Review – King’s Bounty II

I miss Might and Magic. Both the mainline series and the phenomenal Heroes of Might and Magic spinoff. It was the game that put blending strategy and RPGs on the map. It’s also the reason I’m rambling about old RPG franchises now. See, there was a game before the first Heroes of Might and Magic. One made by the same company that set the stage for HOM&M’s future success. It was called King’s Bounty. And now over thirty years later, long after the death of its successor, we finally received a true sequel. While there were eventual follow ups to the original game, this is the game to bear the official title of King’s Bounty II. The question is, does it live up to the legacy of the game that smashed my two favorite genres together so successfully?

The answer is complicated. At first my reaction was not really. The game has issues. Not issues in the “every game has issues” kinda way. These kind of issues are built into the game’s core and only become more blatant as you play. The result of ambition and scale unchecked. After thinking about it some more and putting in more playtime though, my answer shifted. After all, the original King’s Bounty was itself an experiment of ambition. An attempt to mesh two genres together, which HOM&M would use to set the standard. So it’s only natural that the game to claim the title of a direct sequel would follow in its footsteps. To not simply settle for what the genre already was, but instead push it forward. Also, this game’s simply my brand of fun.

It’s honestly a really nice looking game. Not the best, but still easy on the eyes.

So King’s Bounty II. The premise is simple, and the setting even more so. You begin the game as a prisoner of the current monarch of the land of Nostria. You are then released under mysterious circumstances by the same king who imprisoned you, trouble is brewing, and it’s all down to you to stop it. Nostria is probably the most generic fantasy setting you can imagine. To be clear though, I mean this as a good thing. The genre has become so bogged down in dark and gritty subversions, that some good old school fantasy is just what the doctor ordered. Also to be fair, King’s Bounty II doesn’t exactly play it straight either. Par for the course for the series, there’s plenty of tongue in cheek moments and a fair amount of humor. Mileage will of course vary, but I found it entertaining enough.

The meat of the game is the gameplay. There’s two main gameplay elements, but one of them is quite different than what is standard for the genre. Instead of an overworld, you explore the land from a third-person perspective. This is the game’s biggest, most ambitious change, and the source of most complaints. However, I personally feel that while it’s not perfect, it’s not terrible and with some tweaks would be amazing. It adds a personal element to the game and story that isn’t usually present in games like these. It also does a much better job of turning this part of the game into a full blown RPG. Now the puzzles are on the easier side, the maps are beautiful and detailed but lack interaction, and it is fairly linear. But in my opinion, since this isn’t all the game, then it doesn’t break the whole game either.

The UI can be…messy…but it wasn’t a problem once I got used to it.

And the other part of the game more than pulls the weight. Instead of a real-time battle system, King’s Bounty II uses a tile-based, turn-based system. Nor does it take place on the world map, but rather on a set of separate battle maps. It’s a fantastic battle system, and what makes it so is unit and spell variety. There’s two parts to battle, your army and your commander. Your army is composed of a variety of units of your choosing, drawn from four ideals. Your commander presides over the battle instead of directly taking part. They do their part through buffs and spells that directly affect the battlefield. There’s a wide variety of both, with an equally wide variety of gameplay styles. This also ties in well with the RPG side, which is where you unlock and find units, learn spells, and develop your own personal ideal.

Your ideal is what connects the RPG and strategy sides most cohesively. And it does so very well. There’s four of them, opposite of each other. And each has a specific meaning for both Unit types and RPG actions. Power represents upfront powerful units, and decisive shows of strength. Opposite is Finesse which is for flexible utility units and playing smart instead of hard. Then there’s Order for “good” straightforward units and actions that uphold the status quo. Finally there’s Chaos which represents the “bad” underhanded units and actions that disrupt the world. It should be noted that things are not cut and dry. Battling against a corrupt king is a Chaos action. Upholding the sanctioned slaughter of civilians is a Order one. Just because this is classic fantasy doesn’t mean it’s teeth-less. There are decisions to be made, and few of them will be easy.

You can wear this hat. Enough said.

But they are fun, and for a variety of reasons. First there’s the simple act of developing your ideal. As you choose options, you will slowly starts to gravitate towards one over the others. Eventually, you’ll lose the ability to choose options opposite your beliefs. Eventually you’ll end up at a unique ending based on your ideal, which adds a bit of replayability. The other rewards are literally the rewards. Making decisions and completing quests usually nets you influence for recruitment, gold for buying stuff, and unlocking units themselves. It’s important to note that different units unlock depending on what you do. So as you make decisions, you’ll acquire applicable units, which become stronger due to aligning with your beliefs. Like I said, it all comes together quite beautifully. Your choices matter, not just in the story but to your basic army composition.

The final key to the puzzle is your commander, the main character. There are three to choose from at the start of the game. The Mage Katherine, Elisa the Paladin, and the standard Warrior Aivar. Each comes with unique backgrounds, dialogue, and skill trees. It should be noted that the story itself remains unchanged, although how you experience it can differ drastically. Personally, I found outside flavor and personal taste, your army itself makes for a bigger impact on gameplay. I didn’t feel a dramatic gameplay difference between Katherine and Aivar, at least in the early game. I did however much prefer Katherine as a character, so your choice still absolutely matters.

King's Bounty II

This game has so much lore to take in, and most of it is actually really interesting too.

If you ever wondered what a western JRPG would look and feel like, King’s Bounty II is kinda it. Sure it aligns with the core beliefs of the genre, blending RPG and strategy gameplay. And the strategy gameplay itself is fun, strategic, and requires some thought in battle and army composition. But the way it’s all done brings to mind JRPGs such as Dragon Quest. Not that I mind personally. I love JRPGs. And I love Dragon Quest. I love fantasy, I love strategy, and I love RPGs. And while elements of this game aren’t the greatest, they come together as intended and create a fun game that does exactly what it says on the box. This isn’t a misfire, it’s hopefully a fantastic base for a new kind of strategy RPG franchise.

Graphics: 8.5

It’s not the best looking game ever, but it looks really good, and in some cases, even great.

Gameplay: 8.0

The RPG elements feel very lite, but the strategy gameplay is complex and meaty enough.

Sound: 4.5

Oh boy is the voice acting very bad, “turn them off or switch languages” levels of bad. Music is generic too, but at least sound effects are quite visceral and neat.

Fun Factor: 7.0

It is fun. Some of it is generic, other parts are boring, and the battle system is by far the best part, but overall I had a lot of fun with it, and will keep playing it for the foreseeable future.

Final Verdict: 7.5

King’s Bounty II is available now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of King’s Bounty II was provided by the publisher.