What is it? An RPG and tactics combo.
Expect to pay: $50 / £44
Developer: 1C Entertainment
Publisher: 1C Entertainment, Prime Matter
Reviewed on: AMD FX-8350, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti, 32GB RAM
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
King's Bounty is an odd series, always more strategy than RPG, always more a game about tactics, cash upkeep, and combat maneuvering than one about epic roleplaying and exploration. In theory, King's Bounty 2 wants to change that—to make a story following a main character whose choices affect the world. King's Bounty 2 does just that, and it sucks the fun right out of it. Though it has the occasional joy of hex-based tactical combat, it simply wastes far too much of your time wandering about a charmless world filled with boring people.
In King's Bounty 2 you pick one of three characters to take through the main story, each of which follows the same plot. Having been released from prison your character takes on a job for the king, who forgives you for whatever reason, and then goes wandering about trying to prevent a fantasy magical apocalypse because a wizard told you you're the chosen savior. It's absolutely bog-standard and nothing you haven't seen before.
You then go out and wander the world, doing lots of side quests and fighting battles. You don't fight the battles, mind, you stand on the sidelines like a kind of Commander/Cheerleader/Magical Artillery Piece and direct your troops around. Those troops fight in tactical battles, with five units dancing around tight hex-based arenas.
It's serviceable combat, but the UI does it no favors and the details are predictable systems: Skeletons take less damage from arrows, fire attacks burn enemies over time, and spirit creatures are resistant to non-magical attacks. It shows little of the interesting mechanics you'd want from a modern tactics game, like forced movement or battlefield manipulation.
So there's systems to play with in the game, but nothing too delightful. It doesn't matter that much in the end because for every five minutes of good tactics bit there's ten of minutes staid RPG world-wandering.
Your commander gains experience over time, getting stats that buff up your troops and magical powers to blast enemies. The troops themselves gain experience, and come from a customizable roster divided into four factions: Order, Anarchy, Power, and Finesse. Those are also the four tenets which characters follow in the game, that powers are divided into, and that quest branches fall into. They're the alignments of King's Bounty, the equivalents of Mass Effect's Paragon and Renegade, and they line up with the story's possible endings. It's a nice touch, but might leave you feeling cold if you'd like to be a polite, non-anarchic chaos necromancer, for example.
Not that the roleplaying is really a highlight—dialogues don't branch, but rather choices are made by picking one of two options during the course of a quest. Your dialogue is fixed, in fact, so sometimes your character will say things you don't really like. That wouldn't be a problem if the characters were more interesting: Katharine the mage, for example, is kind of a jerk, where Elise the Paladin is naive to the point of frustration, and Aivar the warrior just kind of doesn't have a personality at all.
That's not even to mention the writing, which is awful, and the voice acting, which is worse. I switched the game to Russian after ten hours, which improved the experience considerably. I don't speak Russian: it was just nice to stop the flood of hammy performances.
In fact, the game as a whole doesn't really have much personality. That's the big fault. The realistic art style is detailed, but it ends up looking like top-end graphics from 2012 when a bit of stylization would have gone a long way—something those who loved the comical, fantasy and fairy tale style of the older King's Bounty games are going to sorely miss. There's fun in the game, and a bit of humor, but like the tactical battles it's outweighed by the boring bits.
The world itself is lovingly designed, though, one of the real plusses of the game as a whole. Little details like benches, gardens, and crumbling statues litter it, people wander back and forth, and have small conversations. It has naturalistic touches like workshops, markets, and such. Ever wonder where Golems are made, or where the assassin's guild hangs out between jobs? That's in the game. Though it lacks the fancy touches of other RPGs like a day-night cycle and dynamic NPC behavior, the larger environments do have a real sense of life.
It's a static world for a reason, though: Encounters are fixed. As you approach them, a golden ring appears and the enemies for that tactical combat come spilling out of the bushes or whatever to shake their swords at you menacingly. It's hilarious and charming, and serves the game mechanics very nicely. When you start the fight, the camera zooms out and the space around you becomes the battlefield—a great touch in a tactics game.
But all that nice environment design is wasted by far too much wandering about, talking to people, and collecting trash to sell at vendors. Your character moves with a kind of halfhearted jog, too slow to cover ground, jerky, and unable to traverse any kind of obstacle. Meanwhile you can jump on your horse, which is much faster but handles like a stick of butter in narrow areas. It's all just kind of… slow and tedious to progress. Environments seem large simply for the sake of size. Much like the game's entire aesthetic, it's not really clear why things look the way they do.