King’s Bounty 2 is the latest instalment in the legendary turn-based strategy franchise, aiming to breathe new life into the series. Developed by 1C Entertainment, it is now available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam.
I have always had a soft spot for fantasy, RPG and strategies. Imagine my delight at seeing the announcement of King’s Bounty 2, a game that seemingly ticks off all the boxes at once and also soothes the itch left by the lack of a new Heroes of Might & Magic mainstream title!
Given the chance, I enthusiastically threw myself into the world of Antara to explore the stunning surroundings and take part in the classic turn-based grid combat. The team chose a new direction for the title, both in terms of its graphic design, the new third-person PoV as opposed to the staple isometric view and the addition of RPG elements. But how does it work in-game?
Gather your armies, this is our King’s Bounty 2 review.
Your adventure starts with the selection of your character between three choices: Warrior Aivar, Paladin Elisa and Sorceress Katharine. Your choice will affect the effectiveness and size of your future army as well as the character’s unique abilities. However, various NPCs will still treat you the same whether you are a local peasant turned Paladin or a magic-wielding countess from Rigern.
For my own playthrough, I have chosen Katharine, and will refer to her as the protagonist for the rest of the review. Might makes right, but might AND magic? Well, that’s the deadly duo that will conquer Nostria!
Regardless, the story of King’s Bounty 2 begins in a cell of Fort Crucis that has been home to your character for the last six months. If you haven’t been following the game’s trailers, the reason for the protagonist’s incarceration will not become clear until later in the story. What matters at that moment is that the Nostrian Prince has given your character freedom and expects them to arrive at his side at once.
King’s Bounty 2 is far from the first game to start at a certain point past the beginning – both The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Dragon Age: Inquisition, for example, start with your character in prison. Where TES gives you a blank slate to RP as you see fit and DAI immediately addresses that your character does not remember exactly what happened, KB2 does not really give you any information on what lead to your character’s imprisonment while the surrounding NPCs continue commenting on it.
Having spent about 15 hours traversing Nostria and doing a variety of quests and dungeoneering, I still am not entirely sure what the main story is about. The beginning of the game feels like a patchwork from various fantasy tropes, including “and then A DRAGON swooped in!”, deadly elven assassins, local
Medivh crazy prophet not taken seriously, and more.
I will be the first person to admit that I have no prior experience with the franchise and it is entirely possible someone more versed in the lore would feel differently. However, the main story does not do much to reel players in. In fact, certain side quests have been more entertaining and characters offering them more interesting, including the green chicken farmer.
Ironically, the story element that endeared me the most to King’s Bounty 2 is Katharine’s exasperated and bored annoyance with… well, everything. A drab little town with all buildings barred shut and preventing players from exploring, a bunch of golems standing in your way and blocking path forward, even a dragon swooping in to save the day – the Rigern countess has a sassy remark to offer in any situation.
I’m not sure I would have played as long as I did without my emotional support mean witch of a protagonist.
Visually, the game differs a lot from its predecessor King’s Bounty: The Legend. The style is much closer to realism with more muted colors compared to the previous instalment in the franchise. The developers explained the change by their wish to make a darker, more “adult”-looking product.
The new third-person point of view will help players in seeing this changed artistic direction. Be it snowy wasteland, ancient ruins, sprawling city or mountains, the protagonist will wander through on foot or atop a loyal steed. You can directly interact with NPCs, find hidden chests, visit shrines and fast-travel points, making Nostria come alive around you.
After the initial enthusiasm settles, certain negative sides of the change become more apparent. For once, the character’s speed, whether on foot or atop the horse, is extremely slow. There are strategically located fast-travel points, of course, but it won’t help you much if you are stuck in a complex of underground ruins or need to get from one side of a city to another. Additionally, the open-world adventuring parts feel tedious at times as the protagonist lacks such abilities as sprinting or jumping.
You also have to manually dismount every single time you interact with something, and then mount back up again.
The change in perspective also exposes players to a closer look at character models, with varying success. Sometimes you will encounter NPCs that look completely in balance with the gorgeous surroundings, but other times it would look like certain characters sprang from 2012 to haunt you.
A number of characters I have ran into can neither blink nor move their lips when speaking. For example, a witch called Amarantha you run into very early in the game.
The best part of the game is the turn-based tactical grid combat where your chosen protagonist and their army clash against the various bad guys. You will encounter diverse terrain types, changing the way the battlefield looks and plays.
Depending on your choice of protagonist, your character has unique abilities that can passively affect the army or provide a choice of powerful active harmful spell, healing magic, buff or debuff. Various NPCs, like elementals, have resistances against certain types of magic.
You can have up to five unit types active at any moment, not counting those in reserve. The overall number of troops you can employ increases as your character levels up.
Troops have a variety of stats that decide the number of health points, attack damage, the order it would take in combat, etc. Some units have special abilities such as an ability to place a bleed effect on enemies or a healing spell that can be used on allies. Additionally, there are passive effects such as the attack of opportunity for some melee fighters that will attempt to finish off the disengaging enemy.
If the battle calls for it, you can order your troops to wait (for example, if there is no direct shot for your archers, hoping to drive the enemy out from their defensible position before the round ends) or to defend their position.
Of course, the battles are waged on a 3D grid, offering a number of obstacles that can change your strategies completely. Enemies will actively try to flank your characters or bypass hardier units to get to those squishy archers and mages, using surroundings to their advantage.
Unlike Heroes 3, your ranged units can not attack through obstacles if the AI chooses to hide behind it so you’ll have to find a way to lure the enemy out. Of course, if you play as Katharine, you can always just use the hero’s magical talents to bring down arcane artillery on hiding enemies!
The worst thing that can be said about the turn-based combat is that it doesn’t add anything new compared to already available titles, like Might & Magic: Heroes 6 or Disciples 3. Everything offered by King’s Bounty 2 has already been offered in 2012 or so.
Looking over everything that I have written so far might give you an impression that I hate the game, but it isn’t true. King’s Bounty 2 did not manage to invoke any emotions in me, be they good or bad and, in a way, it is even worse.
The idea is there, but the execution is heavily flawed at every step of the way. The game features good elements but they are buried in so much mediocrity that you have to strain to point them out from the bland mass.
King’s Bounty 2 would have fit right in if it had been released a few years ago. But at this point, the game came too late to offer anything new or outstanding among the plethora of RPG and strategy titles released since.
Similar to: Might & Magic: Heroes 6, Disciples 3
Note: a Steam key was provided for free for the purposes of this review