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Page 3 of 4Graphics
As you can see from the graphics, they're stunning and even better when you see them moving. Absolutely breathtaking attention to detail in the 2D menus and interface, and the attention in 3D is just as painstaking. Walls which come alive when you pass by, flotsam sinking as your ship passes over them, vibrant use of color and minor effects everywhere and in character design. This goes for animations as well. The summoned elementals have sufficiently flashy graphics without getting out of hand or too long like in the Final Fantasy series, little 3D effects everywhere you can think of and changing terrain and landscapes make every new location feel fresh. The water is beautiful, everything that can move actually does move, and there is little I can actually fault or nitpick. But being a review, I will only say that swaying trees and more weather effects (apart from the awesome night and day) would have been a 9th inning grand slam. As it stands, I'll leave graphics at an early game slaughter. They just nailed it.
Everything in the huge multi-continent world (with several areas each) is hand placed. No area is random. Travel by dirigible, locomotive, zeppelin, horse, boat. This is what I want when I go exploring through a new world. Sandy beaches that have no roaming monster but form part of the landscape and perhaps have a secret treasure to dig for if you only but take the time to disembark. Islands with bridges and scenery you have no access to for no other reason than to be part of your view in this expansive world. Steam appropriately coming up from the vents and oscillations of the gigantic gears within an underground realm. Mini snow avalanches cascading down laden trees with squirrels dodging in and out. Owls peeking occasionally through high hollow holes in tall trees. Shimmer effects, ambient hover animations for every "clickable" item such as banners, gold chalises, chests, and urns. They did not need to do that. Waving flags (of course), smooth creature walking / roaming animations. I could go on. Rarely do developers put this much effort into the art and graphics. Not even Blizzard has done more in this area for any of their games. Perhaps equal to, but not beyond. They deserve to be praised. Sure, some may complain slightly that they're not using the highest resolution textures, but if that's the case, it's not noticeable or important (to me) and I'd rather have fully rotatable 3D terrain looking this good and running so well at high settings with my now-becoming obsolete GeForce 7900gt and middle aged Athlon system, than any alternative.
Every battle is in a different highly detailed hex-grid venue (like the HOMM series) and character design owes a little to Games Workshop minis as well as past HOMM titles, but extra details show, such as the lanterns atop the Dwarven Miner's heads. Animations all look fluid and are appropriately speedy. There's an option for speeding up battle and I surely thought I would use it (as I did in HOMM), but throughout my first play through I never felt tired of the animations or felt they were too slow.
Because of the high score, I've been trying to find a reason why it should not get a 10. The fact is, it's rare that some part of a game is so polished it actually stands out the entire way through. No, when zoomed all the way in I will admit the hero model is simply average. Perhaps the textures aren't as high a resolution when at that level of zoom either. Neither are World of Warcraft's or plethora of other games with an overall great artistic style. But that's not the way the game was meant to be played and I'm surprised (actually pleasantly) that it even allows for that. Most games of this basic type have traditionally had a fairly high up view to begin with because of the nature of getting a tactical overview of the enemies and land. Zoom just little out in King's Bounty and it's amazing. You'll see over heavily wooded hills and cliffs to distant lands, creatures you don't yet have access to will be walking their paths, and all the details pop right out. In summary, prepare to be visually spoiled.
Sound & Music
Music is full of beautiful, haunting, inspiring orchestral melodies, just like the old HOMM games though perhaps not quite as catchy. There are several mp3's downloadable on the official King's Bounty site if you're so inclined, but in each area, the music contributes greatly to the atmosphere. Almost on this basis alone this category should be ranked highly, but it wouldn't if sounds weren't extremely well done too. There are atmospheric sounds as you travel and the horses appropriately make metallic, wooden, or earthy sounds as they trot over the various landscapes. During battle, sound is used perfectly for all the spells, abilities, and attacks, so there are no surprises. I can't quite put sound in the same category as graphics as other than the nice touch of my horse trotting over different terrain and apart from the music, I didn't feel too much above and beyond what would be expected. For example, the NPCs that wander around the land may have grunted or had some sort of short vocal SFX when giving chase. Or during battle some of the units could have had more of a character sound-wise (like the dwarves perhaps saying some short gobbledygook phrase in a Scottish accent, or pirates saying "Aargh" as they charge).
Again because the entire game is extremely polished and though the sounds and music were always spot on, I can only mention what little more there is that could be improved upon. Therefore I felt there could have been more sound emphasis on level-ups and victory summaries. Similar to WoW's "zding!" on level up, some sound and visual emphasis would make the very act of leveling more poignant than it already is. Here you get to choose a new main stat, a bevy of new runes to purchase skills with, and have reached a new milestone. It should be an event delivered with appropriate fanfare rather than just small text in a dialogue window. The dialogue graphics are just fine, but it could have used something more.
Likewise, probably due to budget and though it isn't really missed, it could have added something to have an overall narrator do voiceovers and cut scenes at some of the milestones, especially when first traveling to a new continent for the first time during the journey. With lots of quest dialogue and NPCs not really the focus, I don't really miss VO for them, but a narrator could have been cool. Just ways to improve an already stellar game... but if any of this had to come at the expense of losing anything else, then I'd drop the request in a heartbeat.
Overall thoughts for music & sound? Great orchestral music, and above average sound.