- Developer: 1C entertainment
- Publisher: Koch Media
- Release Date: 24/08/2021
- Price: £54.99 / $59.99
- Review code provided by Koch Media
Introducing: King’s Bounty 2 Review
I had high hopes for King’s Bounty II. If you’ve just watched the trailer above you’ll no doubt be at least somewhat invested in this game. The plot, set in motion by the untimely death of a beloved monarch, the hordes of invading monsters, the in-depth and precise tactical strategies played out during enemy encounters. Add to that a choice of protagonist, a morality system that impacts gameplay, and talking dragons, and surely you’re on to a winner. A game that will grab the attention of Skyrim, Dragon Age, and The Witcher fans alike, whilst also appealing to players of turn based strategy games like Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. If King’s Bounty II gets all this right, then I would have no problem recommending it to all that would listen. But, are these lofty goals met in reality and how does King’s Bounty II handle the transition to Switch? You have come to the right place to find out.
Insert generic fantasy game storyline here
So what is this game all about? Seriously, someone please tell me because I’m struggling here. You start the game in prison where you’ve spent the last 6 months after being accused of poisoning the king. This occurred shortly after a peculiar chap, called a seer, proclaimed to all that would listen that you were the only thing standing between order and the chaos of an upcoming blight, the likes of which had not been seen in millennia. So you’re in prison, then you get released by the prince – the same prince that put you in there in the first place. Why? Well because… reasons. From this point onwards its your run of the mill fantasy RPG plot line. There’s dragons, armies, and all manner of hideous hell demons to encounter on your quest to discover why the land is falling into chaos and what can be done to stop it.
A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a faster horse!
So, here’s where the game gets interesting (well sort of). Some of the time you’ll be traversing the overworld in a third person perspective, opening chests, interacting with townspeople, and so forth (think Dragon Age: Origins). Controlling your protagonist from this perspective is, in a word… slow. There is a button to alternate between a slow jog and a walk and, frankly, I just don’t know why it exists. The slow jog is too slow, so why people would want to walk I have no idea. Hey, but don’t despair good people because you can always summon a horse to speed things up a little, and I do mean a little. I’m not too clear on horse speeds and their meaning, but I would describe the movement of this horse at somewhere between a trot and a canter. I’ve banged away fruitlessly on every button of my controller, praying that one of them will compel the horse to break into a gallop, but so far no luck. This is particularly confusing because I’ve read message boards for the PC version of this game that say the horse is so fast it’s difficult to control. I can only conclude that 1C entertainment took this feedback on board and vastly reduced the speed of the horse for the Switch port, to the point where riding it is barely worth the hassle.
In the game of chess, you can never let your adversary see your pieces
So getting from A to B can be a slow and tedious affair. However, every time you are engaged in a battle, the perspective switches to a top down hexahedral chessboard, in which your units face off against enemy hordes in a turn based tactical throwdown (think more Fire Emblem). Controlling your units in this mode is a simple point and click affair to move them around the board and engage the enemy. I will freely admit, that I find this style of game fairly difficult to succeed at, at the the best of times (and I know my way around a chessboard). What I like about Fire Emblem is that simply hovering over a unit reveals a wealth of information that can allow you to concoct a winning strategy. At a glance you can see important details such as: its range of attack, its weaknesses and resistances, even the probability of an attack landing. There’s none of that here, or a least there is some, but its buried beneath layers of fuzzy incomprehensible menu options that can only be interpreted after studying the in game tutorial at length. Not the most entertaining way to spend an afternoon, I think you will agree.
The problem with stereotypes
Well lets just back up a moment because I forgot to mention an important detail. At the beginning of the game, you can choose between one of three characters to play as. The basic plot of the game plays out exactly the same for the most part. You just get to look and listen to a different protagonist over the next 40 hours or so of play time. There’s Elisa (a paladin), Katharine (a mage) and Aivar (a bog-standard warrior). Elisa is bland and inoffensive, Katherine is, shall we say, opinionated, and Aivar is… well dull. Much like the candidates in a general election, I didn’t really warm to any of them. What really would have helped, is a compelling and unique backstory for each character to help me understand their motivations, similar to how the beginning of how Dragon Age: Origins plays out.
