I usually don’t do game reviews as this is a website devoted to MMOs but one PC game that I have recently fell in love with deserves to have it’s merits shouted from the rooftops; that game is King’s Bounty: The Legend produced by a Russian development company called Katauri Interactive. It’s a high fantasy turn based tactical RPG loosely based on New World Computing’s King’s Bounty originally released in 1990. This game is so compelling and addictive that I have stopped playing MMOs altogether in the weeks since it’s release. This is the kind of engaging computer game that got me hooked back in the 1980’s and follows in the wake of classics such as Wizardry, The Bard’s Tale and of course the Might & Magic series also by Jon Van Caneghem’s New World Computing. There is so much to like about this game I don’t know where to start…
There have been many great reviews of this game which are far more comprehensive then my efforts here and I advise everyone to check them out at the news area of the official website. Here are some of highlights of this game presented in no particular order:
Pick Your Hero
You can choose a warrior, paladin or mage. Depending on which class you choose, your troops will enjoy special bonuses and abilities via a talent system akin to Diablo/WoW. As the hero you control the movement and decisions of your troops on the battlefield using a turn based mechanic. Normally you fight against undirected opposing troops but occasionally you fight against mini-bosses and big bosses who are tougher and have better loot.
Gameplay: Adventure Mode and Battle Mode
There are two types of gameplay in King’s Bounty: adventure mode and battle mode. Adventure mode has you traveling about the world in Diablo-like fashion but battle mode has you face to face on a grid like battlefield with your troops on one side and your opponent’s troops on the other side.
Battle Mode: The Heart of the Game
Probably the most addicting part of this game is battle mode where you the hero get to control your troops on a grid system superimposed over a wide array of landscapes and dungeons. Each type of troop has their own abilities, speed, damage, defense, etc. that you can control using a turn based mechanic. You as the hero direct your troops and depending on the decisions you’ve made with your talent tree (again thanks to Diablo) you can cast spells and use the Chest of Rage at certain intervals.
Words can’t express how refreshingly *fun* this kind of combat is after playing years of real-time combat in various video games and MMOs. There is also a special “auto combat” mode that the player can turn on if they feel like sitting back and watching the carnage unfold. It’s also a great way to learn how to play the game as the AI casts spells from your spell book and uses the chest of Rage which can give the beginner some good strategy tips. I do recommend playing with it off once you get the hang of how combat works.
Old World Storyline and Feel
I was very impressed by the European feel of the story arc and the quests. As a child and teenager I used to haunt our local library and read every book on fairy tales from all over the world. I grew to love many of the folktales from Russia and other European countries. King’s Bounty has really managed to capture an authentic old-world feel that is sorely missing from the politically correct, overly-feminized offerings of today’s RPG games and MMOs. I think this is because of the unique cultural context that comes from the Russian developers. I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of Russian video games!
Politically Incorrect: Load Up the Wife and Kids
You can only create and name a male character. How deliciously politically incorrect of them but it makes perfect sense as it’s in keeping with the old world high fantasy tradition of fables and folklore. You can have a wife and eventually have children which give you special bonuses. Also each wife and child has special abilities which affect you in combat. You can even equip your wife with special items for more bonuses!
Female troops that appear later in the game possess certain abilities which cause opposing male troops to get “distracted” and miss against them. Again, not very politically correct but very much appreciated by a gamer like myself who is weary of the gender neutral orthodoxy that has infected much of society and gaming these days.
The writing in the quests even while occasionally having some errata as a result of the translation from native Russian to English is charming and wonderful. The result is that the characters that you meet along the way really come to life with their predicaments and situations. The dialog has a certain sense of innocence and elevation that is tragically missing from the typical offerings of Blizzard quest writers in World of Warcraft as they strive too hard to make their game appeal to the current edgy generation of over-stimulated and petulant teenagers.
Art Direction and Animation
The art direction is spectacular and immersive. The developers were definitely inspired by Blizzard here (check out the credits): I’d say it’s Diablo meets WoW. You’ll see wonderfully detailed landscapes and structures but with enough caricature to give it a unique look mixed with that bucolic Thomas Kinkade type of storybook feel. Every bit of art has been produced like it’s a labor of love — the Blizzard team could learn a few things from these folks. The animations of the troops are splendid and very pleasing during combat.
Nighttime Actually Means Something
What I love about King’s Bounty is that nighttime actually means something. Undead troops get special bonuses during nighttime both if you fight them and if they are under your command. There are talents you can purchase that also make your troops more effective at night as well. Many MMOs including Blizzard’s WoW could do much more to make their worlds at night become more alive and different. The artwork as well admirably falls under the spell of the night as you travel but beware of what lurks behind the next hill or dale!
A Vast World of Adventure
This game is an explorer’s dream come true with travel on horseback and sailing ship in adventure mode. Every nook and cranny has something worth seeing and exists for a reason. You can even dig for treasure in the most unexpected spots! I’m probably only half way through this game but I’d say that there are probably 500 hours of gameplay and various difficulty settings that one can choose which makes for infinite replayability. Every battle plays differently depending on whether you choose a warrior, paladin or mage from the outset.
The soundtrack is haunting and beautiful. There are some great songs in the elven lands which have some wonderful female voices similar to the sound of the elves used by Howard Shore in his entrancing Lord of the Rings score in the Peter Jackson movies. The sound design is first rate with some very pleasing sound effects and creature/troop sound effects.
The Chest of Rage is great fun and eventually you’ll appreciate the benefits from controlling these special spirits as the game progresses!
Note: they have released their first English patch for the game at their website which addresses quite a few issues.
Even though I have yet to complete this game, King’s Bounty: The Legend is an enthralling masterpiece! If I could score this game I would give it a 10/10. This is easily the PC Game of the Year. Beware: if you love old school high fantasy turn based games and even if you haven’t tried them before — you will be addicted and hooked if you purchase this game! If I had one PC game to take on a desert island it would be this one. After years of playing old and tired MMOs, this surprising offering from the immensely gifted Katauri Interactive team has made this rather grumpy and cynical gamer fall in love with computer gaming all over again. Now where was I? In the name of King Mark, troops prepare for battle!!!