Release Date :
December 10th, 1990
Five years before New World Computing brought us the first Heroes of Might and Magic and eighteen years before Katauri Interactive demonstrated how to do a remake right, there was King's Bounty. Originally released in 1990 by the eventual HoMM creators themselves (in between Might and Magic II and III), King's Bounty certainly wasn't the first video game to blend strategy and RPG into the same package. But thanks to the addictive way in which the player rises in power, the unique turn-based battlefield mechanics, and its considerable replayability, King's Bounty has gone on to influence over two decades of successful follow-up titles.
Anyone familiar with the earlier Heroes of Might and Magic games will immediately feel at home with the game. The keyboard-driven interface isn't quite as friendly, but many of the same mechanics are present - the hero grows in power and leadership through an RPG-inspired progression system, an army must be amassed in order to take on the game's challenges, opponents, and hostile cities, and the storyline revolves around the construction of a map that leads to a hidden item of great power. It's this item, the Sceptre of Order, that forms the foundation of the main campaign.
In King's Bounty, the player chooses a hero from a selection of four (each with specific strengths and weaknesses), and then starts the game as the army-leading champion of King Maximus. The king is unfortunately dying, and his Sceptre of Order has been stolen by the dragon Arech and his demon champion Urthrax. The devious pair have hidden the sceptre and are now simply awaiting the king's death so that they can cast the entire kingdom into chaos. As the king's chosen barbarian, knight, paladin, or sorceress hero, you must recruit an army and retrieve the Sceptre of Order before the king takes in his final breath. The amount of time you're allotted to do so ranges between 200 and 900 days, depending on the difficulty that you select at the beginning of the game.
Finding the Sceptre of Order is no easy task. The player must explore the kingdom in search of twenty-five seperate pieces of a puzzle map that will lead them to where Arech has hidden the trophy. Seventeen of the pieces are in the possession of Arech's followers, while the other eight have been placed alongside important artifacts of power. Thankfully, the game doesn't require you to find every single map piece in order to deduce the sceptre's location, but you're still going to need a lot of them, and that means building a proper army to lead you into victory. Humans, elves, dwarves, and monsters inhabiting the kingdom's cities and landmarks can all be recruited into your service, with the total number of units that you can have under your control at any given time depending on your leadership score. Each week, the cities and other landmarks are restocked with more units, but since the game forces you to have a sense of urgency, it's not always in your best interest to simply let a week pass by.
You're going to need a lot of gold to maintain your army, though, so defeating roaming enemies, finding hidden treasure caches, sieging enemy cities, and tracking down the game's primary villains (to receive the "king's bounty") will be your primary goals throughout the game. To further aid you in the endeavor, the game features eight "artifacts of power" (the same ones that accompany some of the puzzle map pieces) and a range of spells that can be acquired, including adventure spells such as Time Stop and Town Gate, and combat spells such as Fireball and Resurrect.