King’s Bounty II is a direct sequel to the original King’s Bounty from 1990. Having never heard of the series, I did not know what to expect other than some sort of tactical chess battles befitting the strategy genre.
Upon starting a new file, players are presented with three character choices: Aivar the Warrior, Katharine the Mage, and Elisa the Paladin. Warriors have more and stronger units, but lack magic spells. Mages can cast one spell per round, but have less units to work with. Paladin is a hybrid where units have more defense, Light and Life magic only, and can recruit units faster than the other types. Each character caters to a different playstyle where some are much stronger at different points in the game. I personally like mages so I opted for Katharine.
As it turns out, Katharine is a snarky noble. I personally found this to bring some comedic relief as she approached problems from a pragmatic, uncaring perspective. While you are a mage, you cannot cast as many spells as you want. Magic spells require mana crystals. These are collected as you play and a specific amount is allotted per battle. Katharine commands less units and therefore relies on her wide range of damaging, buffing, and debuffing spells to make up for having a weaker army.
King’s Bounty II shines best in its visual environmental design. And rightly so! While this is a strategy game, a large portion is actually spent on third-person exploration. Players will walk around the map, loot containers, and talk to characters for quests. The landscape is dotted with flowers and greenery. Tables and shelves are littered with a variety of objects to have that sense of lived-in clutter. I found myself analyzing bins of produce and picked out many more unique food items than I expected. A random cow at the start of the game even had 4 or so animations, something that just shows how passionate the crew was at making the world visually interesting.
Sadly, there is little to find that has a mechanical impact. Loot is typically a currency or junk to be sold for currency with usable equipment being a rarity. Not to mention selling trash loot and restocking units is time consuming. In order to sell items, players need to backtrack to the nearest teleporter, teleport to the nearest point to the trader, then travel to the trader, buy and sell, travel back to teleporter, then travel back to where you were.
The game does allow you to travel on a horse, but this only emphasizes the snails pace of backtracking. While mounted, you cannot talk to characters or easily turn around which makes walking more preferable when exploring new areas. I typically did one battle or less an hour, depending on how many times I had to retry fights (which was usually a lot to prevent units from dying). I personally did not mind this, but if you are expecting back to back battles, then you will find these sections to be slow and dull.
The actual characters look uncanny and share the same few face models with different hair styles. It doesn’t help that characters lack facial expression, making them feel robotic. The outfit design was particularly good for the nobles with extravagant, Elizabethan inspired outfits. The animation budget was clearly dedicated primarily to battles and occasional cutscenes.
This is an army management game, meaning players purchase unit types to add to their reserve. If a participating unit survives a battle, it gains experience. With enough experience, a unit will be promoted and potentially earn a new ability and a stat increase. Sadly, you cannot view these promotion effects in advance, meaning the long-term viability of a unit is guesswork unless you happen to encounter an enemy with that promoted unit.
As far as variety, you will find your typical fantasy creatures and medieval army classes. There was decent diversity among the ideals (factions), but players are encouraged to only stick to one or two types due to how expensive units are. Mixing ideals lowers morale, a stat that provides a percent chance to get an additional turn when units are happy. Many units, particularly in the Anarchy ideal, seemed too situational or brittle to survive using Kassandra. Perhaps they fared better after gaining promotion abilities?
Hero characters can affect their army in two ways: personal equipment and a perk tree. Equipment can have bonuses to stats such as leadership, allowing you to command more units, or increased power to certain unit types. Weird descriptions do exist such as a bonus to “Nostrian Army” or bonus to “Bowmen,” terms that can can be confusing as there is no clear indication as to what unit falls under these banners. Fun fact, a mechanical golem that shoots electric arrows counts as an bowman. Who knew?
The perk tree revolves around ideals. Players need to earn points in an ideal order to unlock higher tiers of perks. Talent points earned on level up are used to actually purchase perks. Due to a lack of a prominent notification, I often missed when I leveled up so I had to manually check the menu to see if I earned points to spend.
Battles begin with a unit placement phase where you reposition equipped units. King’s Bounty II opts for an initiative system based on a unit’s speed stat. This initiative can be altered by some spells and abilities. Placement is vital as many unit types can attack enemies across the map with line of sight, move large distances, or shimmy past other units. The first turn of most battles is where the game frustrated me.
