King’s Bounty II review — Not quite an epic adventure
The first one the kindness of the King was released in 1990. Considered to be very influential, it took a while before fans saw another offering with King’s Bounty: The Legend in 2008. It would be the precursor of a derivative series, which had several titles like Princess in armor and Crossed worlds. This is why the numbering can be strange since we are about to see the output of King II bonus.
When Tim McDonald interviewed Nikolay Baryshniko, CEO of 1C Entertainment, the studio considered King II bonus as a way to get back to the roots of the series. Then when I checked out a preview of the game’s first 10 hours, I got a feel for what the developers were aiming for to bring the franchise to a new generation. In a sense, King II bonus offers you a lot of content. Unfortunately, it’s marred by several awkward and questionable design decisions that can make gambling problematic.
A prophecy foretold
King II bonusThe story tells of the Scourge, a relentless corruption that threatens to engulf the land of Nostria. The Scourge brings the Hallowed, strange monsters who can corrupt all kinds of creatures. During a ceremony, a prophet known as the Clairvoyant shocks the crowd with this revelation, claiming that only your character can save the earth. Of course, everyone is devastated and you are thrown in jail.
The campaign actually begins six months after this prophecy. Once your character is released from prison, it’s your turn to return to the capital city of Marcella to find out what’s going on – conspiracies, portents of doom, and grim news abound. You need to dig deeper to find out more about the threat that arises.
You can choose from one of three protagonists with classes linked to them: Aivar the Warrior, Katharine the Mage, and Elisa the Paladin (whom I chose for this race). They have their own starting advantages based on ideals / alignments (more on this mechanism later). As such, you might feel a bit locked into their roles even as you level up. As the game progresses, you will have access to equipment to further improve their stats.
The world of Nostria in King II bonus
King II bonus allows you to explore the Crown Lands with its towns and dungeons. Unlike previous offerings, you experience the game from a third person perspective. However, this is not an open world adventure game, as it is more like a ‘hallway world’.
Although the world map is divided into sections with dirt roads, streets, bridges and crossings, perhaps the most glaring issue is the speed of movement. Your hero just runs instead of running, and pressing the Shift key makes you walk. You can use your horse to move faster, but it can lead to hard times when your character or mount gets stuck because there’s a small obstacle in the way or you can’t jump off ledges. Worse yet, your horse gallops when you are inside cities or major centers. Your character’s jogging animation is barely faster than that, so you’re moving at a slow pace which is just unbearable. Fast travel helps, but due to the countless times you would return to towns to complete objectives or visit merchants, you’re bound to feel a bit of boredom.
At the very least, you can rely on the visuals – at least from a distance. You will see monuments such as the capital and the Tower of the Magi from afar, and they will certainly amaze you. The downside is that the textures, even at the highest graphics settings, are a bit rough. I noticed some rendering issues when looking at the textures closely. To top it off, the UI has a lot of clutter (i.e. control tooltips and resources) that cannot be turned off for a cleaner appearance.
Choose your ideals or alignment
Your character’s talent tree in King II bonus is directly related to your ideals. Think of it as an alignment system where quest decisions are diametrically opposed (i.e. Order vs. Anarchy and Finesse vs. Power). For example, you can either report a criminal to the head of the guards (Order) or make a deal with the robber (Anarchy). In other cases, you can immediately attack a castle with your army (Might) or solve a magic puzzle for help (Subtlety). Your decisions will add points to that particular ideal, and in turn, you will achieve new levels to unlock for your talents or perks.
Additionally, while most quests have short-term consequences, a few have far-reaching implications. For example, I was given the choice of how I would enter the Blight infested Magefactory. I could side with the mages by fighting the artisan merchants (Order). This decision allowed me to approach the main entrance through their camp. Alternatively, I could use a side passage with the help of smugglers (Anarchy). Mages won’t like this and it will lead to a fight, essentially shutting down the area of the mages camp.
Confused puzzles in King II bonus
Unfortunately, King II bonus has more issues that need to be addressed. For example, the aforementioned alignment system places a limit on how far you must follow an ideal before you are no longer allowed to choose opposing options. Because you don’t really know how many alignment points you are going to acquire, it can cause issues when trying to min-max your unlockable talents.
In one scenario, I had 26 points in the Order roster, and that was already preventing me from selecting an Anarchy result. I thought 26 points was the “point of no return”. Then, to my surprise, I was still able to complete a different quest via Anarchy. Meanwhile, in another section of the campaign, I was unable to choose the Power option because I had 23 Finesse. But, the quest that immediately followed allowed me to choose Power even though my Finesse alignment had just increased.
Likewise, there were puzzles that were just plain weird. A large majority are fairly easy to solve, but a few had clues that were too cryptic, requiring more trial and error methods.
Bring your army
In King II bonus, you will recruit units into your army and they too belong to a particular ideal / alignment. There are Order units such as Knights, Mages, and Healers, as well as Anarchy units such as Mercenaries, Assassins, and Undead. Finesse units, on the other hand, are elementals and golems, and most Power-type units are made up of dwarves and animals. While you can mix and match freely as needed, units that follow the same alignment grant morale boosts.
Now your hero does not fight directly on the battlefield. Instead, you’ll take part in battles while on quests or exploring the world. Turn-based tactical combat follows where you will move your units on a hexagonal grid. You will use them to attack your enemies and you will even be able to see obstacles or terrain features depending on your location. Additionally, some units have special abilities such as healing, taunt, and area of effect spells. Likewise, your character has a spellbook which can be used to cast magic to your advantage.
Ideally, you’ll want to avoid heavy losses in combat. Otherwise, you will have no choice but to heal your units via a post-battle order or to draw on your reserves. Is it really possible to enter a spiral where you bleed so much gold and therefore have no way to rebuild an army? It can happen, but I think you really have to make a ton of mistakes to make it happen. In my experience, I often had more than enough gold to keep going despite a few losses. The Clairvoyant also provides side quests where he will teleport you to a Blighted Realm. These are challenges in which you control a predefined army and the magic spells are either non-existent or limited.
Overall, my qualms about tactical turn-based battles are, again, paced. You cannot speed up unit animations, and there were several occasions when you had to wait a few seconds after a unit had completed its turn. Either the death animation took a long time to happen, or the AI was rethinking its movements.
Is the trip worth it?
My King II bonus playthrough because Paladin Elisa took over 40 hours to complete. I felt like I was spending more hours than needed as I was trying to see other results when making roster decisions. Unfortunately, the point of no return has been very confusing during the latter stages of the campaign. When you combine this with janky controls and slow movements, you’ll feel that tedious and laborious pace as you progress.
Unit mechanics could use some tweaking as well. Towards the last act of the game, I realized that I was mostly meeting the same crowds and using the same bread and butter tactics. The Order’s units (i.e. Royal Mages and Healers) were invaluable due to their dispelling abilities. I mostly relied on the attack boost magic to speed up the fights as well, which meant the other spells weren’t as appealing. New gear, buffs, abilities, cinematic kills, or even companions could be welcome additions.
Finally, there is the script itself. King II bonus tries to present an intriguing narrative to start your epic adventure. Unfortunately, many NPC models look strangely similar, and some even have blind looks, cheesy voice lines, or goofy animations. The characters were forgettable, to the point that those who appeared later in the campaign would make you wonder where you’ve met them before. To top it off, the ending (which I won’t spoil in detail), left a bitter taste, as if the arc remained unsolved. I’m not sure if I needed to complete a particular side quest chain just to see a different conclusion, or if it was meant to set up a future expansion.
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