King’s Bounty doesn’t concern an epic quest to retrieve the monarch’s long lost coconut-flavoured chocolate bar. There are, however, a great many quests to undertake in the game and some of them are definitely slightly silly. For example, searching a swamp to find a frog for a prince to kiss (a bit of a gender reversal twist there).
This rather tongue-in-cheek Ascaron strategy offering is a blend of role playing and turn based battling that owes a lot to the Might & Magic series. The player explores the main map on horseback in real time, discovering towns, castles (with troops for hire), quest givers and chests stuffed with loot and guarded by monsters. When a beast is encountered, the game zooms in to a hex based battlefield for combat.
These battles play out differently depending on the character you’ve picked and which skill trees you develop while levelling. Army composition is critical for the warrior, who has the leadership to take on many troops and improve their abilities through his skills.
The mage, on the other hand, has a smaller, less able army, but makes up for this with his magic, smiting the enemy with fireballs and hindering them with slow spells. A third, hybrid choice, the paladin, combines might and magic, with some extra boons like a boost in power against the undead and demons.
Whichever path you take, skirmishes with evenly matched armies are really thoughtful and absorbing affairs, like games of chess but with werewolves, banshees and triffids. Moves have to be carefully planned, special abilities activated and spells strategically chucked in at the right moment. There are plenty of other considerations, such as terrain and the day and night cycle (the commander of an undead army will always want to fight in the dark).
What’s slightly irksome about the combat is that trivial battles also have to be fought. There’s an auto-combat option that makes your moves automatically and reasonably swiftly, but you’ve still got to sit there and watch. An auto-resolve function that immediately decided a conflict would be really handy.
Not only is there depth to the combat, but also to the game’s many quests. These often involve choices and ethical dilemmas, so when you head off to vanquish invading carnivorous plants from a village’s farmland, you soon discover that these are sentient triffids that can talk and they have a reason for their intrusion. Whether or not that gets in the way of collecting the reward is a matter for the player’s conscience.
As with any good game, the more you play King’s Bounty, the more interesting nuggets of gameplay you discover. You can enlist the help of powerful spirits, buy a boat and sail the seas hunting for long lost pirates’ treasure and it’s even possible to marry in the game (but be warned, your wife will take her share of the gold if you get divorced)!
The only thing lacking is a little polish. We’d like to have seen better scripting and language translation (there are some very poorly constructed sentences and spelling), and the interface could use a little work. Just small details, such as the addition of a pop-up box that allows you to compare the stats of two different types of troop simultaneously, for example.