After 30 years, 1C Entertainment is continuing the fantasy series, and we've had the chance to get hands-on ahead of launch.
King's Bounty II is an upcoming RPG game featuring turn-based combat set in the Medieval fantasy land of Nostria. It's currently in its final stages of development by 1C Entertainment. While the original came out in 1990, King's Bounty II is the more mature-styled sequel to the previous King's Bounty: Legend game and its expansions, which were released between 2008 and 2014.
King's Bounty II takes place in the world of Nostria, a place with high castles, snowy mountains, cute villages and magic. Most of the exploration of this world is done from a third-person perspective. Straight up, I can tell you this is not the most graphically advanced RPG you could play right now, but I think that the developers have done a good job at combining solid visuals with a lot of details in the game world. There are no fancy weather effects or complex lighting, but each building is unique, your character's clothing can be customised and all of the units and enemies you encounter look distinct and original. One thing that could've been better though are the mostly expressionless faces you see during conversations. The voice acting and the soundtrack are decent. Taken together, King's Bounty II certainly has an immersive game world in my opinion.
The game can be played as one of three characters: a Warrior with skills focusing on boosting your army, a Mage that can obviously cast strong spells and a Paladin that seems like a middle ground between the other two. All three characters start out the same way in the storyline. You're released as a prisoner, falsely accused of assassinating the king of Nostria, because the prince wants you to investigate a mysterious incident. The backstory for each of the three characters differs, but it doesn't seem to change the game's main storyline that much. I feel the characters work well to add variety and replayability to the game. They also have a skill tree that unlocks boosts and abilities when you level up, but in the time I've played I haven't felt like giving this part much attention.
King's Bounty II's gameplay is divided into two parts. On the one hand, you're moving freely inside the game world in third person to talk to NPC's, search for loot that's hidden in crates and barrels, and go from quest to quest. There's no combat in the RPG part of the game, which allows for stress-free walking around and the opportunity to look at the highly detailed areas that are in the game. This is also where you build your army. There are shops for buying armour and other apparel for your character, which boosts your army, and there are recruitment shops that offer new units. These range from human pikemen, and healers with magic attacks, to dwarves, magical creatures and undead zombies or skeleton archers.
The game starts out in an area that's covered in snow, reminding me somewhat of the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim or areas in the Witcher 3. That doesn't mean that the game world in King's Bounty II is similarly open world. Rather, it's a more condensed and linear environment. Different areas in the game world are always quite close to each other, with just a few explorable areas that contain most of the loot chests and barrels in between. This felt disappointing at first, until I noticed the detail in every area in the game. Likewise, the snowy starting area felt a bit empty with few people walking around, but once I entered the main map area there were plenty of NPC's to interact with. They will offer side quests and lead you to additional battles, allowing you to upgrade your army.
The second part is when a fight starts. The game drops you into a turn-based arena where you arrange your army on different tiles. I like how the arenas have the same attention to detail as the RPG part of the game. Each fight takes place on a unique layout, with elevation and obstacles having a big influence on every battle. These aren't easy fights either. To me as a relatively inexperienced turn-based player, each fight is a challenge. I still haven't figured out how to be successful in every encounter, but at least I know some of the basics, like how magic units are strong against the undead and you need to time unit abilities correctly. Your character, standing on the sidelines like a football coach, is instrumental in attaining victory because of the spells he or she can cast. These range from fire or poison attacks to speed buffs and healing spells.
At times the battle difficulty is frustrating. Losing units in a battle means you need to scour the world for loot or take on sidequests, even though I was actually looking to progress on the main storyline. This is often impossible because of much stronger enemy armies. Of course quests are also what make an RPG enjoyable, but it does feel like a chore sometimes to run around the game searching and selling loot or other things for some quest, just so I can get on with what I really want to do. Other frustrations include an extremely slow animation when the character mounts a horse for faster travelling. The horse also gets stuck easily and you have to dismount for every interaction, such as opening loot caches, making the slow animation even more annoying.
The quests that allow you to upgrade your army are quite entertaining. So far I've puzzled with rotating statues, found secret doors and searched for prize chickens. Depending on your character, you can choose between different options to solve quests or battles. For example: early in the game, there's an option to either directly attack a bunch of golems or to persuade the mage that controls them to clear the way for you. Unfortunately, as a Warrior you lack magic abilities to talk to the mage in question and you are forced to fight, limiting the player's choices in the storyline.
The main storyline itself is mostly there to keep the game going. Personally, I'm immersed more by the environments than the story. Dialogues are a bit monotonous, but if you're into the story they'll keep you interested, as do plenty of books and scrolls that offer more lore. The only time I felt excited in the storyline was when my character was getting cornered by mysterious magic assassins inside a big fortress. A huge dragon suddenly appeared and spectacularly breathed fire all over my assailants. However, as sudden as the dragon had come he also disappeared. It felt a bit random, but perhaps dragons will be involved more later in the storyline.
Concluding, I've found my time playing a preview of King's Bounty II generally enjoyable, but not without some recurring annoyances. I praise the game world's detail and the treat of unique areas wherever you go, either in the RPG part of the game or when doing a turn-based battle. Combat is challenging and there are plenty of different units, backed by a complex system of upgrades and unit classes. However, choices in the storyline feel limited and you're practically forced to complete side quests, as your army is too weak to continue the battles in the main storyline. Still, if you're into adventure and appreciate when a game's core elements are solidly worked out, King's Bounty II should be on your list of considerations.