and golems. Despite the enjoyment associated with outsmarting the CPU, the game also wants to impart important lessons about the cost of conflict.
Just like it’s 2008 predecessor, you’ll typically have to purchase armies, at least until you are able to summon new units. Given the game’s inclusion of permadeath, losing one of your beloved squads can be disheartening. Worse yet, the combination of losing streaks and few financial opportunities can force you to sell off your possessions. War can be exciting, developer 1C Entertainment imparts, but it can also be demoralizing and costly.
That Other New World Computing Title…
But that’s hardly the only schism found in the title. The series, which inspired the Heroes of Might and Magic franchise, always had a robust role-playing element. Character growth was nurtured as you explored the landscape and took on errands for NPCs. But with King’s Bounty II, the RPG qualities have swelled, together with a shift to the three-dimensional perspective when travelling through the kingdom of Nostria.
As the start of the game, you’ll select from one of three protagonists. There’s Aivar, the descendant of a noble family and a knight in the king’s guard, who serves as the requisite brawn. Katherine is an aloof mage from the realm’s craggy mountains, while Elisa is a rather naïve Paladin who rose from peasantry. Each doesn’t veer far from fantasy trope which is customary for the series. But it would have been gratifying if the writing endowed each protagonist with a bit more distinction beyond the basic fantasy archetypes.
The Dull Life of a Gifted Warrior
The story might be the same for each, but at least the characters have their own abilities. And while magic isn’t as innate for Aivar and to a lesser extent Elisa, they have other aptitudes, such as a smaller penalty for mixed troop types. Although opinions will vary, Aivar’s limited proficiencies made for a tougher and more uninteresting trek, while Katherine’s capabilities are more stimulating, requiring dutiful management of her mana pool.
Much like the doom-bound protagonist in the Elder Scrolls series, you’ll begin the game inside a dismal prison. Granted an unexpected release, you’ll soon meet with Nostria’s ruler who pardons you before sending you out on an essential errand. While you’ll be greeted with suspicion as first, gradually your deeds convey your character.
And The Tortured Existence of a Capricious Mage
Alignments are in the game fall under two continuums: Order and Anarchy as well as Power and Finesse. The first group evaluates the ethics of your actions, so alerting a guard to criminal activity will bolster your allegiance to Order, opening up certain perks in your character’s book of magic or providing bonuses when recruiting specific kinds 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 your way through conflicts and situations and you’ll increase your Power stat, giving the command of forces like bears, wolves, and mighty dwarves an advantage. Alternatively, Finesse favors magical creatures like golems and elementals, favoring a tactical approach on the battlefield. But sadly, the system feels more like a set of two simple binaries that anything than anything remotely organic. You’ll be able to select from options during your quest but don’t expect anything as sophisticated as a branching dialog system.
The simplistic morality system is another puzzling design decision in King Bounty II. Although you’ll encounter behavioral decisions that affect the immediate development of your character, the game gives less autonomy and long-term repercussions than many Western RPGs. Your character earns the opportunity to select new abilities as they level up, but don’t expect much difference with builds across subsequent playthroughs.
Whether you’re a saint or a scoundrel, there’s little tonal variance when speaking with NPCs. This could be forgivable if the writing and voice acting were energetic. But even with Doug Cockle’s (The Witcher’s Geralt) contribution, far too many of the performances are dry and wooden. Facial animation and NPC stances are another stumbling point and don’t reveal much emotion. And when you do complete a quest for a hapless villager, there are far too few moments where things veer into the unexpected.
My Kingdom for a (Practical) Horse
While fast travel nodes and a mount eventually help, navigation is King’s Bounty II just as lifeless. Protagonists with a lethargic gait can be counterbalanced by a landscape overflowing with novelty, but woefully, that’s not the case. Instead of feeling like an open world, the landscape feels more like a network of pathways adorned with the sporadic trinket scattered about. That said, the game can look quite attractive at times, with towers and giant statues jutting out from craggy mountainsides.
Fortunately, things improve when combat erupts. Sure, there’s some UI transgressions at launch, making it occasionally hard to see enemy ranges. But largely, these encounters are where the game shines. Your character won’t be in the thick of things but directing and spellcasting from the sidelines while stacks of units do the physical labor. Nicely, the battlefields aren’t just generic maps, but generated from the environment around your character.
As such, this means that terrain plays a key role, putting foes on elevated positions or behind covered positions. As such, rushing opponents can prove imprudent, and you’ll have to take other variables into account when strategizing. Factor in the variety rooted in dozens of unit types, abilities, and spell types and battles can be quite engaging. The only other drawback is that you’re able to harness a few exotic unit types infrequently.
Following a protracted hiatus from the last mainline entry, King’s Bounty II attempts to modernize the franchise. Unsurprisingly, developing an ambitious role-playing game is no easy task and 1C Entertainment’s struggles are frequently evident. From dry writing, unfulfilling exploration, and a capricious approach to character development, the title is an uneven experience that relies on combat for fulfilment.
King’s Bounty II was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.