Too many RPG or strategy games of today suffer from the criticism that they are either too much about the game’s story and not enough about the game’s combat and gameplay, or that the combat and strategy suffers too much from balance issues. The solution to beating certain bosses and armies is usually one-size-fits-all, or at the very least the solutions offered are very lopsided. Examples: always cast shell to avoid certain death. Always use the fire-coating on your weapon maximize damage against the Ice King. This unit here, the black ogres? Always worthless, because the red ogres or black knights are always better for either purpose.
King’s Bounty: The Legend manages to blend new elements of role-playing worlds with an old ingenious combat system. Combat is a combination of RPG and strategy elements, with unit placement and movement on hexagonal squares and units having stats and health as if they were members of a party. Units come in measurements of members, so healing of some sort is mostly not part of the game; if you have 200 peasants with 5 health each that takes 200 damage, you can’t use a potion to heal them–40 of them are gone, and you have to restock at a castle that has more peasants. Also important to note is that each actual peasant also does damage, so fewer members doesn’t just mean the unit is closer to being wiped out, it also means it will do less damage. You can’t duplicate unit types and you always have 5 types at a time. There are some items that make new units but you can also garrison your troops at different castles and recruit them from castles, taverns, shops, and even laboratories. The point here is that as you lose units, you will need to recruit new ones, and you will usually have to replace one type with another. This point of design forces forces the player into creativity; as the number of, say, bears you have goes down, you must consider: do you replace the bears with wizards or with marauding bandits? What are the implications for strategy with each?
The unit system makes it so you can’t simply develop a strategy and keep using it, squashing units with the same spells or brute force you always do, which is faux-strategy. Instead, this is real, on-the-fly strategy that keeps you on your toes and tests your ability to be adaptive and creative. And King’s Bounty does it all without watering down the challenge or creating imbalance issues on either side. Random battefields for each fight also test on-the-spot decisions. Some battlefields have chests in the middle and some have dangerous obstacles or narrow corridors. This makes every battle, except for the rare boss fight, different. And even the boss fights are different–there are three very different
This room for creativity makes the game very fresh and unique; there is no pressure to change certain tactics just because the game mandates it; the only pressure comes from failure. There is plenty of encouragement to try something new as new units, moves, abilities, and bonuses pop up throughout the game both for you and your enemies. King’s Bounty keeps you on your toes by generating random battlefields with different layouts each time you enter combat; the battle system leaves victory or failure more up to skill rather than failure to deign the secrets from the game. This means King’s Bounty: The Legend appeals to both skill-based and exploratory gamer types alike, something few single-player games do, and even fewer strategy/RPG types of games do.
King’s Bounty has some poor translation issues to go with it, which really waters down the game world and storyline, since characters are only represented by text and face. As a budget title, it’s fair if there are no cutscenes or cinematics, but it’s still disappointing to have such a large world with a large variety of characters be completely reduced to nothing but text, and then to have that text be riddled with misplaced commas and misspelled words that will occasionally require self-translation.
The kind of English that’s at the official website displays some of the kinds of errors you’ll see. It’s a shame, too, because the story is very long, eventful, and creative. One part of the main questline has you searching for the king’s older brother, Carl, who gave up the throne to practice science and general hermitry. You must deliver to him the king’s seal; the king doesn’t know why, but decides to give it to him anyway. Is it for power? Does he want his throne back? No, the old man discovered he wants to get married after all upon reading some scholarly works written by a woman he’s never met. You then go to meet her, and she’s a hundred years old and as such curses his persistence (“I wrote that thing fifty years ago!”). Another side quest has a man asking you to kill a large carnivorous plant by the lake. The plant then talks to you, and if you choose the diplomacy route, the quest ends not with a battle but with you giving a cow to the plant so the plants will have a safer world to grow in. The wry, perhaps Russian sense of humor does not take over the fantasy world but permeates it, and it’s difficult to appreciate it with small, poorly translated text.
Other bizzare opportunities open up as well, including chances to marry and have children, the most interesting one being documented at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
The game’s music is about as generic as you can get for a fantasy outing, complete with synthesized sounds that imitate an orchestra that emphasizes a harpischord and glowing brass section, but it does not offend. It melds seamlessly with the world, though the few number of tunes may make them repeated so often you’ll want to turn them off. Sound effects for action and spells are bland, like any strategy game. The camera and animation is similar to Warcraft III, though the characters and some of the monsters have original or fresh interpretations. The controls and some of the game world will really get on your nerves. A left click is not to select something, but to move to something; looking around is used using a right-click. Not only is this extremely uncomfortable, but with an overhead view that looks like Warcraft III this will go against the sensibility of PC gamers who have played any type of strategy game. Mor
e than five hours in, I’d still click on an enemy with a left click and scramble to click away before I ran into an enemy much more powerful than I. Some of the first starting areas have overpowered enemies in the corner. There’s a wizard not one minute from the starting castle in some corner by a tent who can still slaughter me, and I’m level 6 (which is not like level 6 in an MMO). Really weak enemies can’t be auto-defeated–even if it will take 5 minutes and you’ll get basically no experience or gold, you still must continue the fight, though you have ability to see enemies and avoid them before hand.
Despite awkward navigation and dialogue, the game’s combat is addicting and endlessly different. There are three types of heroes you can be and all are vastly different. In fact, the world’s units that you fight are completely different based on which commander you are. Even if you play as a mage again, you’ll certainly have a different experience each time you play. If you’re looking for a strategy-based game that actively engages you and rarely feels like a grind, King’s Bounty is worth two run-throughs.