King’s Bounty II – Not Quite Royalty
PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
I want to get this out of the way to begin with. King’s Bounty II tries. It really does. The devs are so close to creating a cracking game that I can almost smell it. But every time it looked like greatness would be achieved in King’s Bounty II, it tripped over its own ambition. In fact, the most frustrating part of the whole thing was just how often the game got in the way of itself, ruining the sense of fun it had tried so very hard to create. Let me explain.
In July, Paul and I got the chance to play a pre-release version of King’s Bounty II and while we enjoyed our 10ish hours with it, we did have some problems. Turns out, over a full game those problems become significantly magnified.
The biggest issue with the game is just how much busywork there is. So many things that have to be done which serve no real purpose except to drag out playtime. Things like having to return to quest givers, having to return to town after every battle to recruit replacements to your armies, multiple quests where the only goal is to get to point A and then back again, just time-filling activities that break the flow of everything the game does right. This is all made twice as bad thanks to the antiquated fast travel system that only allows you fast travel to certain points on the map, none of which are particularly close to locations that are frequently visited. It becomes a serious drag very quickly and more than once I quit out of the game because I just couldn’t be bothered going back to the town yet again after an epic battle.
When I say epic battles, I mean it too. The combat in the game is great and easily the highlight of my time. I loved the hex-based encounters and the tactics that can be brought to bear on the field of battle. Terrain, spells, unit placement and distance were all important factors in how each battle is approached. Planning ahead, protecting distance damage dealers while at the same time assaulting the enemy’s, isolating units, all parts of this intriguing and addictive system. It feels like a wonderful modernization of the battle systems seen in classic titles like Heroes of Might and Magic and makes players think and plan accordingly without ever feeling unfair or overwhelming.
The world presented in King’s Bounty II is an interesting one, if not too original. It leans very much into the Tolkien description of a fantasy world, with all the expected races, enemies and location types making an appearance. If you have ever read, seen or played a European fantasy, well you know what is coming your way. That’s said it is quite the world to explore, with all sorts of nooks and crannies hiding secrets, treasure and even side-quests so it pays to poke your nose into every corner. You are given a horse to get around the world quicker but in the grand tradition of videogame horses, this one is as dumb as two rocks and navigating tight pathways is a pain, so unless you are rushing from point A to point B, it is often better to just use two feet and a heartbeat to get where you are going. Sure it is slower, but you won’t get caught up in the environment or miss the mounds of treasure just off the beaten path.
Story wise things are a bit hit and miss. The story is entertaining enough. You play as someone accused of trying to kill a prince and have been rotting away in jail for a fair bit of time. But as the game starts you receive a pardon, apparently your character has a bit of a knack for sorting out problems and the King has a big one. So he decides to give you your freedom in exchange for fixing his issues, finding some killers and generally just saving the world. It takes some unexpected twists on the way and generally it kept my interest for the length of the game. Where it suffered was in the delivery. Much of the voice acting was wooden and lacked personality and that really caused the story to suffer. It really shows how important it is for devs to get the best performance they can out of their voice actors, the whole game takes a massive hit if they get it wrong.
I know it seems like I am overly down on King’s Bounty II, and I stand by everything I have said, but I did enjoy my time with the game. It is a flawed title, but one that despite its flaws feels like it is so close to being amazing, so close really hitting a home run. I wanted to love this game, I really did, but in the end, I just couldn’t always look past the flaws. I hope that the developers go for a third-round though, because they are on the cusp of a great game and if this is the learning experience they need to reach that great game, then it wasn’t a wasted release. Fans of turn-based combat will be able to find enjoyment here, but for the curious or RPG inclined, you are best waiting for a good sale.