King’s Bounty II: Hands-On Preview
King’s Bounty II is a new fantasy RPG due out in August this year. Featuring turn-based combat with open-world exploration, it seems to be a hybrid of a few classic titles from the RPG genre. We have been lucky enough to have both Matt Hewson and Paul James playing a preview version of the title and this is what they found.
M: So having never played the original way back in the early 90’s I became interested in this title when I heard it shared DNA with the Heroes of Might and Magic series. That was certainly enough to get me to look closer because that is a franchise and style of game that could do with some fresh innovation. You can certainly feel the HoMM influence here, but at the same time, King’s Bounty II is far from a straight clone.
P: Yeah I think I expected more Heroes of Might and Magic than is actually present here, as you say, the DNA is absolutely there. I have to admit, I’m a fresh face to the King’s Bounty franchise and the world of Antara, but there’s a level of depth here that I really enjoyed, with a new world to explore interesting cast and political dynamics that kept me invested throughout my time with the preview build.
M: The exploration for me was fun, but a bit rusty. It is the one area that you can certainly feel budget restraints. The camera is a bit wonky, the characters a bit wooden and the voice acting is rough, to say the least. But none of that seemed to matter too much because it was a very easy world to get drawn into. There is a dark mystery at the centre of the story and while the preview build only teases at the edges of that, it certainly has me intrigued. What really impressed me with the open world was the sheer amount of things to do. Even in this preview build, there were quests and challenges everywhere you looked which made the world feel lived in and well realised, something Fantasy RPGs struggle with.
P: Yeah this is absolutely a double-A title in the tech and presentational spaces, however the underpinning systems fascinate me. The world is littered (though not excessively so in my limited time) with objectives and quests to complete is nice, and even the varying ways with which you can approach a scenario intrigue me. The ‘ideals’ system that allows you to approach a mission through the lenses of order, anarchy, power, and finesse ensure that there’s plenty of ways to spice up your playing experience as well.
M: Upgrading your talents along those four prescribed paths is nice too. The idea that you shape your characters’ thinking to the point that later in the game they will reject any ideas that don’t align with the moral compass you have given them is something I can’t wait to see it play out in the full version. If they nail it, it could be a true innovation. Now we should talk about the combat because that is where the real HoMM comparisons begin. Turn-based on a hex grid, with morale systems depending on units used and spells to cast, it really does conjure up those classic titles. It has made some modern adjustments though as cover, terrain height and positioning all play a more important role than they did all those years ago. What did you think?
P: Obviously there’s been a slight perspective shift in King’s Bounty as opposed to the days of Might & Magic, but the core ideas are here, with, as you say, some modern accoutrements, Those were things we never had to consider previously, though our years with other modern games that include things like varying terrain heights etc, do make the transition fairly smooth. Meanwhile, those underlying morale systems that encourage you to engage in a certain way, or might disincentivise other ways because of the extended consequences of your play style are promising. My concern is that there are a lot of interconnected systems here, and even if they all work together without a hitch, I can see the weight of this possibly scaring off some potential players. I can see why that might be the case too, it’s a lot to keep track of, but I can’t deny the fact that it kept me interested throughout my time with the game.
M: These sorts of games are never for the faint of heart that is for sure. Hopefully, there is an easy mode in the final release that can ease some people into the game and teach them the ropes before scaring them off. Hex based army battles are nothing new for a lot of us who have been around for a while, but for newer gamers that may not be the case, there hasn’t exactly been a tonne of them around. Perhaps my biggest problem so far is not too much information, but a lack of information. When wandering the world and coming across baddies, there is no real way to determine the size of their force. You can see what type of units there are, but there is no way to see how large a force with be coming against you. This leads me on more than one occasion to take on a battle I should have avoided, or at the very least recruited a few more units before the fight. It comes across as unfair, especially when it is just a random world encounter and nothing to do with the story.
P: To me, it comes across as just vague, but the net result is the same, with the player likely to bite off way more than they’re capable of. There’s a solid core to what we’ve both played, but it’s fair to say based upon both of our experiences thus far, that its weaknesses are in the quality of life components. From the aforementioned signposting of encounters to presentational aspects, difficulty levels and more. There’s depth to this that is going to be so engrossing to the right crowd, but I fear there are many more who this could be for that simply won’t get to experience the best bits because of the complexities and vagueries that are obvious from the outset. I want to buy in, but those concerns may yet be a turnoff for me too.
M: I have hope, but that may be simply because I am the exact person this game is aimed at. I love the little touches and throwbacks that are evident across the world and I really enjoyed the more modernised hex combat but I still feel it is a couple of elements short of greatness. I hope I am wrong though because it is clear that this is being made by a talented studio, one that understands this type of game. There is nothing here that can’t be improved and ready to roll in a day one patch, so there is a genuine chance that these niggles are sorted before launch. I am keen to see where it goes, but at this point, it is hard to say if it will be a flawed niche product or genre breakout title. I guess we will find out when the title lands in August.