I remember sneaking into our den late at night and popping my King’s Bounty cartridge into my Sega Genesis to erode away what little valuable sleeping time I had left back in the early 90s. The enthrallment of saving the king while piecing together a map, the excitement of its turn based movement and combat structure, even the character models which were pretty cool for back then made me dream of being affiliated with the industry. I loved King’s Bounty so much, I encapsulated myself in the spinoff “Might and Magic“Â series that adopted many of the same principles. I’m a nut, what can I say?
Now, as the years have waned on, I have become more involved with the larger productions titles, forgetting and losing that inherent feeling of dread when I get jumped by an enemy with ten times the army of mine, only to outwit the AI and come away victorious. Using hexagonal combat tiles with turn based combat and folding in spells and abilities from your hero, the game gives the genre a much needed boost in the recent flops of strategy RPGs. Needless to say, my nostalgia was tearing through me when this gem came across the wire, and I needed to see what lengths the franchise has made in the recent years, from the small studios of New World Computing in the 80s to the newly created 1C Company and Katauri Interactive based out of Russia. I was aching to jump back in.
You begin as Olaf, the Viking son of Tormund the Fierce and brother to Eric, set in a rich and wintery northland of the King’s Bounty world. Eric greets you as the game begins, insulting and insinuating as ever, flexing his muscles and preening like a god as you unwillingly must listen to his rhetoric. Finding out that undead have crossed onto this little island your family calls home, your father looks to you to quell the threat and prove yourself to the army. Mustering a small force, you set off to make a name for yourself.
The main storyline is quite linear, meeting up with an old soothsayer that helps you along the way as you destroy undead and begin to right the plague of risen souls and gives you tidbits here and there about your own family and their exploits. This spurs you on a bit, wanting to upstage your brother and reclaim some honor. However, siblings can be deceptive and mischievous, and the epitome of such in this case. On the run from your father for attempting to kill Eric, you then travel from island to island quelling undead as you wait to hear news to come back home.
As the game progresses, the story branches and becomes more convoluted, losing that epic feel. I forgot about home, and focused more on the task and solving other nation’s problems. I felt thrust into a cauldron of stewed meat, gasping for breath as I tread longer and longer for the time when I could get some inkling of the events from my own island, to no avail.
The saving grace in all of this is the dialogue within the main quest line, and the vast number of sub-quests. I fully enjoyed the banter between the NPCs and the talking points you get to choose, bringing a sense of comedic value not seen too often in RPGs. Despite the sometimes bad translations from Russian to English, the misspelled words, obvious extended spaces and grammatical errors, I fully enjoyed actually reading each quest as opposed to crushing my “enter”Â key with my fist. I mean, I got to talk to a blissfully out of touch skeleton pirate who wanted revenge, only to find out the target of his malicious intent had passed on… and finding a way for him to gain some sense of stability as opposed to outright slaying his rotting… carcass. You get the point.
I rather like the old school, World of Warcraftesque character models and environment, allowing Katauri to spend time on the immense detail as opposed to graphics engines that you expect more from that inevitably fall short. The graphics are great, and more than that, the artwork is stunning. It is a far cry from the Genesis days, with my pixel boat and oddly proportioned units. Rivers and waterfalls look natural, the terrain shifts and moves as it should, and the amenities added gives the game more depth than I am used to with others within the niche.
I truly enjoy the spell casting animations while using your Valkyrie’s abilities in combat, giving more of an epic quality when deciding the fate of your foes. Shards of glittering ice raining down from the sky to form an impenetrable wall (or so I thought, shattered in seconds with a hefty blow to be sure) or bolts of lightning shaking the screen and lighting up the opposing army with tongues of electrical mayhem – it gave me a sense of accomplishment when I could utilize these abilities, something I savored in every battle.
However, what’s missed is some sort of cinematic introduction. Now I agree that something is not as good as nothing, but when the only dynamic video in the entire title happens to be the publisher and developer’s intro, something feels amiss. I also had a rough time getting the screen resolution to set at my monitor size, which inadvertently would bug out and adjust to the default for the game. I don’t run anything in 800×600, but for some reason, King’s Bounty had it out for me for a good while.
