Developer: 1C Entertainment
Publisher: 1C Entertainment, Prime Matter
Platform: PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows (Reviewed)
Release Date: 24 August 2021
Price: $49.99 USD/$69.95 AUD – Available Here
Remakes, reboots, spin offs, and revivals of long dead franchises are currently all the rage in the video game industry. King’s Bounty was released in 1990 and is finally getting its sequel 31 years later. King’s Bounty 2 is reimagined as a combination of third-person exploration and traditional turn based tactical combat.
King’s Bounty 2 struggles with a dull story. The pacing is very bad. The main story is both abrupt and dragged out. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s a surprisingly accurate description. The main quests move at a quick, clipped pace, yet at the same time are dragged out due to the sheer number side missions the players are encouraged or even required to do to move onto the main mission.
The game also offers an alignment system where players choose some combination of strength or magic and order or anarchy. Like most games, King’s Bounty 2 is plagued with a lot of black and white decisions that will determine the character’s alignment. These aren’t particularly inspiring or ambitious.
King’s Bounty 2 modernizes the original game by switching to a closely zoomed third person perspective when exploring the overworld. Here, players will acquire combat quests, perform fetch quests, manage their army, and generally engage in some light RPG elements. At set points in the world, the player will battle it out in hex-based tactical combat.
The RPG elements of the game are on the light side and very standard for the genre. The level cap and sheer volume allows players to create viable builds. On the other hand, the talents are incredibly dull. For the exception of a few talents, almost all are boring stat bonuses that fail to ignite any excitement. Equipment bonuses are in the same vein, offering stat bonuses oriented for different builds
The combat is enjoyable thanks to its heavy reliance on good tactical decisions. Unit composition is just as important as making the right moves in battle, as players need to be mindful of the alignment of each unit and their damage type. Terrain height, movement, line of sight, restricted special abilities, and limited troops all add an extra layer of complexity to combat. The special abilities are tuned well that they feel like they have actual effect in battle that can turn the tide. Enemies are on rather even footing as they have access to these skills which adds a predictable challenge in combat. I particularly like players being unable to heal a unit to full in the middle of combat. Instead, as induvial members die, healers can only top off the surviving members. It is a more believable system than many other tactical games where healers magically resurrect troops.
Th level design is poor. The quests are predictable and very standard for RPG titles. Players can be expected to be an NPC’s personal assistant as they complete the usual fetch and kill quests. The odd puzzle is thrown in, but they are often simple and straight forward affairs that barely count as a puzzle. The standard quest design on its own is fine, but it’s the organization that makes King’s Bounty 2 so miserable. Players will spend more time exploring the semi-open world map for collectibles and side quests than actual combat. Often, the game’s quests need to be done in a certain order requiring players to run around the map. As a result, players may be forced to do several side quests before they can continue with the main storyline. If the player is losing a unit every other battle, they can expect to be doing more side quests to gather the resources to compensate. At this point, the actual challenging puzzle in King’s Bounty 2 is figuring out the correct order and number of quests to complete, not determining the right order of statues to interact with to open up an area.
Compounding the problem is the agonizingly slow movement speed. The so-called jog feels like a fast walk, while the actual walk feels like the sort of leisurely slow pace everyone takes when they have a great night out with friends and aren’t quite ready to go home yet. I usually don’t mind fetch quests as it’s often free rewards for a small bit of my time. The pacing just turns fetch quests into an agonizing slog that I’d much rather avoid if it wasn’t for the fact I desperately need the rewards.
The learning curve is brutal for new players. The tutorials are a bare bones affair focusing on teaching players the very basics yet miss the intricacies of the game needed to actually be successful. Resources are limited and finite. As a result, players can easily run into a “dead end” that requires a player to go back to a much earlier save in hopes of salvaging the run. In the worst-case scenario, a completely new game might be needed. At the time of publishing, there is only one difficulty setting to make the situation worse for new players.
The user experience is poor. I am always a fan of developers providing players the freedom to choose how they input commands into the game. King’s Bounty 2 is clearly catered to those using a controller, leaving mouse and keyboard users feeling like an afterthought. The game’s UI overemphasizes button input. Combat fares the best as most of the functions can be done with a mouse. On the other hand, the item management menus and vendor interaction buck the basic conventions players can expect from a good PC RPG such as double-clicking items to sell or clicking on an icon to trigger it’s listed action. To add insult to injury, the key binding system is very limited. While many lesser used keys can be rebound, there are a set of main functions that are locked. I already dislike the fact that those not using a standard English QWERTY keyboard layout or prefer alternative movement cluster like ESDF are left out, but not listing these keys to a separate heading stating the bindings can’t be changed is an even worse design.
The game is missing important quality-of-life features. Messing up a battle has long term consequences. Retrying fights to achieve a near perfect result will be common, yet the game lacks a quick save/load function that would speed up the process of reverting back to an earlier state. The game conveniently lists the difficulty of battle before combat starts. It gives players a chance to adjust their army or take on a few other quests before coming back. Since movement speed is so slow, it would be beneficial to list the current difficulty when hovering over the combat icon on the map so players don’t have to make the long jog back just to find out they are still too underpowered for the fight.
King’s Bounty 2 offers the standard fantasy style. The landscape full of stone castles, wooden structures, old ruins, and sprawling country sides. The warriors usually wear practical armour while mages are decked out in their exquisite robes and jewelry. The game leans heavily towards a realistic take. While there is nothing separating King’s Bounty 2 from the crowd stylistically, the style is well done.
The audio has its ups and downs. The soundtrack is enjoyable with its standard fantasy video game soundtrack that uses lots of orchestral style music. It never distracts from the gameplay but does an excellent job of nudging the player’s emotions in the right direction. The sound effects are decent. It is nothing special, but it does the job well enough. The voice acting is where the audio falls apart. There are a few actors who are passable for an AA title, but a large portion of the acting is poor. Several actors struggle with overacting and some just can’t hit the right tone for their character. To make matters worse, the game relies heavily on idle chatter to make the world feel populated, but there is an extremely limited number of lines that are used almost every time the player is near an NPC.
King’s Bounty 2 is a game with only few bright spots. The combat is punishing in a good way, but everything else falls apart from there. The level design is poor to start with, but the painfully slow movement speed turns it into a frustrating experience. The story and RPG mechanics are uninspiring. User experience falls short, especially for PC gamers using a mouse and keyboard. While the developers have promised fixes to address some of the complaints, the game just feels too frustrating to be worth the time or money to salvage. It’s time to move on and hope for a better game in King’s Bounty 3.
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