Role-playing games may just be the most played genre in the history of single-player games. Getting to live the life of someone else is something that most gamers enjoy. It’s a relaxing retreat from real-world responsibilities as one goes on a romantic journey down the streets of a virtual world – filled to the brim with possibilities. To make the genre more relevant, there have been successful experimentations in the past, with mechanics from other genres making it in – the most popular of which is probably turn-based combat by units. The hybridization of the strategy and role-playing genres has spawned a new wave of role-playing games that have never been seen before. One such game which successfully puts the formula to the test is probably the next iteration in the King’s Bounty franchise – King’s Bounty 2. The game is quite different from its predecessors and has seen some bold new formulas by way of experimentation. However, to figure out how successful some of the new features are – you would have to read through this entire preview.
A Multiverse of Gameplay Variations
The game’s preview came only with the first few hours of the game, but it was enough to come to a reasonable conclusion. 1C isn’t shy about making bold changes to the game’s main formula. King’s Bounty 2 has a good lot more role-playing features than the previous games. Even the main camera angle used has been changed to a behind-the-player perspective from a top-down perspective. Even the actual fights have been made to occur on much larger grids, more akin to the fights in the world of Age of Wonders 3 (specifically the third iteration). That’s a game I loved, which goes on to say a lot about my stance towards this game’s combat.
Even the main game world has been made to be more friendly for role-playing gamers in general. NPC interactions are made to be more lively than ever before in a King’s Bounty game. The new perspective definitely adds to the change a lot more than other little changes do – as it is the catalyst that brings players into the game. However, the main King’s Bounty formula of recruiting unit stacks and fighting with them in grid-based battles hasn’t changed at all. Older fans would not have any problem getting into the game. At the same time, it’s designed to be more welcoming to newcomers.
Industrial Age, But With Magic Instead of Machinery
One of the best parts about King’s Bounty 2 is probably its theme. The game seems to mimic western medieval Europe during some of its more chaotic times. Nostria is a vast land full of magic that the players can explore on foot, or on horseback. The setting seems to be some of the very early phases of an Industrial Revolution, where work is being handed over (almost completely) to people harnessing the power of magic. I like how the focus is on magic rather than guns, artillery, and machinery. Fable 3 tried mixing both magic and machinery – which messed up the storytelling and the lore beyond one’s wildest imagination. King’s Bounty 2 takes these ideas – but improves upon them.
For instance, there are multiple workshops throughout the land of Nostria where work is being done on golems, magical beings bound to the will of a sorcerer or magician. Most of the heavy work is being done by these golems, such as harnessing lifts to get to otherwise inaccessible places, move heavy objects from one place to another, and act as guards for the life and property of the people. The main storyline revolves around a place popularly known as a Magefactory – a place where magical items are manufactured. The Magefactory is the virtual equivalent of the first few factories which opened up following the Era of Enlightenment in Europe, when industrialists realized the potential of mass-manufacturing items and selling them at low prices.
The game weaves magic intricately into the medieval scenery in subtle ways. In the land of Nostria, people wielding the power of magic are considered to be superior to those without it. Those with magic are revered by the kings and princes of the land – even getting rich gifts in exchange for their services to the realm. The common people envy and even suspect those with magical powers, discussing them hastily in one corner of the busy streets of the kingdom. The sorcerers sell their services to the rich nobles and whoever else is willing to pay their hefty prices. Magical troops, reanimated undead, conjured elementals out of thin air – everything can be purchased if one has the right amount of gold in their coffers.
The distinction between the rich and the poor is also a subtle theme brought out through the way the main town center is structured, with the rich living in the upper quarter and the poor living in the lower quarter. In fact, the poorest folk are sent outside the walls to fend for themselves. I really like how even the design of the buildings resembles the nature of people living inside it – properly building a class divide inside the world.
The world is filled with many places to explore, from palatial estates to lowly farmer or lumberjack villages to abandoned ruins. Every place to explore has new side quests to pursue, which reveals more information about the land.
Over-The-Top Unit Balancing
The game’s combat takes place in a grid-based fashion, where the player’s units start on one side and the enemy’s units start on another side. Both sides dash it out till one side stays standing. It’s played almost like a board game, with a scale similar to that of Age of Wonders 3. The new game has a much bigger board to play on, with obstacles being something that actually interacts with the units. Obstacle cover actually grants cover from ranged fire – which is been something that I didn’t really like. Ranged units can only fire on units that are in their line of fire, and are in general weaker than their melee counterparts when they start out. Later on, with experience, they become much better than their existing parts. Yes, units improve with time as they get more experience in battle. Note that units need to actually participate in the battle to gain experience.
Units have special powers and weaknesses that can kick in during combat. For example, undead units like zombies take extra damage from fire and light, while they also have a chance of healing up after being struck in melee combat. Everything about the combat is fine except the fact that the numbers don’t really add up well. Sometimes, battles that the player would normally lose because of a lack of numbers can be turned around quite easily as even a higher leveled enemy can be beaten with the help of smaller armies. This goes on to show that certain types are weaker or stronger against other types, even though they aren’t strictly stated in the game. Also, I do disagree with the fact that strong enemies guard almost every path after a point in the game, forcing multiple tries through a particular path before the player’s army wins. The game’s balancing needs to improve before the actual release.
The gold rewards in the game really need to be changed. Half of the time, battles award little gold – a little too low to recruit a variety of troops. There’s going to be a lot of loading save files before important battles since there’s a fair chance the player’s troops lose out entirely. I had to scrounge for random trash here and there to sell to traders to make enough money to hire troops to fill the ranks, and I’m guessing that would be a similar experience for a lot of people that would play the game in the future.
Despite being revolutionary in terms of a new iteration in the series, the graphics and animations for the game fall apart really quickly when you compare it to the standards of other equivalent modern role-playing games. Considering the fact that the game is trying to scale up really well to compete with other games in the role-playing genre, it falls really short of that. The camera movements sometimes feel really “twitchy” of sorts – it lacks the smoothness that would have contributed to a better gameplay experience. Nostria is a beautiful land that somehow looks much like it’s part of a 2014 game trying to catch up with today’s standards.
The game also has framerate inconsistencies at certain points, which are guaranteed to ruin the experience for potential players. The framerate inconsistencies can be ironed off with gradual updates though – the dated animations and graphics can’t be changed, so I can safely say that a launch date patch can fix stuff a lot (after all, there’s still some time till launch).
King’s Bounty 2 is a good game that manages to deliver a somewhat flawed but still decent gameplay experience to keep the player hooked to the screen. There are issues to be fixed but the late August release window may prove beneficial to the quality of the experience. If you ask me, August 24 can’t come fast enough!