What’s not to love at first about the music in King’s Bounty: Warrior of the North? Opera singers, banging drums, melodious tunes that get stuck in your head day after day, hell, I’m humming right now as I type this sentence. It gets addictive in the beginning, lovely and sweet. But play too long and it’s as vicious and dangerous as being Rick Rolled. You love to hate it because it sticks with you, but you can’t mute it because it’s just so compelling.
Combat is generic, however. Men groaning, swords swinging, bolts crackling in the air – it adds no real flavor to the game. It’s not disappointing in the slightest because I expected nothing more, it’s just nothing I’d really spend any more time on.
Here’s the beef. The gameplay in King’s Bounty: Warrior of the North is amazing. You begin having to choose between three different classes, each with their own flair. Vikings add a bit more melee might to your armies, Skalds offer more leadership which allows you to acquire a larger force, and Soothsayers are a magical force to be reckoned with. In addition, four difficulty options present themselves, each one adjusting enemy statistics while hindering your own to give competitive advantage in each direction. Normal is normal, easy is easy, and impossible is, well, rather insane.
I went as a Viking in my first play through, favoring brute strength over diplomacy or mental prowess. Skipping the tutorial like every eager gamer does, I thrust myself into the content with abandon. Struggling and not knowing the mechanics of troop acquisition, I suddenly realized the core nature of the franchise again. Troops do not respawn. This is not your typical army RPG like Might and Magic. When you purchase troops from a vendor, they will not come back. Thus, when I would run out of one thing, my strategy would have to adjust for a new type of unit. This gave the game a better quality, as I found myself protecting and favoring one type of unit while throwing expendables to the wolves like a good prince would.
The strategizing aspect was spot on. I acquired a unit early on that allowed me to charm an opposing army’s stack of units (as long as they weren’t undead and fit within the leadership requirements) for a short period of time. This awe inspiring ability helped me crush enemies far superior to myself. However, it leads me to my first issue: the AI. Now, if I were a rising general commanding an army of hundreds or thousands of units, my first inclination would be to crush my opponent. Should that opponent turn a portion of my force against me, I would maybe send a regiment to distract or dispatch those traitors while I continue to deal with the main threat. However, in King’s Bounty: Warrior of the North, once you charm an opposing army’s unit column, they focus ALL of their energy in quelling that threat. This distraction gives you one or two rounds of ranged combat, a sometimes game-breaking situation.
Revolving around skills, you collect different types of runes when you level, which you can allocate into various abilities that assist you in and out of combat. Want to see how large of an army you are coming up against, what types of units they possess and how many? Put three points in the “scout” skill and find out. Want innate rage every time you enter combat, or give your units higher critical chances or damage? There are skills for that as well. Even scribing spells into your tome requires some runes spent on the applicable skill, giving rise to the vast reaches of the Soothsayer class.
The spell system in the game works well. You can purchase or find spell scrolls throughout the lands, and either scribe them in your book or use the scrolls outright in combat. As a pea-brained infantry commander, my book was the size of a small journal, barely large enough to fit one or two spells. This meant that I had to rely on Valkyrie abilities and my own witty army. Your hero gets attacks it can use in combat, expending rage for damage on the field. The higher the ability, the more rage, etc. When you come in contact with your first Valkyrie, they inundate you with more powers you can use on the field, at sometimes higher rage costs. These also turn the tide in your favor, sometimes for the worse.
I obtained my third Valkyrie on the third island I visited, deep in the story quest. She began to talk about helping her sisters which were by my side, and destroying the evil on the island. Excited that I had obtained another ability to use in combat, she concluded that her power would assist in the battle to come. Entering the cave, I approached the first “real”Â boss fight of the game. However, as our dance commenced, I uncovered that all rage abilities are disabled during bosses with the caveat “we need to make things fair for your foes, thus you cannot use rage in boss battles.”Â My Valkyrie had flat out lied to me.
