I received the key to Kings Bounty II last Sunday, but I only finished the game by Saturday evening, spending 34 hours to save Nostria from the evil goo. And during these days I experienced the whole gamut of emotions: from pleasant surprise at the first hours to the desire to smash the keyboard against the wall, or at least send the W key directly to the hellish cauldron, where it belongs.
But first, a little about what Kings Bounty II is. No, this is not a continuation of the legendary series, as one might think from the number in the title. In fact, before us is almost a full-fledged RPG, in which swordplay and leaping were replaced by tactical battles in the spirit of “Heroes”.
The game screams about its role-playing “stuffing” literally from the prologue, when it offers to choose one of three heroes: the simple-minded peasant paladin Elsa, the harsh mercenary commander Aivar with the voice of Geralt, and the bitchy sorceress Katarina with the appearance of Yennefer from Vengerberg (and you still asked why everyone compare Kings Bounty II with The Witcher). The choice itself affects not only the character model and initial skills, but also the dialogues – everyone here has their own lines. Where Elsa will blink in surprise, Geralt-Aivar will soak off some cynical joke, and Yennefer-Katarina will gracefully insult everyone present, so much so that they will not even realize that they have just been exposed as complete donkeys.
Moreover, all three characters are inscribed into the plot so cleverly that during the whole game I have never noticed a catch when communicating with an NPC – and after all, their lines remain the same, regardless of the main character.
Another mechanic that migrated to Kings Bounty II from full-fledged RPGs was variability. Almost every story quest can be completed in at least two ways, and this is not some kind of banal choice between “stuffing the enemy’s face” or “not hitting the enemy’s face, but bypassing him.” No, local quests offer full-fledged crossroads with their own stories, sub-quests and characters, which only adds to the replayability.
Each of the options for passing a particular quest is tied to one of four ideals: Strength, Mastery, Order or Anarchy. The choice of this or that path pumps over the corresponding ideal and over time opens the study of additional skills. Of course, the more powerful the “perks”, the more developed ideal you will need to study them.
The game warns that your choices make the character addicted to certain approaches to completing quests, and over time, some of them will become unavailable. In theory, this means that a hero following the path of “Order” will eventually fail to “Anarchy”. In practice, I came across only a couple of quests that immediately blocked the “wrong” paths – and even those appeared only in the final segment of the game.
The troops in Kings Bounty II also belong to one of the four ideals. However, here the division is rather conditional and is only needed to justify penalties for the proximity of different units. Otherwise, no problem – you can be the most “decent” paladin and at the same time lead dead skeletons-anarchists into battle (the frozen “fak” and the pirate flag are not included in the kit, alas).
And finally, the most important role-playing attribute of the game was the third-person view. The camera no longer hovers under the clouds, but hangs behind the hero’s back, snatching out spectacular foreshortenings during dialogues. Unfortunately, the animation of these very dialogues leaves much to be desired, and Elsa’s glassy gaze will haunt me more than once in nightmares. But the fact is the fact – all elements of the game, with the exception of battles, are sharpened for a standard RPG.
But you already know all this, if you followed the game even a little. Let’s now move on to the main course – the sad story of how Kings Bounty II managed to ruin my first impressions of her.
In the first hours, I was pleasantly surprised. And no, not super-duper graphics – it just looks outdated and brings back memories of games ten years ago. Although stylized locations and the work of artists, together with designers, save the day and give out a beautiful and lamp-like picture.
No, I was surprised by the amount of text that the developers pushed into the game. Literally at every step you will stumble upon small scenes in which local residents, guards, bandits and other mimocrocodiles are discussing important or funny things. There are not just a lot of them, but a lot – hundreds and hundreds of stupid, funny, sad and simply ridiculous mini-stories. Some of them reveal the local lore, while the rest are tied to the current situation and change after you complete a couple of quests.
I was no less surprised by the forks in the assignments. I did not participate in the beta test and did not follow the dev diaries much, so this opportunity was a pleasant surprise. It’s really great that you can not only follow the tracks of the plot, but also from time to time choose from whom to grab the noble people.
All in all, the content in Kings Bounty II is my compliments. It took me four hours, at least, to go through the training location and explore the first city. In some games, by this point, you are already in the middle of the plot, but here you are just starting your adventure.
An adventure that only brings one feeling …
As soon as I left the capital city and went where my eyes were looking, the first delight began to gradually subside, and annoying flaws crawled out of all the cracks.
