King's Bounty: The Legend Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:1C Company
Developer:Katauri Interactive
Release Date:2008-04-25
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Strategy
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Calling fans of all RPG, turn-based or tactical strategy, and of hybrid games in between! King's Bounty - The Legend -- released without the trumpeted fanfare which accompanies some high budget titles (e.g., Fallout 3) -- includes fantastic single-player tactical / strategy / RPG mechanics, rarely-seen attention to graphic detail, a huge multi-continent world to explore, and a balanced 3-class character progression system you can't stop thinking about once you begin. I have not been this hooked since Heroes of Might & Magic III.

In case you haven't read or heard, this newer King's Bounty is based on the old late 80's computer game which pre-dated and spawned the amazing Heroes of Might & Magic series. But unlike the HOMM series which featured strategically building up several heroes and castles, King's Bounty is more of a traditional RPG using just a single hero and tactical turn-based combat. The strategy comes in when you factor in how to develop your rather deeply customizable hero and unique play style over many levels in order to complete the game. That said, there are several similarities between the two games (HOMM and KB) such that fans of the former will feel right at home. There are also several innovations that borrow from the current RPGs of today.

Gameplay

To put it simply, in King's Bounty you move your chosen hero and army comprised of up to 5 different troop types around several continents worth of fantastic 3D landscapes of every type of terrain imaginable, both on horse and ship. Sprinkled throughout every map are many types of hidden or guarded treasures, NPCs, unique buildings, and wandering armies of various difficulty. If you get close enough they'll give chase and if touched will trigger a battle - but you can usually run away (hint: or around them) easily enough.

There's a basic story woven into the game's main quest, and you'll run into innumerable NPCs dishing out all sorts of side quests at any one time. The dialogue is often infused with humorous -- albeit cheesy -- dialogue, though I get the feeling the writers were actually after this effect. You'll find quests for both the current map in addition to those that take you into other areas entirely. Quests are all kept track of in your quest journal, and though the current step is easily laid out in plain English, sometimes you might forget where the originator of the quest was and will have to remember before you turn it in. Fortunately the NPCs and buildings will have a unique icon on top of them if there is something for you to turn in, which makes it a little easier, but logged location information would have been nice to have as you accumulate quite the list.

You'll want to focus on the main quest at the earliest opportunity, as it revolves around your chosen hero gaining ranks as the official (Treasure Searcher) for the King. This is essentially an excuse to propel you to the different continents of the game as you unravel the overall mystery. As you complete the main quest, other areas open up and you'll gain access to what are known as summoned spirits - elemental-like creatures that you can summon as you gain what's known as "rage" automatically when your troops engage in combat. Each of the elementals (not accessible all at once) gain levels and experience just as you do, which open up new abilities for them... allowing you to eventually make choices in how to spend your rage to aid you in combat. Though these elementals are optional as you still have spells and individual unit abilities, they can certainly make battles a little less costly and therefore should be used as frequently as possible to continue to maximize their strength. It would have been nice for them to automatically gain experience without being used, as I found just bringing them out even if I knew I was going to win a bit tedious. This could have been done by selecting to "focus" on one or more of them (simply toggle a highlight on the hero screen). Then as you battled the one (or more) you focused on would automatically get a percentage of the rage you generated converted to experience for that spirit only. If you focused on more than one, the experience would be split multiple ways.

But let's briefly step back to the beginning. The first choice you make when you select "New Game" is actually the most important: that of which class you want to play throughout your 60-100 hour adventure. The Knight, Paladin, and Mage have been balanced to play remarkably differently thanks to a few unique skills and inherent differences in the way each class earns level-up rewards. At opposite ends, the Knight's combat prowess makes his army and summoned spirits more lethal, while the Mage focuses more on magically destroying opponents outright, and is the best at either artificially enhancing his (less powerful) army, or weakening his opponents'. The paladin strikes a nice mix of the two with unique abilities of his own.

Most of the game's enjoyment and focus is on three things: thoroughly exploring to collect treasures and creatures and new quests, building up your hero to be the most powerful treasure hunter this side of Cap'n Jack Sparrow, and of course the combat (the way to prove your ever increasing power). If combat on the battlefield wasn't so entertaining to watch and full of virtually unlimited options to defeat your opponent, the game would get stale quickly. Thankfully, that isn't a problem as it is done in such an addictive yet thoughtful manner that you'll find yourself always wandering a map looking for just one more army that you deem easy enough (or challenging enough) for you to defeat. This in turn inches you that much closer to another level or unexplored area with new unknowns. Also, I must note here, once defeated, enemy armies thankfully do not respawn!

Speaking of levels, as in most combat-centered RPGs, one of the central hooks to keep playing is to see just how powerful your character can get while customizing them to your play-style. Each class in King's Bounty has access to three different skill trees, similar to what you might find in Diablo II, World of Warcraft, or several other games that now use one. As your character explores the terrain or gains a level (to a maximum of level 30), he'll receive a mixture of 3 types of runes: might, mind, and magic. Runes are the currency with which to purchase all of your unique skills from a tree -- for example, more experience, immunity to ill-effects by two creatures that don't like each other, or the ability to move troops around the grid before combat. Each of the three skill trees requires the same-named rune type more often than any other, though skills from all trees will typically use some mixture of all three types of runes. In addition most every skill can be upgraded up to 3 levels (again, paid for with runes) to provide additional effectiveness.