Experience Helpful, But Not Required
King’s Bounty is a game steeped in myth and tradition. It’s a game that spawned the Heroes of Might and Magic series that (along with Ultima) is the series that brought many people into the world of computer gaming. Hearing that the game was being re-made was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s exciting because it’s always every gamer’s fantasy to be able to replay a classic game using modern technology with all the graphical whistles and bells. But it’s terrifying too because it’s very difficult for a remake to live up to the inflated memories of a classic title. And the industry hasn’t been too great with providing good remakes, so that runs against projects like this too.
However, it’s a pretty safe bet that most players will fall in love with King’s Bounty: The Legend right off the bat whether you love the original or have never even heard of it. But it’s obvious that Russian developers Katauri Interactive were fans of the original game and actually, you know, played it a few times. As such, this new title keeps the flavor and gameplay of the original title while vastly expanding the KB world with a lot more than a fresh coat of painted pixels.
Like the original, you are a Treasure Searcher, a noble title for a guy who goes around and loots stuff in the name of king and country. Unlike the original, you are not thrown right into the plot of the game. If you remember the original, you set off on your main mission to capture the villains of the kingdom pretty much right away. Here, you will be eased into the main quest and can go off and do your own thing in a surprisingly non-linear world filled with side quests just waiting for brave heroes. Kudos to Katauri for this.
You control a hero that can be a mage, paladin or warrior. There is a fairly extensive skill tree that you can use to level your main character into the type of combatant you like. With the exception of a few high-end skills that are exclusive to one class or the other, you can pretty much build out each character however you like. It’s just that there are three rune types that you use to purchase skills and each character receives different ratios of them. So a warrior could be built out like a mage, but this will happen very slowly because they don’t get many Magic runes when they level, which are used to increase your magical skills. The paladin is the most balanced class if you want to become more of a jack-of-all trades, though they too have specialized skills.
Your hero rides around the main map on a horse in real time. Your hero avatar represents both your hero and a following army that you recruit and build as a mainstay of the game. When you happen to bump into a troop of enemies, which are also represented by avatars that normally look like the most powerful creature in the stack of opponents, you drop into a hex map for the purpose of turn-based combat.
Unlike the Disciples series which boasts similar gameplay, your hero here (and in the original) does not actually directly participate in the combat, except when they occasionally cast spells. Your skills and any magic items you are carrying do influence the combat however. So if you have a sword that gives your hero +3 attack power, what that really means is that all your armies enjoy that benefit.
You can have five stacks of troops on the battlefield at any one time, though your opponents will sometimes have more. Unless you have the tactics skill, your troops will be randomly lined up along the "back wall" of a pending battle. Your goal is the elimination of the opponent’s army, plain and simple. If they are lead by a hero then he or she might cast spells on your troops. If they don’t have a hero (most don’t) then it’s simply a straight fight and your group has a serious advantage, though some armies can cast limited spells as well.
The tactical battles have some random elements too, like battlefield obstacles which non-flying opponents will have to walk around or crosses that randomly bless someone each turn unless someone doesn’t want to take the chance on buffing an opponent and destroys it. Combat itself is very simple, though if you go into it without a strategic mind then you will lose. Each troop takes turns based on their initiative roll until everyone has moved. Then the game moves on to the next turn.
If you have a troop of wolves, for instance, with four action points, they can move three (or any number less than three) and then attack, move three and then adopt a defensive stance, or move four spaces. They can also howl, which is a special ability that spooks lower level humans and elves. Using a special ability normally consumes all remaining action points unless that ability involves movement, like being able to run extra spaces. Certain special abilities can only be used once per combat, while others reload after a number of turns have passed. Some troops also influence others in the same army, like the guardsmen with their shiny gold armor increasing the morale of human archers and swordsmen.
Besides your magic spells like fireball to singe opponents or resurrection to bring back some of your fallen warriors, you also have a chest of spirits with four entities living inside. You don’t start the game with the chest but can get it within the first ten minutes of play if you follow the main storyline. The creatures in the chest can, once you convince them to follow you which involves doing some type of quest for them, make devastating attacks on enemy armies. In fact, the spirits of rage as they are called are some of the most powerful creatures in the game, damaging entire armies at high levels. The spirits can only be used on a limited basis when your Rage score is up, which happens over time in combat, and need to rest after using a power, so they don’t unbalance the game. They also start off weak, but earn experience as you use them. But they are very, very nice to have around. The warrior generates the most rage and the mage the least. The paladin, as with all things, seems to be somewhere in the middle.
Graphically, this game nails it on the head. The world is extremely detailed, more so than I expected to find. Little things like leaves trickling down with the current of a babbling brook add eye candy to almost every nook and cranny you gaze at. For a game played in a top down, isometric view, the detail is incredible. Everything kind of looks like a storybook and has a hand-drawn feel. Even the spooky areas like crypts are a little cartoon-like, so you never really are afraid of the environment. Even the tactical battlefields take on the look and feel of the world on the big map where you meet an opponent. All in all, it’s one of the best looking games I have seen in a long time. The eye candy is a real joy here, and may just entice you to keep playing for just a bit longer past your bedtime.
Unfortunately, the sound is not nearly as well done as the graphics. There is no voice acting other than a rather strained-sounding narrator at the beginning of the game, so get ready for a lot of reading as you tackle all the main quests and the many side quests that you find. There are a few combat sounds, but nothing really special. They have a music soundtrack that mostly loops depending on the area you are adventuring in. It sounds okay at first, but gets monotonous after a while. In fact, I played the game a lot with the sound completely off and it was fine. On the bright side, you can play at work and nobody will be the wiser unless they look at your screen.
Another negative aspect of the game is that you can’t really tell if a quest is doable before, or even after, you accept it. There are fights even in the very first area you explore that are impossible for a first level character. At least you can inspect the enemy before you walk in range to find this out. But sometimes you will accept a quest and get into a dungeon, only to be faced with stacks of 600+ skeleton warriors versus your pitiful 35 archers and 12 swordsmen. This is easy to do since the quests are not leveled or given a difficulty rating. Since retreat kills off your entire army, and fighting is pointless in a battle like that, the only thing you can do is to save and reload. The game seems to want to make you "pick and choose" your battles, but for a lifelong RPGer and fairly experienced RTSer, it’s very painful to leave a troop of unfriendly bad guys camped beside your main castle and just figure that you will come back to it later. It’s just goes against everything we have been taught.
Also, there are difficulty settings, but these can only be adjusted at the very start of a new game. If you are playing on normal and find it too difficult, then you have to reset the entire game to play again on easy. Also, even though there are five difficulty levels, the difference between "Normal" and "Easy" is quite large. On normal I found way too many fights that I couldn’t handle with a mage. On easy, almost every battle was a cakewalk. I wish there was a setting between the two, or at least a way to adjust the difficulty on the fly.
Taken as a whole, King’s Bounty: The Legend is a fantastic game that does justice to the original. All of its little flaws can be overcome, and what it offers is a solid gameplay experience that will keep you glued to your screen for at least 50 hours and perhaps longer for a single game. That’s an excellent value that we don’t often find anymore.
Now if I could just get someone to remake Starflight, I’d be in heaven.