On the first turn, enemy archers would often move first, fire across the entire map, and decimate my weakest units before I could even move. It is not possible to see if an enemy has line of sight, so finding adequate cover comes down to trial and error. Many maps lack cover, making it difficult to do anything against archers other than giving them a higher HP bait target. One misplay can easily cost you an entire unit so be prepared to reload and attempt each battle multiple times. If a unit is vanquished, they cannot be healed and must be purchased again at a unit vendor across the map.
Puzzle battles exist in which the player is given a fixed army and equipment. The main problem with these fights is randomized factors. Critical hits and extra turns via morale can change the balance of a fight and result in a restart, even using the intended strategy. I am surprised there was not a rule that disabled these more troublesome random effects. Otherwise, I appreciated these puzzles as I was able to use units I otherwise could not raise myself without wasting experience distribution among my army.
I found the battles to be entertaining enough. While I am not well-versed in the strategy genre, very few things stood out to me as far as strategic opportunities. Typically, the best thing to do was what was safest and the most reliable. Risky moves meant a unit could die and I’d have to restart the battle to save time and money. My unit choice was based on what units would survive the first round of battle without being battered into the ground. It is possible that I hampered my experience by picking the Mage, who seems to be the hardest character to play, one a first playthrough.
The writing is fair, but nothing drew me in. The main story suffered from poor pacing and the lack of an intriguing hook. From what I gathered, evil monsters from another dimension were invading through various portals across the land. A Prince sends you to go investigate what happened at the Magefactory and help the random peasants on your way there. The problem is, the Magefactory is on the other side of the map. The story beats were so far apart that I realized twenty hours in that absolutely no new developments had happened other than defeating bandits blocking the road to said quest.
Side quests were equally uninspired and predictable. While some had branching paths, the developers decided to incorporate the skill tree into quest choices. If you pick the finesse choice then you earn a point to unlock more finesse perks on the tree. This idea detracts from the roleplaying aspect of the game as you are incentivized to pick the option best suited for your build.
While attempts were made at world building, it felt so jumbled and confused. There is a general theme of corruption, but the rest felt like various tropes mashed together. Some elements felt underdeveloped and even out of place, such as hackers reprogramming golems with magic tablets. Magic runes are common in ruins for puzzles, but the only clue to their meaning is in a book that doesn’t show what the runes look like to actually translate them into anything meaningful. Demons are invading, but nobody seems to care other than a guy telling you to do these puzzle battles. Undead are apparently just people who decide to come back due to unrest with implications of that barely being even explored after 40 hours. It felt like throwaway ideas to justify the types of units available.
Characters were bland with serviceable voice work. Odd line reads, conflicting pronunciations, and a general lack of emotion were common across my playtime. Katharine was by far the most interesting and well voiced of the bunch, but this was mostly due to her sassy attitude.
King’s Bounty II‘s biggest flaw is how easy it seems to get put at a disadvantage. Limited resources means player mistakes can have long running consequences. Forget to hold a button to automatically repurchase units after battles? Be prepared to backtrack all the way back to the vendor. There is no way to repeatedly grind for more currency or experience which discourages experimentation. Most equipment and units are expensive so you are encouraged to invest in 1-2 things. Perk points can only be reset once per playthrough, so you need to decide on a good build early on.
This game requires a weird mix of keyboard and mouse. Button icons are present on screen, but can only be clicked in certain instances. Most notably you cannot click the clearly clickable button to advance past the start screen and must hit space. Abilities were patched to be selectable with a mouse, but if a unit is under the icon then the selection prioritizes clicking the unit. Tooltips can overlap each other which requires moving the camera around to properly read vital information in battle. Little things, like keyboard shortcuts not working in certain scenarios, add up over time.
King’s Bounty II is an average game. Its got ups and downs, but the main fault for me was the lack of a strong hook to keep me invested. After playing for 40 hours, I had hardly progressed in the bland storyline. The gameplay itself was enjoyable albeit some major balance issues. Since my original playthrough, the developers have since made balance changes and incorporated difficulty options. I think the uneven ratio of exploration to battles make this title unappealing for hardcore strategists. This title would be far more enjoyable for those looking for a more RPG-like adventure.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for review is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience. All opinions therein are from the author alone.
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- Most environments are packed with dense object detail
- Battles are moderately enjoyable once they get going
- Puzzle battles were mostly balanced and satisfying
- Hit or miss enemy models, but extra points for the pretty birds
- Katharine's sass made dialogue more bearable
- Characters look uncanny and a generation behind in terms of graphics and animation quality
- Subpar writing with poor story pacing
- Battles are too far apart with little to find between aside from landscapes
- The ideal skill tree system discourages role playing
- UI overlap and minor issues add up over time