I like to think I

Some games are labors of love for their creators, and some games are developed by people who are simply punching a clock for a paycheck.  It

The sound work in King

The player takes control of a single hero (and his trusty steed) on the world map.  Controlling said hero is a breeze:  simply left click on any spot and he

Kings Bounty offers the choice of playing as three fantasy staples:  a Warrior that focuses on recruiting hordes of powerful troops but is weak in magic, a Mage that is exactly the opposite of the Knight, and a Paladin that provides a good balance between troops and magic.  Each class requires a very different style of play, so players will want to consider their particular style before deciding on a character.  Once you have chosen your profession (and have stopped laughing at their romance novel-esque character portraits), you can choose to either go through a short tutorial sequence, or simply be thrown out into the world to seek your fortune.

 

The story revolves around a kingdom, an aging king, some sort of great evil that has brought forth all manner of nasty beasties, and a hero (you) that is apparently the only person who can fix it all.  Frankly, the story was so full of cheese and pulp-fantasy cliche that I begain to completely ignore it about midway through.  It is easily the weakest area of the game.  There are hundreds of quests to complete, but nearly all of them boil down to “talk to this person”, “take magic bauble X to that wizard”, or some combination of the two.  With no real narrative to back it up, all the quests start to blur together and simply serve as a excuse to wander around and get into fights.

 

Thankfully, the gameplay is solid enough that you won’t miss the lack of a good tale.  From the moment you enter the overworld, you’ll be presented with a million and one things to do, treasures to find, caves to explore, and damsels to rescue.  It’s worth noting that King’s Bounty does not use a turn based system on the overworld map. While this was a bit strange at first, I quickly grew to love it. Your character is free to move about the map at will and is not limited to how many steps he can take before ending a turn. It really opens the game up for exploration and gives it a traditional RPG feel that other games in this genre do not have.

 

Keeping track of all this exploration, however, can be a bit daunting.  While the map screen initially looks very detailed, it neglects to mark anything but the most major landmarks.  If you don’t have the memory of an elephant, you will quickly learn to make great use of the map notes tool to mark the locations of NPC’s, shops, troop recuruiting locations, caves…basically anything you think you may forget about in the next 5 minutes.  There is also a journal system to track quests, but I found many of the hints to be incredibly vague and unhelpful if you happened to forget where you were supposed to go or what you were tasked to do.

 

You develop your hero through 3 seperate skill trees:  Might, Mind, and Magic.  While most players will choose to stick to the one that most closely mirrors their character class (Warrior, Paladin, or Mage, respectively), you are certainly free to level up cross-class skills for each character.   If you want your Knight to be able to throw down fireballs, simply drop a few runes (the currency used for levelling skills) into that particular line.  Spells will never be as effective as the mage since the base stats aren’t as high, but it is nice to have that sort of trick up your sleeve.  It allows a significant amount of freedom to develop your hero how you want.

 

In your travels you will encounter all manner of castles, hunters, trappers, or demons that will be willing to sell you troops.  Your hero has a pool of leadership points, and each troop requires a certain amount of those points.  It’s an excellent system that keeps a good balance between the uber-powerful units and hordes of cannon fodder.  As you level up, pick up Leadership flags on the map, or purchase specific skills, that Leadership pool will increase and you will gain the ability to recruit additional troops.  The huge variety of units available for purchase offers even more customization to your King’s Bounty experience.  Do you create an army of mainly ranged units, pump up your spells, and pick off your enemy from afar?   Or do you recruit heavy hitting melee units, increase their armor and resistance, and level your enemy in close combat?  Toss in a special ability or two from each unit, and you are truly free to be creative in how you approach the game.  Of course, each creature has a finite number of recruitable units, so you’ll need to mix in a bit of strategy on when and how to deploy your troops in order to be successful.  Throw away too many of your powerful units at the beginning, and you’ll have a hard time getting past the more difficult fights.

 

And fight you will.  Very seldom will you go more than 5-10 minutes without getting into a battle with an opposing army.  While combat initially looks very simple, there is a significant amount of depth underneath.  Most battles end up being strategic affairs that will require thoughtful deployment, movement, and managment of your troops around the hex battle grid in order to succeed.  The basics are the same as we’ve seen before in countless turn-based strategy games, and there’s a reason for this – it’s still fun.  All the hex-based genre standards apply:  each unit has a certain amount of action points to use per turn, obstructed attacks do less damage, attacking from behind does more damage, etc. etc.   However, learning how to most effectively use the particular strengths and special abilities of each unit will take some time.

 

You’ll need to learn quickly though, as King’s Bounty will hit you with tough fights early and often, and will provide a hefty challenge to even the most seasoned RPG gamers.   Thankfully, right-clicking will display the relative strength of your foe and help you to gauge how good the result will be for your side.    Not making use of this feature can be disastrous, as the penalties for retreating can be stiff.  Unfortunately, there is no way to auto-resolve combat, so even if you are far more powerful than the army you are fighting, you’ll still need to go through the motions.  This can get extremely tedious towards the end of each area, when you are at a significantly higher level than most of your opponents.  There’s no possible way you can lose, but you will still have to complete the full battle.

King’s Bounty is a fairly lengthy game.  It will probably take most players somewhere around 30 hours to complete the main quest, and you could easily spend another 20 doing the optional side quests.  However, it does feel like some of the game’s length is a bit padded simply because you have to manually fight through a ton of meaningless battles that you will obviously win.  There is no multiplayer to speak of, so once you’re done, you’re done.

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