Original King’s Bounty, released in 1990, was one of the most influential games for the whole strategy genre. And a direct precursor to the infamous Heroes of Might and Magic series.
However, Heroes games are mostly focused on “global” strategy level with managing many heroes, gathering resources, and actually building stuff in your castles. While in KB the whole game was set around a single hero and you, embark on the quest on the behalf of the King.
And developers of King’s Bounty: The Legend decided to return to the roots.
The Legend Returns
Still, the new game became much more resembling of typical RPGs. There is a deliberate progression system with experience points, leveling up and acquiring new skills. There are many NPCs ready to chat and give you a quest or two. Sometimes those quests involve more than just fighting and carrying packages. They can even branch – allowing different solutions or rewards.
There is no more time limit. But there is still a day-night cycle, with some creatures becoming stronger at night. And there is no more way to capture castles for weekly income. Though you can still put creatures into a garrison of friendly castles if you need to replace them with another type of troops, but don’t want to disband creatures completely. At least, you don’t need to pay a salary to your soldiers too.
Probably, the most radical change is that traveling on a global map became real-time. While riding through the woods (or roaming across the sea, when you get the boat) you can avoid some wondering creatures if reacting fast enough. You can even make them chase you and lure away from their post by passing just at the sight range – a useful trick to get some treasure if your army is under-powered.
And treasures are lying practically everywhere! Chests with gold and magic scrolls, flags that increase your character’s leadership, altars that grant experience, or permanently raise some stats. The latter looks more like a feature from Heroes, but such “reference” is only welcome. And the most valuable artifacts are guarded by powerful armies, which you must fight.
Turn-based combat in details
The tactical battlefield also came a long way from a simple 6×5 plane. Now it’s hexagonal and varies in shape and sizes. In addition to ordinary obstacles, there can be special items affecting the course of the battle. A hive of bees, who attack random squad each turn, a totem that buffs (or curses) anyone near it, a chest with some gold. There can even be a potential ally – destroy a coffin at the cemetery, for example, and you’ll get a squad of skeletons or vampires to fight on your side during the rest of the battle.
Battlefield type and layout actually depend on the terrain, you start a fight. A neat detail that you can also use to your advantage by luring some creatures to the ground type where your troops become stronger.
Yes, the strength of some creatures depends on where or when they fight. And there are many other nuances. Floating creatures can fly over some obstacles. Archers can fire special freezing or flaming arrows once per battle. Snakes can attack over one hex remaining out of range for retaliation, though such attack takes a turn to recharge. Druids can summon bears. Bears raise their attack when taking damage. Practically every type of creature, even the most basic peasant, has some special attributes or abilities.
Choosing creatures who have synergy for your army provides an enormous range of tactical options. But you can gain even more advantages if you develop a hero accordingly. Obviously, attack and defense stats will boost the same parameter of your army. And high leadership will allow hiring more creatures of each type. But there are even special skills that grant your units additional abilities. Or boost existing ones.
And don’t forget the trickiest option of all – magic.
Spells, Artifacts, and… Wives
As in Heroes series, you can cast spells either by using scrolls or reading them from the spellbook. The latter requires mana and the spell itself to be actually added in the book. Oh, and your hero must have a skill in one of three schools of magic – Order, Chaos, and Distortion.
Those skills can be upgraded to level 2 or 3, which will allow you to cast an advanced spell version that deals more damage, lasts longer, or affects more units. And if you don’t need that, you can always press Ctrl and use basic spell version that costs less mana. Neat!
Spells themselves come in all shapes and sizes. From basic fireballs and healing to teleportation, creating copies, summoning special creatures and placing traps with different effects. But that’s nothing compared to a variety of items that can rival full-fledged RPGs!
Check this – some artifacts are living things and have own Morale level! If you fight dragons with Dragon Slayer sword, it will be glad and become even more effective. If you won’t kill dragons but have them in your army instead, the sword will become angry. And eventually will teleport you to a special arena where you have to defeat gremlin guardians to restore the balance.
Another interesting feature is the opportunity to get married. First, of course, you need to complete a quest – defeat a monster, lift a curse (or not if you want a zombie wife), or something else your future wife desire. Then you propose, and voila! Not only your wife provides some stat boost for you or your troops, but also she can hold four additional artifacts. Or children – they basically replace wife’s item slots and also provide bonuses. Too bad that birth order is random and is set at the start of the game.
Spirits of Rage
The last, but definitely not the least, is The Chest of Rage. It contains four powerful creatures from across dimensions. Sleem the Lizard Prince, Lina the Technomage, Reaper from the Temple of Time, and Zerok – each is basically an NPC with its own backstory, dialog options, and a quest that you need to take before being getting access to their abilities.
After that, you can summon them on the battlefield to attack enemies, protect your army, or do some other special trick. It’s like being able to cast an additional spell each turn. And they even gain experience, leveling up their abilities. Though there are still some restrictions, including the use of Rage.
Essentially, Rage is an additional resource similar to Mana. Except out of combat it doesn’t restore but in fact, dissipates over time. You need to deal (or receive) damage in combat to gain Rage. Or use spells and artifacts to get more. Managing your “rage level” becomes an additional layer in tactics, especially since filling the Rage bar also increases damage from Critical Attacks of your units.
It’s Like in Fairy Tales
Honestly, it’s rather hard for me to find any imperfections in this game that is rightfully called a cult classic. Yes, the story is rather straightforward and at times campy. But it totally fits the world that is well-crafted to remind you of old times when there was no need for everything to be grim-dark.
I can also nitpick the interface. Nowhere you’re actually told how Rage impacts Critical Attack – that’s info that I got from “extended” manual, that doesn’t even exist in English. Also, you can’t look up your stats during the battle, so if you use the “Sacrifice” spell to increase the number of creatures in the stack you can outdo the leadership limit and they turn on you. Yeah, that last one went pretty specific.
As I’ve said – it’s all just nitpicks. Beyond them, King’s Bounty: The Legend is a true unaging masterpiece. One of the few examples of “spiritual successor” done right. It doesn’t follow the original game formula exactly but borrows enough core features to recreate the feel and experience. It introduced a few new (for its time) ideas and mixed modern conventions with the old in just the right proportion. So a new generation of gamers wouldn’t be bored or frustrated and fans of “old school” wouldn’t feel cheated of what they think makes King’s Bounty King’s Bounty.