I grew up playing a ton of Heroes of Might and Magic. And while the series isn’t exactly getting the Age of Empires HD treatment these days, I do wonder what my younger self would think about where King’s Bounty 2 has taken the formula.
You have certain expectations for King’s Bounty, or anything approaching the HOMM-inspired world of turn-based tactics. Hex grids. Magic. Movement limits. Bases that generate a certain amount of troops you can recruit. Blocking enemies off by putting stacks of shitter troops in front so you can pepper them with ranged attacks.
None of which prepares you for the first time you see third-person cut-scenes in King’s Bounty 2.
Here’s what HOMM fans are familiar with:
And here’s what King’s Bounty 2 throws at you:
Bit of a change, innit?
King’s Bounty actually predates the HOMM franchise, although Heroes of Might and Magic was infinitely more popular — HOMM3 still has an active player base and streaming community today, and Australians are still buying the turn-based angel/dragon/demon recruitment simulator in droves.
But like a lot of good franchises, fans became developers and publishers and their powers combined brought King’s Bounty back. 1C Company published the rights to the original in the mid ’00s, and in 2008 Russian developers Katauri Interactive officially rebooted King’s Bounty. It was fairly authentic to the genre with some extra RPG elements on top, and for the most part, it was received better than some of the later HOMM games.
Katauri and 1C kept working on King’s Bounty all the way up to 2014, when they shipped the last expansion, Dark Side. So it’s been seven years since we’ve heard hide nor hair of the King’s Bounty franchise.
It’s good, then, that King’s Bounty 2 features new characters and a new story. There’s enough going on with the franchise’s mechanics and peculiarities. It’s common, for instance, for games of this ilk to have morale penalties. You wouldn’t typically mix skeletons with, say, human healers — the humans are likely to skip their turn because they’re so uncomfortable fighting alongside the undead. But what’s less common is that you can’t scrap units once you’ve bought them.
It’s a big deal, especially since your standing army can only support five stacks at any given time. (You can have multiple units within those stacks, although how much you can recruit is capped by your hero’s leadership stat.) I wish the game had been a lot more clear about this beforehand, but fortunately you can at least reskill your character for free every time you level up if you need to dump a point or two into fixing morale.
Skills are split across four finesse, power, anarchy and order trees, with individual units hailing from one of these factions. You’ll also unlock points for each trait depending on the choices you take to solve certain quests: I received more anarchy points for handing over evidence to the head of a shadowy thieves’ guild, instead of giving it to a nearby Knight. (Why not, I figured — rogues are always more interesting.)
The game has three starting characters, although all three will get released from the same jail as the game begins. Everything’s fully voice acted throughout, and you’ve got your own take on Roach who helps ferry you around the world map.
I wish the run speed was a little bit faster, since there’s no real benefit to exploring King’s Bounty’s 2 as slowly as it currently does. It’s fascinating to see the HOMM formula expanded in such a way, but you’re still functionally just running between shrines, enemy locations and NPCs. You’re not foraging for materials with the frequency of something like The Witcher, after all. The voice acting isn’t what you’d call AAA quality, but then if you go into King’s Bounty 2 expecting that sort of polish, you might want to correct your expectations.
I spent a lot of my time playing as Katharine, who is fulfils the asshole mage stereotype pretty well. I haven’t spent enough time to see how far her character arc delves, but over the course of 8 hours I did at least run into plenty of side quests that went down interesting paths. The developers have clearly done a ton of work trying to flesh out the world with a lot of these detours, and you can see the Witcher influence in some of the writing, too. It doesn’t have quite the same humour or bite as CD Projekt’s efforts, but I appreciate the idea.
The preview build I played was also pretty stable, and it looked nice and sharp at 4K with an RTX 3080. I’d definitely play a game like this on a next-gen console or PC if I could just to avoid long loading times, because some of the fights can be pretty brutal. The game is at least good about letting you know the impacts of certain moves, and troops have the ability to attack or shoot before or after moving, which helps the planning somewhat. I wish it was a little more lenient in at least letting you preview a potential fight on the open-world map, although it’s at least good enough not to penalise you for retreating before the battle begins. (It’d also probably be fixed if the game just let you run around the world a little bit faster.)
The real kicker will be how well King’s Bounty 2 marries its expansive open-world with the traditional, hex-based HOMM gameplay. For that, we’ll have to wait until August 24 when the game hits PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One and next-gen consoles (via backward compatibility).