In the gaming world, acronyms are a means by which players have used to categorize volumes of information into tidy bites of info that tend to follow regular stereotypes. RTS brings back waves of memories regarding Starcraft or other Blizzard relates products; hearing someone use the exhausting MMORPG forces involuntary shudders through my spine as I recall Everquest and all of the destructive experiences that went along with it. TBS, on the other hand, is one many people seem to either be unfamiliar with or require a hammer and chisel to etch out its fossilized core. Turn Based Strategy games existed widely as a love/hate product that rested solely on the disposition of the player. I heavily favored them over the RTS genre for I was not as quick-moused or vespine gas-literate as most fans needed to be in order to succeed. King’s Bounty is a game most widely known for spawning the cult classic Heroes of Might and Magic series which epitomized the Turn Based Strategy genre, but both franchises have been out of the public desire for a long time.
Little did we know that a small Russian game company known as Katauri Interactive were toiling with the fiery resurrection of the King’s Bounty legacy. Essentially a reboot for the long-forgotten series (the only entry debuted in 1990, before most of us could put finger to keyboard), The Legend brings a new story with a vibrant 3-d world open to the player to explore, complete quests and conquer roaming enemies. While the premise is a slightly more creative version of grinding your hero through the levels, the story does contain unique twists and turns enough to keep the player somewhat engaged, if not for the combat. It’s part World of Warcraft, part Heroes, and part Monkey Island rolled into an unusually fascinating package (one that, as I found out while writing this review, warranted a sequel that launched last month. Fancy that).
I was too young to remember the original KB well, so I came in with an almost unbiased stance regarding the new title, and my initial reaction was satisfying nostalgia as I was brought back to perhaps the only genre of gaming I can honestly say I excel at. While most genres of gaming infuse some degree of fast paced action and adrenaline pumping events that can distract your concentration just enough to push you from gold to silver, King’s Bounty is like how I imagine a game of chess would play like in the Lord of the Rings Universe. With no time limit to your combat decisions, your only adversary is your patience as you can plan out your attack down to the smallest detail. Granted, the enemy AI is nothing special, and you’ll most likely use the same tactics in dozens of battles, but some of the later battles require real preparation and logic as the odds will always be stacked against you. The battles, which are pre-positioned across the map so you know when your about to fight, are essentially clones of the battle system from the Heroes series. Cut up into a hexagonal grid, your troops slowly move across the board and battle the enemy troops with the use of magic, steel and class-specific abilities that can be used during battle but require a few turns to refresh. It’s easy to learn and understand, but as the game goes on and your hero enlists more powerful troops, the abilities and combinations you can create allow for some very interesting fights that will have you analyzing every single move as if it were your last, which is the game’s high point. This is not a game about having the biggest army; it is about how well you use the one you’ve got.
Being a massive Heroes of Might and Magic fan, I knew I would be drawing a lot of connections between the two, but I was happy to see Katauri make some welcome distinctions from the Heroes franchise in order to keep the experience fresh. Rather than having to manage resources and castles on a macro scale, King’s Bounty is all about your hero and your troops. You enlist your army from castles, taverns and various guilds across the world. You can enlist as many troops as your leadership number allows, which increases as your character gains levels and collects leadership banners on the field. The more leadership you have, the more troops you can purchase. If you lose any troops during a battle and wish to replenish your stock, you can make the trek back to where you first enlisted them and buy more, but most places do not have an infinite supply of creatures, so you must still exercise caution in ensuring you lose the smallest number of troops possible in each battle.
Your hero can be one of three different classes, which will predisposition you toward one of the three corresponding skill branches: Warriors lean toward Might, Paladins lean toward Mind, and Mages lean toward Magic. You can allot points in any branch at any time, provided you have the required number of runes needed to learn the skill. These runes can also be found on the map, but most will be given to you when your hero advances another level. While it is nice to see these runes regulate how far along each tree you can advance, the system is far too strict and doesn’t give the player much room for creativity. Warriors will flesh out most of the magic tree, but won’t get very far in the magic or mind tree and the same goes for paladins and mages. It would have been nice to break out of the boundaries a little bit and have my mage learn the tactics skill from the might tree, or my warrior learn how to resurrect undead troops after battles since the undead units were much stronger than any other type of unit in the game (a fact I was happy to learn was fixed in a later patch).
For a relatively unknown franchise, some of the game’s acclaim are in the visual and audio portions of the package. Fully orchestrated songs ring from the background that really bring the sense of adventure and fantasy to life in a way Horner or Zimmer have only been able to accomplish, and to think this is coming from a B-listed game company impresses me even more. The graphics take obvious nods from the the latest Heroes game that attempted to do a 3-d landscape, but Katauri perfects the idea with little improvements like better shadowing, deeper colors where necessary, and fuller character animations that show some precise attention to detail. All in all, KB shines more from the gloss and shine than even it’s formulaic but addictive combat system.
As fun as it is to play King’s Bounty, I must remember the unfortunate fact that the TBS genre of games is one that is quickly fading away from the explosion of growth in its cousin RTS genre. I feel that for those who play at a slower pace, or ones who just want that extra few seconds to think through their moves, you will love King’s Bounty. And while it captivated my imagination for a while, I know it will not appeal to most of the gaming community. It is slow. It does require some thought, and a lot more patience than most players are willing to give in today’s world of broadband servers and 32-player deathmatches. But regardless, King’s Bounty: The Legend is a worthy remake of a game that tapped into one of the most personally rewarding genres I have ever played.
See you in the next level,