King’s Bounty was the landmark title that paved the way for the iconic Heroes of Might and Magic series. Over the course of time, the Might and Magic series saw plenty of new entries and Kings Bounty itself saw a few spiritual successors. Yet, there was no true heir to the king…until now. Developer 1C Entertainment boldly steps forth back onto the fields of the turn-based hex strategy RPG with King’s Bounty 2 and takes strides towards modernizing the genre in interesting ways.
King’s Bounty 2 thrusts you into the world of Nostria, a medieval fantasy world teeming with Magic, fantastical creatures and the political interplay of different factions and races. Nostria is in grave peril, as a blight seeks to wreak havoc in the peaceful kingdom. It is up to you to overcome the darkness and restore order the way you see fit.
You get to play as one of three main heroes, Aivar, Katherine or Elisa. Each of these heroes specializes in a certain type of playstyle and has unique starting abilities. They are also fully voice acted, have their own backstories, personalities and place in the world. I played through the game with Aivar to get better acquainted with the game’s systems but also started another save with Katherine as she looked interesting to try out.
The norm with turn-based hex strategy RPGs is to have an overworld where players play with systems, structures and build up their forces for battles on certain tiles that zoom into a battle map.
I was surprised to find that Kings Bounty 2 didn’t throw me into an overworld quite the same way. I instead started in a jail cell having a conversation with a guard in third-person view.
The dialogue with the guard, and the rest of the NPCs I would later encounter in the game, took place with the same cinematic camera panning as that of The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Origins (although it lacked the dialogue options). This was a pleasant surprise and signaled the direction 1C entertainment wanted to take Kings Bounty 2 in.
As I was led through the opening cinematics and tutorials with Aivar, it quickly dawned on me that Kings Bounty 2 put a great deal of effort into fleshing out the character. Aivar’s responses to each conversation let his personality and backstory shine through where relevant. Though admittedly he sometimes sounds like the lovechild of Gabe Newell and Doug Cockle (might be a pro for some).
This effort put into the personalities of the characters was further proven when I played with Countess Katherine, who is by far my favorite of the three. All three characters and most NPCs have great character models, but you can still see the odd clipping of items every now and then which isn’t really a major issue.
Mechanically, your character is basically a commander of a certain number of units. While most third-person RPGs would focus on developing the character themselves, leveling and upgrading your character in King’s Bounty 2 develops the effectiveness of your units and magic instead. Your stats, your equipment and your talents all affect your units in one way or another.
So, when you’re looking to buy that fancy hat or armor, you’re actually investing in the stats for your units, which is pretty neat. You can also purchase more units from the merchants dotted throughout Nostria to bolster your ranks, each with its own variety to sell.
What’s more, is that your character also aligns with certain ideals. This is like a morality system, but with some gameplay effects. Certain talents, units and story branches favor certain ideals. As you take certain actions, your character grows towards an ideal corresponding to the action. While this does lead you down branching paths, it can sometimes gatekeep interesting choices.
Near the beginning, I had to deal with some golems blocking my path by force or dispel an arcane shield to talk to the golem master. These choices corresponded to the power and finesse ideal respectively.
Talking to the master seemed interesting and was how i wanted to deal with the situation. However, since Aivar isn’t keen on magic (although he can certainly use it later) I had no other choice but to take on the golems. Later choices did offer more flexibility though.
Another thing your character will be doing is exploring and looting a whole bunch. If you explore hard enough, gold caches, treasures full of magic scrolls, structures that permanently increase stats and lore aplenty await. You’ll even find the odd environmental puzzle-like reattaching the arms of an old statue to reveal a hidden chest or finding the lever of an old elevator mechanism.
It’s very basic but nonetheless adds some fun to the overworld experience. However, I do wish we could grab items while riding the horse. The same old slow animation of getting off the horse to collect a cache I found gets very tiresome. Maybe a future mod or patch could solve this issue (nudge nudge devs).
The open world of Nostria is rendered very vividly and graphically it looks great for the most part. But apart from the sights, what stuck out more to me were the sounds. The background music for regions is pretty great but what stands out to me more are the chit-chatting NPCs spilling little lore nuggets or silly lines. Your character will even chime in from time to time signaling that something needs your attention (like the aforementioned statue)
On top of that, the open world is absolutely teeming with sidequests. More so when you get to Marcellus. I won’t spoil any of them, but I will say that while some of them have interesting pocket narratives and amazing rewards, others feel very uninspired or easy. The Main Story is abrupt but does build up over time and while it doesn’t do much to pull you in, there is some rich lore ready for whoever wants to dig deeper.
