by Samuel Corey
reviewed on PC
An Inauspicious Beginning
King’s Bounty II (which is somehow the seventh game in the long-running strategy RPG series; somebody clearly needs to help developers 1C Entertainment with their counting) goes wrong right out of the gate. You start by selecting from one of three playable characters (either a gruff hairy mercenary captain, a sorceress in a BDSM getup, or a Joan of Arc wannabe dressed in a potato sack) and the game explains the reason why your character was visiting the capital of the kingdom of Nostria. So naturally, you would assume you’d start the game in said capital, but instead, you wake up in a gulag deep in fantasy Siberia. How did you get here? It’s a reasonable question but the game won’t bother giving you an answer for the next couple of hours. Instead, you’ll be freed from captivity and given a few troops to command while being instructed to return to the capital.
When the backstory does get filled in you’ll probably wish the game hadn’t bothered. As it turns out you were imprisoned because during a big party in the capital the player character was singled out as a fated hero by a mysterious wizard. After that announcement the King of Nostria collapsed, having been poisoned by some unseen assailant. For some reason, everyone assumes that the player character is to blame because it’s normal for assassins to make themselves as conspicuous as possible right before they strike. I can’t understand why anyone would think the player character is responsible for the attempt on the king’s life, but if everyone in this world is so stupid that they think the player tried to kill the king, why in God’s name do they let you out of jail and give you a small army to command?
All things considered, it’s an awkward, poorly executed start to the story. It’s fitting, as King’s Bounty II is an awkward and poorly executed game.
The first thing you’ll notice as you explore Nostria is that the kingdom has defied linguistic probability and has nothing even remotely resembling a common accent. It’s jarring enough to hear North American accents in a European-themed fantasy world, but when you start running into NPCs that sound like Southern Belles standing next to guys that are obviously Canadians the game becomes impossible to take seriously. At least group these NPCs into different regions. Don’t even get me started about the one guy who sounds like he’s doing a Snagglepuss impression as he begs for refugees to be let into the capital.
In addition to the questionable acting, there are also some downright bizarre design decisions like the way the game will automatically equip any items you earn from battles (so long as you don’t have anything else in the slot anyway). Normally, this will just lead to a moment of confusion when you finish a battle and discover you’re wearing a dorky hat but occasionally it causes real problems. The worst instance I ran into happened when I found a magic ring that boosted defense at the cost of draining leadership. Leadership is the stat that determines how many troops can be placed in a given unit, so by equipping the ring I lost 1-2 guys from every unit in my entire army! When I unequipped the ring those troops didn’t come back, so effectively I lost a couple of thousand gold instantly. This would be annoying if it happened as a result of me trying on the ring without carefully reading the stats, but to have it happen automatically is unforgivable.
A Medieval Boredom Simulator
Janky storytelling, bizarre voice acting, and auto-equipping items are just the start of King’s Bounty’s problems. The real issue with the game is the pacing and the sheer amount of tedious bullshit you’ll have to wade through before you can get to anything resembling fun.
To the game’s credit, combat encounters are fairly challenging and quite engaging if you have a taste for small-scale turn-based skirmishes. Any troops that die in combat are gone forever but can be replaced with a healing fee at the end of the battle. As a result, you’re going to want to find the easiest battles available and tackle those first, so you won’t waste your limited gold on replenishing your troops after they’re nearly eradicated in a challenging encounter.
This is all well and good on its own, but when it’s combined with the game’s open world, multiple paths, and numerous side quests it quickly becomes a serious problem. To find the next battle you’ll likely have to go across the entire map searching for the easiest encounter. To make matters worse there’s no way to see how challenging a battle is from the menu or the map even after you’ve discovered it, so King’s Bounty II quickly becomes a memory game.
This would be bad enough but the game finds a way to add even more backtracking to this with the leadership system. As you level up your character’s leadership stat will improve and you will be able to have more troops in a single unit. Unfortunately, additional troops have to be purchased from the correct vendor (of which there are several in each map) so between battles, you’ll often find yourself having to return to town to pick up a couple of extra spearmen so you’re fully optimized for the next battle.
Even the UI is seemingly designed to waste your time. You can only have five units in your army at a time (which is reasonable given the tiny sizes of most combat arenas) with the rest being stored in reserve. However, when buying new units, you can only recruit them into your active slots, not into the reserve. So, if you have a full active army you’ll have to cycle somebody into the reserves before you can buy another unit.
On paper, the constant backtracking should be mitigated by the addition of a fast travel system and a horse you can summon with a button press. In practice, these features become time-sinks in and of themselves. You can only fast travel from specific shrines on the map to other specific shrines. So while it does cut down on the total amount of backtracking, it does not eliminate the problem entirely. At least it’s better than the horse, which is honestly more trouble than it’s worth thanks to a lengthy mounting and dismounting animation. Since you can’t effectively search an area for items when mounted it means you’re going to be constantly mounting and dismounting your steed, and you’ll quickly discover that it’s considerably faster just to walk instead.
Solid strategy that is lacking
King’s Bounty II is a game where it takes forever to do anything. I averaged maybe 2-3 short battles for every hour of gameplay – perhaps 20 minutes of fun for 40 of drudgery. All this is doubly frustrating because somewhere under all this crap is a pretty solid strategy game. I just wish that King’s Bounty II would stop jerking me around and just let me play it!
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Solid core combat, Attractive, albeit dated, graphics
Constant back tracking, Inconsistent voice acting, Clunky UI