STAFF REVIEW of King’s Bounty II (Xbox One)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

King’s Bounty II Box art While it seems sequels are commonplace, what isn’t so common is when a game more than three decades old finally gets a direct sequel. I might have been too young at the time to fully appreciate and enjoy the original King’s Bounty back in 1990, but it’s finally getting a true sequel more than thirty years later. There’s been a handful of spin-offs and spiritual successors over the years, but never a direct sequel until now. I can only imagine how excited super fans of the original must be.

We actually got to try an early preview build on PC back in the Summer, not quite sure what to expect or how it would translate on console. Having put more than a dozen hours in across multiple characters in the preview, I came away intrigued and wanting more. Developed by 1C, King’s Bounty II makes its return as one of the classic iconic turn-based RPG with tons of improvements for a new generation of gamers to experience, expanding its lore with a whole new story, enemies and more. I’ll admit, I'm not normally one for strategic and tactical games like this, but that might simply be because not nearly as many release on console. 1C is looking to change that with King’s Bounty II, adding their own unique spin on the genre.

Taking place in the land of Nostria, it seems the world as a whole is taking a turn for the worse. Bandits litter the roads between towns, conspiracies and dangers are everywhere, creatures lie in wait for any travelers and overseas kingdoms have started to become defiant, denying the King’s rule over them. Maybe a savior will emerge to become the kingdom’s last hope to reunite the lands, even if those heroes are accidental. The overall narrative is decent at best, but that’s most likely due to the terrible voice acting makes it hard to bare at times.

Your journey begins by first picking one of three characters. Aivar, a warrior who used to be a knight of the Royal Guard was one day banished when he refused to cooperate in a coup. He escaped to a faraway land, eventually earning a reputation for himself as a masterful mercenary and leading his own troop, the Hounds of War. Eventually captured and jailed, one day he is set free by Prince Adrian with an offer that may give him his previous role and life back. Things seem too good to be true though, so he stays cautious of the offer. Being a warrior, he specializes in more physical based combat, adding damage, resistances and more when you take on battles. While he may not be capable of using magic himself, units under his command are boosted greatly due to his leadership, even earning more experience per battle.

The mage Katharine comes from a noble bloodline, spending many years away from Nostria lands searching for arcane magic and knowledge. The funds for these expeditions eventually stopped, so she returns to attempt to regain her power from the King. Being a mage, she of course sides with magical abilities compared to Aivar, utilizing very powerful magical abilities and spells. Having instant access to Air, Fire, Death and Darkness spells which will help greatly early on in battles.

Lastly is Elisa, a Paladin, somewhat of a hybrid between Aivar and Katharine. She’s decent in combat but can also delve into the spell trees as well if you want to dabble in both styles of gameplay. I enjoyed Elisa’s backstory more so than the other two actually, so there’s reason to play each character. Between all three characters I did enjoy my playthrough with Katharine the most though, simply because of the powerfulness of her spells which made a massive difference in battles early on when I was struggling.

What I found quite interesting with King’s Bounty II since I never played the original was how it feels like its gameplay is set within two completely different genres. Most of the time you’ll be exploring the lands of Nostria in third person, akin to Witcher, Dragon Age, etc, then combat is something completely different with its hexagon turned based strategy. Truth be told, I struggled with combat early on, and while there’s a brief tutorial, it doesn’t really teach much strategy wise, something I had to learn through plenty of trial and error. You’ll build an army, taking them into battle, but every single skirmish will certainly challenge you with its high difficulty.

I did quite enjoy the exploration part of King’s Bounty II, either on foot or horseback, taking my time to search for glowing objects usually containing sellable loot and gold. As you explore the lands you’ll come across different pillars, some used for fast travel, others for mana and experience. There’s also a surprising amount of side quests that are completely optional, though basically forced since you won’t be able to win many battles without doing so without their rewards of loot and experience. Once you reach the first city after meeting the Prince, the world itself feels quite alive, bustling with NPC’s going about their own business, even having conversations among themselves. There are even notices left up on the boards across town written by citizens, some being quite humorous if you take the time to read them. While not completely open world like other games, you are able to play non-linearly and explore however you wish, to an extent. You can freely explore the world until you reach a border where battles are strategically blocking your path. Manage to survive these battles and a new chunk of the map is open for you to discover further.