It turned out, for example, that the designers of the locations crammed under every bush and in every gully a chest or cache of coins and, if lucky, equipment. But the opportunity to loot them while sitting on a horse was not foreseen. And this would not be a problem if it were not for the biggest flaw in the game, which spoils everything in general.
His name is the hero’s turtle speed.
No, seriously, you will have to move around at the speed of a very lazy hippo throughout the game. At first you don’t pay attention to it, because the road for some time consists of dashes from one glowing chest to another. But here comes the turn of one battle, another, and now it’s time for you to return to the city in order to replenish the troops. And the horse, hitherto briskly galloping along the road, sharply slows down behind the capital’s walls and begins to trudge no faster than a snail.
I guarantee that on the third run you will be annoyed by the slow hero and his barely weaving nag. And also the very scenes that I admired a little earlier – after all, they are constantly replayed. Every time you approach the war elemental merchant, you will hear the same “Savior of Nostria” joke. Every now and again. Every now and again. Every now and again. But, as you know, a joke repeated two dozen times can awaken the inner Hulk even in the most peaceful person.
By the way, about the troops and the merchants who sell them. Here is a free tip for you – remember each of them by name, because this is the only information that appears under their icons on the world map. Forgot which of the three dozen merchants throughout the location sells the gnome riders? Well, if you please go around them all in search of what you need.
Some of the merchants are located very logically. For example, skeletons and death knights can be hired in crypts and cemeteries, in cities there are always swordsmen and archers, and in the Tower of Mages – elementals. But how can you guess that gnomes should be stocked up at a plundered village fair from a person (or is it the only bald and beardless gnome in the world)? That’s right – no way.
Next, the battles themselves begin to annoy. As it turned out, since the creation of the previous King’s Bounty, the developers have lost some of the ancient knowledge – for example, that the animation of creatures can be accelerated or even skipped. I am already silent about the possibility to choose from which hex to strike an enemy unit – this is not in the game either. As there is no button “replay the battle” after its completion. But there is a unique opportunity after the defeat to continue the game without an army at all. Thank you, damn it, great, fellow developers.
And similar stocks – the sea. Yes, almost all of them can be fixed literally in the very first patch. However, in the version that was given to me for review (and which already contains the patch of the first day), all these problems are in place. And, layering on top of each other, over time they supplant all other emotions, leaving only one …
Anger is what I experienced in the final segment of the game. Everything made me angry. And the dramatically increased difficulty of the contractions in the last ten hours. And the inability to recruit high-level creatures into your army, while all these Valkyries almost nest in flocks of enemies. And opponents, each of whom in the end turns into a jack of all trades – even an ordinary bandit without any magical talents begins to cast massive spells of the highest level.
And, of course, the slowness of the hero. In the end, when the fights become more difficult, you have to dangle for reinforcements almost after every battle. Comrade Archmage, I understand that we need to hurry, that the fate of the world is at stake, and so on, blah-blah-blah, but I need to hobble to the other end of the map, replenish my troops and hobble back. And then it is already possible to save the world.
The plot itself is also frustrating. Having started for health, the developers decided to end up for peace, slipping a fierce cliffhanger instead of a full-fledged ending to the player. Wait, they say, the continuation, if you really want to know how this whole story will end. In the meantime, you can go around the entire game world for the hundredth time and gaze at new scenes in which the locals discuss the whole mess that happened in the final.
So what’s the bottom line?
The hardest part with Kings Bounty II is to give her an adequate rating. Intellectually, I understand that almost all the things that ruined my impression of the game can and will certainly be corrected over time. But this is in the future, and now we have in our hands a good RPG with a pleasant, albeit outdated picture, which can infuriate even a Zen Buddhist.
Still, the game is worth giving a chance. It’s only been a day since I defeated the plot for Elsa, and I’m already tempted to start playing for Aivar or Katarina. Listen to their dialogues. Choose other paths. Try out new tactics.
And if you want to return to the game, even with all its shortcomings, then there is something in it.
And, by the way, about the technical side – for all 34 hours there was not a single crash or graphical bug at all. The preview version turned out to be stable and monolithic, just like our Roach, from time to time blocking narrow passages. Only once did I get stuck in the textures of a small mound, but I managed to get out of there without rebooting.
King’s Bounty II launches on August 24 on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.