King's Bounty: Warriors of the North + DLC Review

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King's Bounty: Warriors of the North is the latest installment in the King's Bounty franchise.  The original King's Bounty was released way back in 1990 by New World Computing.  Years later, the publisher 1C Company bought the rights to the franchise, and they allowed Katauri Interactive to create new King's Bounty games, which resulted in King's Bounty: The Legend (released in 2008), King's Bounty: Armored Princess (2010), and King's Bounty: Crossworlds (also 2010).

As for Warriors of the North, it was released by Katauri in October of 2012, but then 1C Company apparently had a change of heart.  They handed off the Ice and Fire DLC pack to Revultive Software, and it came out a little over a year later, in January of 2014.  Meanwhile, a third developer, 1C-Softclub, is currently working on King's Bounty: Dark Side, which is scheduled to be released in June.  This review is for Warriors of the North and Ice and Fire together, since they intertwine to create a new campaign, much like Armored Princess and Crossworlds did previously.

The King's Bounty games have always provided long campaigns with a lot of content, but they've also been sloppy and similar.  Is Warriors of the North any different?  Is it worth your money?  Does it take the franchise in any new directions?  Keep reading to find out.

Warriors of the North

King's Bounty: Warriors of the North is much like King's Bounty: Armored Princess.  It's a sequel to King's Bounty: The Legend, but it uses the same engine and it doesn't change much.  It's what some people call an "expandalone," a stand-alone expansion pack.  The main difference between the games is that instead of having spirits of rage (The Legend) or pet dragons (Armored Princess), you meet five Valkyries, and they control most of your rage talents.  The Valkyries also conveniently fill the same role as your wife (The Legend) or companion (Armored Princess), and they sit in the same place in the interface.

If you haven't played any of the King's Bounty games, let me give you a brief overview.  You create a hero in one of three classes (warrior, spellcaster, or hybrid) and you recruit troops into your army.  You have five slots for your troops, and you can recruit some number of creatures for each troop depending on your leadership statistic.  So early in the game you might have several archers in one troop and a single giant in another, because giants require more leadership than archers.

Your hero has equipment, stats, and a spellbook, and he gains experience and levels, but he doesn't participate directly in battles, which occur when your army encounters an enemy army.  Battles take place on hexagonal grids and proceed in rounds.  During each round, your troops and the enemy troops take turns moving and attacking, with the order of battle depending on the initiative of the troops involved.

Your goal in each battle is to destroy the enemy army while taking as few losses as possible in yours.  To help you out in this regard, during each round your hero can cast a spell and use a rage talent, provided he has the mana and rage necessary for the attacks.  Most rage talents simply cause damage in Warriors of the North, but spells can do all sorts of things, from damaging enemies to buffing your troops to turning enemies into harmless sheep.

Along with regular battles against enemy armies, you also sometimes encounter enemy heroes (who can cast spells just like your hero) and special bosses (where you're not allowed to use rage talents).  Most of the regular battles are straightforward to win, but the hero and boss fights can be tricky and provide most of the challenge in the game.

In the campaign that comes with Warriors of the North, you control a Viking named Olaf, who is the youngest son of the Viking king.  As the game opens up, undead creatures start attacking the islands belonging to the Vikings, and your brother starts acting strangely, which results in you being thrust into combat duty.  Your battles against the undead and your investigation into their presence take you all over the world, from the Viking islands to the more familiar territories of the humans, elves, and dwarves, where you have to fight hundreds of battles as well as complete quests and talk to NPCs.  As far as structure goes, Warriors of the North (and the other King's Bounty titles) are organized just like an RPG, where NPCs and enemy armies wait for you to show up.  There aren't any opposing players in the game, so you can take your time and explore each location as slowly and carefully as you want.

Along with meeting Valkyries during the campaign, a couple of the other changes in Warriors of the North include a re-arrangement of the spell system so there is now Rune magic, and special runes troops can use during combat to increase their attack or defense, or give them a chance at an extra action during the current round.  There is also a new Viking faction, which include battle maidens (fast melee units that can resurrect fallen allies), soothsayers (who can cause snowstorms), and jarls (slow moving tanks).  Viking troops get more combat runes than other troops, which gives them a small advantage in battle.

Warriors of the North works well enough, but it has two significant issues.  The first is that it goes against one of the strengths of the franchise -- the sheer variety of troops that you can recruit and fight against.  During the first stage of the campaign (about 30 hours), you're all but forced to use Viking troops, and about 75% of your battles come against the undead.  Fighting essentially the same battle over and over again isn't a lot of fun.

The other issue also has to do with repetition.  The Viking faction is new in Warriors of the North, but all of the other troops are old, and you re-visit a bunch of old locations, like Greenwort, Demonis and the Freedom Islands.  That means playing Warriors of the North feels a whole lot like playing The Legend or Armored Princess.  I really liked The Legend when I played it a few years ago, but now it feels like I'm playing the exact same game for the third time, and it's getting old.