Instead of brute forcing your way through every problem and conflict, you’re sometimes given multiple ways to solve the issue, or forced to side with one person or another. Early on you’re given two sides of a conflict and you’ll need to decide who you want to fight and scare off based on who you think is in the right. Decisions are based on one of four influences: Power, Finesse, Anarchy or Order. The more you decide to align with one of these ideals, you’re character will eventually categorize your character as such. I chose Order when I played as Aivar and the opposite as Katharine to see the different outcomes, but also because your armies will gain bonuses if they are aligned with your ideals as well.

The other portion of King’s Bounty II comes with its strategic combat. You command an army of units, leveling them up if they survive battle and combining different types of units. While hexagon turn based combat isn’t new or unique, it feels like it’s done in an exciting way, complete with tons of challenge, though tuned way too harshly. The first battle you take part in gives you a slight tutorial of how to move units, send attacks, use abilities and magic use, but it’s so brief and doesn’t do anything to teach you strategy at all.

Even just a couple battles in, I initially lost most of my units due to poor planning and execution. Once they die in battle, they are permanently gone, so you’re going to want to be careful as possible when planning your attacks. You can replace new units by recruiting them via quests or purchasing them at a vendor (like hiring), but it will take some time to get the hang of battles, especially once you make it further than the main city, as they will require much more planning to be successful. Different unit types exist like typical bandits, sword and spearmen, hounds, and even undead that can join your army. Some unit types are better suited for different situations, so it will take time to figure out all this on your own. Some even have certain ideals tied to the influences you choose in quests, which will make them more powerful or weaker in battle, so there’s a lot to take in and learn as you go.

The problem though lies in combat’s difficulty. Many battles will cause you to lose many of your units, so you’ll have to spend the coin to recruit new ones if you want to take on new battles to progress further within the lands of Nostria. Almost every battle I seem to lose quite a few units, which racks up the expenses of getting replacements. This is why even though there are a handful of sidequests at any given time, you’re basically forced to do them all so that you can explore, loot and get enough rewards to afford new army units to progress one more step further in the story.

One major factor of my combat success came with my spell book. Aivar initially can’t utilize any spells other than single use scrolls whereas Katharine has access to many from the beginning. Yes, you could spend talent points earned from leveling up and give Aivar access to spell lines, but then comes the question about being masterful in one way of fighting or more balanced overall. I struggled quite hard with Aivar’s more physical based combat approach and had much more success with being able to use Katharine’s spells once per turn. Being able to use a high damage spell on a mini-boss fight made a massive difference, so I ended up choosing Katharine for the majority of my King’s Bounty II experience. Of course there’s a mana cost for using spells, and you can only use one per turn, so you still need to be quite strategic in choosing what spells to use and when as it’s a finite resource.

The combat difficulty only gets worse the further you progress as well, something I think may frustrate many players. It did get tweaked slightly from the early preview build that we played previously, but it’s still much too harsh. Couple this with how slow movement is when you’re exploring Nostria and having to constantly backtrack places, even on horseback, and it can feel like a slog at times, especially when you need to reload a battle for the fifth time to hopefully finally survive or not lose half your army.

World exploration combined with hex-based strategic combat is a unique blend, and while King’s Bounty II is full of high points, there's also many lows that were hard to ignore, the worst offenders being the voice acting and combat difficulty. I’m not normally one for strategic games like this, but King’s Bounty II kept me engaged, always wanting to progress one more battle so I could explore a new corner of the world. “Good things come to those who wait”, even if that wait has been thirty years.

**King’s Bounty II was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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