Ideals play a major part in branching out the quests in Kings Bounty 2 and this serves to add to the replayability of the game. When I came around to try things out with Kathrine instead of Aivar, I took a different branching path where I could. While some left something to be desired, others had me pleasantly surprised.
I think it’s finally time I talked about the real meat and bones of Kings Bounty 2, the combat. Combat in Kings Bounty 2 is a Turn-based strategy battle on a hex grid. When a battle starts, the game dynamically shifts to a battlefield and deploys your units onto a hex grid after you’ve readied yourself on a screen.
What I love about the battlefields of Kings Bounty 2 is how they don’t just take you any old map. Instead, the area you’re standing in is designed to fit perfectly into a hex-based battlefield.
In fact, when you’re out in the open world, you can see encounters encircling the very battlefield they’ll take place on! Your character doesn’t partake in the fight but commands from afar and is able to use magic to support their units. You start by repositioning the units that are placed on your side and then begin when you’re ready.
Graphically, the battles look great; the enemies are well animated and the battlefields themselves look spectacular. Mechanically, the battles are good but leave something to be desired. Elements that I like about the battles are also something I feel can be improved.
There are some dynamic elements at play like the line of sight and elevation (much like in modern XCOM games) that really add to the strategic layers of combat. However, unlike the XCOM games, one can’t be sure about whether things like line of sight or elevation bonuses are in effect until after the units are moved.
While most of them are obvious, I’ve had to eyeball and guess at whether some tiles are elevated or whether they block my ranged attacks or not. Furthermore, the UI can sometimes feel a bit clunky when inspecting certain things and at times I’ve felt like I’m unsure if I have an ability selected or not.
Minor grievances aside, there is a certain depth to the combat that keeps it satisfying and challenging. Mixing and matching units you think are more effective, spells, talents, positioning, all of it adds up for some compelling core gameplay. Battles can be drawn out but they’re never a dull affair.
There are some difficulty spikes, but they can be easily overcome by side questing to get better gear, talents and units. That being said, you still need to strategize and can’t cheese out fights by just getting better units or gear; It’ll be easier with better stuff but not a complete stomp.
Compared to the systems of other games of the same genre, Kings Bounty 2 is comparatively simpler. For e.g, the talent tree at first seems very daunting but is actually very small as compared to what you’d see in other games.
However, this isn’t to its detriment, but rather it makes the game more palatable for newcomers to the genre without sacrificing depth. Hardcore fans of the genre might deem it very simple, but it’s understandable given everything it’s trying to achieve at once.
Coming towards how the game holds up, I played it on a mid-range PC and was able to play it at a stable framerate with most bells and whistles cranked up. It does have some buggy moments with regards to horse summoning and mounting (looks like Roach has a distant cousin) but it doesn’t occur too often. NPCs sometimes move weirdly, but again it’s not too often you’ll see this. I did experience a major framerate drop and had to restart the game but it’s likely a rare occurrence most people won’t see; I certainly didn’t in later play sessions.
Keeping all of the above in mind, I really like the direction 1C entertainment took King’s Bounty 2 in, but at the same time, it doesn’t seem like it’s come onto its own just yet. Kings Bounty 2 wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it’s got Witcher-esque dialogue compositions and cutscenes, Dragon Age-like questing and looting and it’s even got the tired “sarcastic” toned dialogue you see in many games lately dotted throughout the conversations.
In King’s Bounty 2 elements of popular Modern RPG games have been amalgamated with a Turn-Based Strategy Hex combat system and while on paper it sounds like something messy, it’s actually really refreshing.
1C entertainment didn’t just chuck everything people like and throw it into an RPG stew, they had a recipe, and you can see that they made Kings Bounty 2 with a lot of heart.
It completely transformed the traditional overworlds of the genre into a vibrant open world (mostly) and integrated modern third-person RPG elements pretty well. It’s not perfect but I feel like they’ve delivered something fresh for the Turn-based strategy genre, even if it has components we’ve seen in other RPGs. It’s something that needs to be expanded upon and refined further.
Fans of the Turn Based Strategy genre definitely need to play Kings Bounty 2 because I genuinely believe it showcases an interesting direction for the niche genre. It’s a bit rough and can at times feel derivative, but Kings Bounty 2 is potentially another landmark title for Turn-Based Hex Strategy RPGs, and I hope developers for the genre take note and build upon what this entry tried out.