King's Bounty 2 brings new elements to the series, but not all changes are for the better.
There are not a whole lot of new games that I've waited as enthusiastically for as the official sequel to King's Bounty. The original game, the spinoff-games from the 2000's, and the Heroes of Might & Magic games have captured my attention for hundreds of hours. Now the sequel promises to take the series in a new direction - and dimension.
For those who have never played a King's Bounty game before, here is a short recap. The idea of the games is to combine role-playing and turn-based strategy. The player leads a chosen hero throughout a generic fantasy world and drags a legion of different soldiers and creatures around in combat, so whenever a battle occurs, the hero does not step into the battlefield, but rather let's the army do the dirty work. More units, including soldiers and creatures can be bought from the cities and towns around the world.
Whereas the previous games were two-dimensional top-down games (even though the game engine was 3D), King's Bounty II opts for the third-person perspective. The battles are fortunately still turn-based top-down affairs, but the exploration is done in real time, and includes gathering treasures and quests. If you looked at it with a quick glance, one might mistake King's Bounty 2 for a game in the Gothic series.
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The new perspective has its ups and downs. On the other hand, the cities and towns are now lively places instead of being just a flat market for a soldier like before. But, then again this decision does make the pacing of the game more slow-paced. There is a lot of dialogue and cut scenes around, which halt the gameplay more so, and on top of this, the different treasures found within the world are also a bit boring. Most of the stuff found in the chests and barrels is useless junk, that serves no other purpose than being sold to the merchants. Equipment, spells and money are notably scarce to find.
The new perspective also brings along other problems. While the graphics in the previous games are still nice to look at today, King's Bounty 2 is here and there rather ugly and the game engine resembles a game from the Xbox 360 era more than it does a modern RPG. Small production budget can also be heard, as the voice acting is especially weak. And on top of everything, the interface is clunkier than before, even though there are a few button-shortcuts to make everything more streamlined. All of this needs a little bit of getting used to but is worth the while.
Luckily, the game itself is a fun one under the rough edges. As mentioned, the battles are turn-based affairs and are done in the same fashion as before. They don't occur randomly and are placed in the map just like in the previous games. The battles themselves are excellent. All the soldiers have their own special abilities, which they can use once or twice per battle, depending on how many turns the battle lasts, and the spells and abilities of the hero can also be used once per turn.
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For most part then, the battles remain unchanged from the previous games, which is a good thing. Weirdly though, there is a lot less fighting than before and the fights are a bit more difficult. Backing out is a recommended option even in the early stages of the game, as the hordes of monsters can squash an unprepared hero in an instant.
The battles are also home to one of the toughest parts of the game: as you can end up in a dead end. If and when a battle is lost, the hero remains alive and has to gather a new squad for a fight. If you have no money, and all available quests are done, it's basically game over. You can of course continue from a previous save, but like myself, there is a chance that your squad is too weak for any of the battles and there is no money left to make my army stronger. This becomes a problem, as the battles usually block the paths to explore, so the only option is to start over. This isn't a problem as much as an old-school quality, but new players should be warned: King's Bounty 2 is a harsh game and does not forgive the player one bit.
But the most important quality of the series remains regardless of the changes. King's Bounty 2 is a very, very addictive adventure, where you just need to go and look beyond the next fight or around the next corner, no matter how long you have played. It feels like a King's Bounty game and it's actually surprising how many disadvantages can be forgiven just because the game is fundamentally so much fun.
Therefore King's Bounty II is a weird one. It is exactly what I wanted from a sequel and at the same time, not at all. It's clear that the series needed a breath of fresh air, as the end product isn't half bad. There is a lot to improve though, but I believe there is still a market for ruthless, but fun old-school adventures like this.
7 / 10
The battles are fun and challenging. Very addictive. There is plenty to do and explore.
The game engine is ugly. Clunky interface. A bit too slow-paced.