XCOM. Wasteland. Hell, maybe even Fire Emblem. These strategy RPGs are some of the most recognizable in the genre, but it’s easy to forget their roots. This brings us to King’s Bounty, one of the first hex-based RPGs on the market when it first released in 1990, bringing the genre to the mainstream. Spawning the successful Heroes of Might and Magic franchise, it has gone to sell millions of copies over its more than 30-year lifespan. However, despite the fact that King’s Bounty II represents a new beginning for the series, the gameplay demo I watched felt like it was stuck in the past.
With a live presentation over Discord narrated by 1C Entertainment President Nikolay Baryshnikov and Brand Manager Illiya Svanidze, I was able to take a look at around an hour of gameplay footage from the upcoming game. Something that they stressed multiple times during the presentation was that, despite the fact that King’s Bounty has had numerous unnumbered sequels, King’s Bounty 2 is the start of a “next generation” for the franchise, being the biggest and most important game the studio has worked on yet. Which is a bit of a bold claim, since I wasn’t very impressed with what was shown.
King’s Bounty II takes place in an open world akin to titles like The Witcher, which Baryshnikov said was an inspiration for the game. The world itself is quite big for a strategy game, with topography and environments appearing carefully-crafted to create a real sense of atmosphere and adventure. 1C stated that their main focus on King’s Bounty II is exploration, with them mentioning a 70/30 balance between traversing the world and engaging in battles across a 40-hour long main story. I’ll be interested in seeing how this plays out, as while the environments are pretty, they were rather empty and don’t seem to offer much beyond a nice backdrop for battles to take place on.
As I mentioned, battles take place on a hex-based grid, almost like the Civilization games. With over 50 different unit types, this is probably one of the most diverse strategy RPGs I’ve seen, and there are so many different combinations possible to take down enemies. Before every battle is a configuration screen, where you can select which units to fight and compare your match-ups to the enemy. The main character you play as (which can be male or female!) acts as a tactician, except they aren’t a unit and instead offer support through different spells and equipment that offer buffs to your army. While the battles seemed pretty standard as far as tactical gameplay goes, Baryshnikov mentioned that it’s easy to learn yet difficult to master, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of this as we get closer to its release.
Something I thought was unique was the ability to handle battles in different ways. During the demo, our character came up to a pack of ogres to fight with. By going around them on a different path, we reached a wizard’s cabin, who offered to petrify them if a favor was done. While not as robust as some other open-world-likes, it’s always nice to see different ways to go about completing objectives and defeating enemies.
Aside from that, there’s just not much to write home about. It seems like a fairly standard RPG, and not a whole lot that I saw in the demo wowed me. I will say, however, that there does seem to be a lack of overall polish in the game; animations in cutscenes and in the overworld were a bit janky, character models looked rough, and the game overall looks like it was made a generation or two ago. While looks aren’t everything, couple this with the fact that it plays like every other RPG on the market right now, and I don’t think that King’s Bounty II is going to be the genre-defining game it once was. Middle-of-the-road games are always hard to write about, but hopefully things will be different upon release.
King’s Bounty II will release in March 2021 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, with no word on next-generation versions.
Images courtesy of Koch Media.