The characters are all supposed to have different playstyles, Elisa is more defensive, Aivar prioritises strength, and Katherine can use magic spells. I must admit that I didn’t notice a great difference between them, aside from the rather irritating gameplay mechanic that effectively punishes you for not being a mage. For example, not long into game you run into some golems that are blocking the way forward. They need deactivating by their master but uh-oh – he’s trapped behind a magical barrier. If you’re a mage, well no problem, you can just deactivate the barrier and have a word with the man in charge. However, if you are not a mage, then you’d better ready your weapon because you’ll have to fight those golems to get by. I’m sad to say that this is not an isolated incident either.
There’s another important gameplay mechanic which I must mention and that is the ideals or alignment system. This functions much in the same way as the morality system from Mass Effect or Knights of the Old Republic. Certain choices within the game will cause to to become aligned with one or more of four fundamental ideals: order, anarchy, power, and finesse. This provides a bonus to you if the core ideal you align yourself with matches your unit types which corresponds to that ideal (e.g. solders are order, skeletons are anarchy, etc.). It wouldn’t be an RPG without a skill tree and Kings Bounty II certainly has one of these, which is divided into the four aforementioned ideals. As you become more aligned with an ideal better buffs can become unlocked from the skill tree. It’s a nice idea but it’s hampered by the same restrictions of options depending on your starting character that I mentioned earlier. So you are going to struggle if you want to be a warrior that specializes finesse if you cannot use magic to negotiate a peaceful resolution to an argument.
Cor blimey those graphics are bad
Be really careful of any trailer you watch for this game, including the one embedded above. None of them are a true representation of how this game looks on Switch. It is quite simply terrible! This is a very lazy port of a half decent looking PC game that now looks like something from 2007. It’s just that bad. Characters are blurry, the landscape is suspiciously sparse, draw distances are comparatively short. The list goes on. I’ve been flicking back and forth between this game and Ocarina of Time thanks to it’s re-release as part of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass and seriously there’s not much in it graphically between the two. One of the biggest problems the game has is with the rendering of hair which looks like a plastered down mess of slime balancing precariously at the top of somebody’s head (or in the case of a beard – sliding down their face). It just makes the game look cheap and nasty and not at all worth its ridiculously hefty £55 price tag. The problem gets so much worse as well during the tactical battles where your units are reduced to just a few pixels in height. It’s down right impossible to work out what’s going on in handheld mode, and I’m playing on the ever so slightly larger screen of the Nintendo Switch OLED.
I’m not huge fan of the audio either if I’m honest. The soundtrack is ok, but certainly not memorable. The dialog is all spoken, which I must admit is nice, but hilariously fails at affecting a convincing medieval British accent most of the time. Unfortunately, this is most obvious by the protagonist you’ll be playing as and listening to throughout the entire adventure. Katherine just sounds American, which badly conflicts with the accents of the rest of the cast, and Aivar could teach Dick Van Dyke a thing or two about how to desecrate the Queen’s English.
Conclusion: Jack of two trades, master of none
Kings Bounty II is an unusual attempt to merge together an RPG with a turn based tactical game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pull off either genre particularly well. The turn based strategy elements are confusing and obfuscated, while the RPG world exploration mechanics are slow and dull. The frustrating thing is that, on paper, this should work. What I wanted was The Witcher 3 meets Fire Emblem,, but I’m sad to say this in not it. To my mind, the best representation of a this merging of genres would be the truly excellent South Park: The Fractured But Whole. A more compelling cast of characters, a genuinely interesting story arc and easier to understand battle field mechanics would go a long way towards restoring my faith in this franchise. Oh, and the less said about the truly dreadful graphics for this Switch port, the better.
- May appeal to turn based strategy fans that want a little more story to go with their gameplay.
- All dialog is spoken (for better or worse)
- Graphics are some of the worst I’m seen on Switch in a long time.
- Exploring the world is slow and tedious.
- Turn based tactical elements are confusing.
- Way too expensive for what it is.