You eventually leave the northlands and are thrust into the main continent in this world only to have your army stripped from you and needing another. This gives you the opportunity to try out new types of units not of Viking descent, or as I looked at it, a crushing blow after I had stockpiled a badass army. However, it gave the game more flavor and progressed the story while keeping some semblance of difficulty for the user to continue enjoying the game.
There were crashes, however, to be expected in a beta preview. They happened frequently enough at first that I found myself constantly saving my game, and just about every time I closed the program I would get an error that only my task manager could fix. These didn’t take anything away from the gameplay, mind you, it was just something to note for the unwary.
I have already found myself, having sunk a lot of hours into this title already, starting a new character and trying things from a different perspective. Will I be more effective utilizing the magical side of things, or commanding a larger army? I don’t know, but we’ll definitely find out. The quests don’t change, enemies don’t change, environments don’t change, only the play style you find yourself enjoying. This adds a little bit of replayability, especially with the wide range of units you can control. If you used a mechanic/soothsayer combination your first run, maybe try a slinger/jarl combo next. Priests make excellent targets for the enemy, so load up on high end melee damagers while you lure their units around the map. Possibilities aren’t entirely endless, but it could be close.
As I stated before with one of the units abilities, given certain circumstances you can be a force to be reckoned with. There are no shortage of ingenious ways to utilize the creatures under your control, and that adds certain depth to this title. The game has its curve, no doubt tested in your first boss battle. If your wits are not upon you, and you have not understood the lessons of combat strategy welted upon you up until that point, you will not progress. It’s forced reformation, something I applaud.
I disagree, however, with the lack of unit acquisition. Some types of units are rare, and I get that, but as your leadership increases and stack size inflates, the available resources to fill those gaps becomes scarce. It leads you to need to find other outlets and other types to replace your go-to characters, which is gut wrenching sometimes. Forced strategy modification, yes. Forced destruction of waning troops, masochistic.
In terms of the franchise and spinoffs, this game is on cue. As it follows a different path in the beginning for the northlanders and their tribes, you eventually come back into the fold of regular life for the world, fighting with archmages and griffons as you did in the older titles. It is a different vibe, to be sure, but not original in its true definition. It does keep you guessing, however, and the environments and unit change in the first half definitely gives the game a different feel. It is still a King’s Bounty sequel, thus changing too much would stray too far from the tree, something us fans would rather not see.
Holy crap was I glued to my screen. Late nights, early mornings, any time I could find to fit in an extra battle or two, I found myself doing. Ever tied your shoelaces with one hand while ordering troops with the other? Try it, it’s fun. How large of a foe can you defeat with such a meager or simple army? Tried and tested, and utterly approved. This game gets to you, and makes you want to continue. If not for the storyline, you at least want to destroy the next hero or rise to the ranks on the leaderboards. There is not much else I can say, my hands are still quivering from withdrawal.
This will appeal to not only those who have followed the King’s Bounty franchise, but the Might and Magic series as well. With not as much capital put into this game as the spinoff, it still delivers an almost crushing blow in my opinion. Following a hero more like an RPG as opposed to a RTS/RPG, the hexagonal turn based combat style can appeal to the casual and the hardcore. It is a great game for someone looking to try out something new, and for those following the series for the past twenty years, something to sate your hunger until the new MMO is released later this year.
No content additions have been talked about, as this seems to be one in its own right, following and picking up from the last game where it left off. It leaves me wanting more, and looking to obtain and grind through the previous games that I have missed.
Appeal Factor: Great
Final Score: Great Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
For those new or those that have followed the KB franchise since the 90s, King’s Bounty: Warriors of the North is a must have. Its hexagonal turn based combat coupled with the strategy and tactics needed to quell hordes of undead have raised it up my list of fleshed out titles. With the variety of options, difficulties, and army diversity available, it will suck hours, days, weeks of your life away with blissful memories.