I have played a lot of strategy games over the years. One of the first that comes to mind is Shining Force, though I'm sure I played some prior to that as well. (there's some Godzilla game that I can't place right now that I believe I played on the NES that was a turn-based strategy game I *believe*). When I got a new PC this Christmas, one of the first games I picked up was King's Bounty on Steam. This was originally a PC game, and there was a Sega Genesis iteration by Electronic Arts as well. The most common comparison I hear made is to Heroes of Might and Magic, and though I have a couple of the games recently acquired for my PC, I haven't had a chance to play them yet.
So what is King's Bounty - Legend? It's primarily a turn-based strategy game. You move around on a world map that 'lives' in real time, with creatures wandering to and fro as you navigate through forests, caverns, mountains and more. Along the way you'll find items on the ground you can pick up, from scrolls, to gold, to runes and more. You'll also encounter people who give you quests for varying rewards. Most of the quests are of the typical fetch or kill a specific baddy nature. The story itself is pretty thin stuff that basically gets you from one skirmish to another.
There are some pretty heavy RPG elements here: you gain experience, levels, branch your skills out in varying ways, acquire, buy and sell various items and equipment and more. However, all of these things affect your troops - you are the general, and you will not be fighting on the field of battle yourself. Instead you command a huge assortment of creatures ranging from human knights to black dragons, with elves, dwarves, giants, spiders and so much more in between. I found the troop assortment pretty impressive. So, let's get into the specific now, shall we?
Graphics - 8:
This is a slightly older game, I want to say 2006 or 2007 release. The graphics are not incredibly detailed, and it is an area some of the professional review sites really picked on, but I actually liked them quite a bit. I thought the vibrant colors made both the creatures and the landscapes pleasing to look at. Particle animations for fire and magic are only so-so and there were certainly times it bogged down my cpu during some of the battles. The art direction itself is not terribly inspired - it's all stuff you've seen before, but the large number of terrains and creatures really helps. One complaint is that the world map was sometimes a bit of a chore to get around visually, because things can be packed in very densely, but it looked good. Squirrels dart around and into trees, webs cover parts of the cave and add to the atmosphere, and the battle areas had plenty of moving content in the background. Compared to a lot of strategy games with little to no environment movement (Culdcept Saga and Record of Agarest War immediately come to mind) , I found this one a bit more refreshing. There are no real cut scenes however, no real 'movies' built into the game, which does perhaps dim the presentation value a bit.
Music and Sound - 9:
Most of this is for the music, which I loved. It was composed by Lind Erebros - not someone I had heard of before, but I found several of the tunes to be very catchy. They're perhaps not strikingly original, but they fit the game itself very well, and several of the songs stuck with me even when I was not playing. I looked up some of the songs on Youtube, and found out who the composer was. Not a lot of games convince me to put that much work into finding the music, so I have to score it high on that.
Sound effects are alright. They're not terribly varied, but the game doesn't beat you over the head with them either. They pop up here and there as needed, and let the music do most of the heavy lifting, which was a good choice in my opinion. No spoken dialog at all however, which goes hand-in-hand with the somewhat limited presentation graphically.
Gameplay - 8:
The game is smooth and easy to play. It relies on a point and click interface for both movement and combat. Menus are very easy to navigate, which is good since you do reference some of them quite a bit. Hotkeys are scattered throughout for things like quick map and quest log references. The combat is very deep for a game of this nature. There are no terrain options and a fairly limited map space - which makes me a bit of a hypocrite if you look back at my Record of Agarest War review, because these are 2 areas I panned that game for. That said, there are some 'objects' in the terrain that add variety - either the impede actual movement, or cast random attacks/spells on units, and there are also treasure chests that are sometimes randomly generated that can have anything from gold to runes.
However, the combat found here is much, much deeper. There are a huge number of troops, as I mentioned before, and while many of them are similar, they have various attributes and skills that make them feel different as well. Werewolves and vampires both change shape for mobility, but their perks and attacks are completely different There are several types of dragons, and they all fly, but their basic attacks are not the same nor are their specific abilities.
One area I've heard the game picked on for is degree of difficulty. I beat it on one of the easier settings, but I've read people saying even the easy difficulty was very challenging early on - I disagree. I only lost 2 fights ever, I never struggled for troops and had an abundance of gold. On my first-ever playthrough I landed 4th on the leaderboard listing (though I have no idea where the game draws that data from, but there were 8 others on that board - including #1 who nearly doubled my score).
Now, there is a steep learning curve to the game. There's a very basic tutorial at the beginning, but it leaves out a lot of the game's better nuances. For example, you can mark and annotate your maps - which is really handy since each map only has a handful of named items on it, even if you have been there before. Once I started using that function, buying my favorite troops and completing quests got a lot easier.
Also there are some combat items that are not discussed, or if they were - I missed them, like the direction you attack from. Ranged attackers simply click on their target and you shoot them, but for melee you click on a side of the hex to attack from that direction. That point confused me a bit early on. Still, once you discover these things, there is a lot to do in this game.
Last complaint - the demon lands. I really hated the little floating panels to move from one area to another. They looked cool, and at first I thought they were a neat idea. It added a level of depth to the area, which was one of the more visually interesting in the game. But there were just too many of them, and no way to 'skip' the floating scenes that were only 15 seconds or so each time, but it got annoying by the time I was done with that particular area.
Intangibles - 9:
This review's getting pretty long, but in defense of that - it is a pretty long game. According to my Steam data, I put 72 hrs into it. I did do just about every single side quest and explored each and every map.
There are a lot of dialog choices, but without another playthrough, I can't really verify if they accomplish anything. I'll have to try it again and see, but I have my doubts. Most of the choices I saw simply generated a bit more dialog. That said, you can choose from one of 3 classes - a warrior, a paladin and a mage. These are reflected in the 3 rune types: might, mind and magic. I am curious enough that I might try another playthrough with someone else soon (I chose warrior this time). I doubt I'll complete another playthrough, but I'd like to try a harder difficulty, trying a few different choices and taking a paladin perhaps.
There's no online mode, which will bug some people. Strategy games are at their best when played against another person, but I don't know how well this one would scale. The leaderboard was a nice touch though (using a ton of criteria such as battles won, lost, earnings, time played, etc).
Overall - 8.5:
I enjoyed this game a lot. I picked it up nice and cheap right around Christmas time, and have the sequels as well, and I plan to give those a shot somewhat soon. There were a few performance quirks - which is odd for a game a few years old since my system easily handles modern games without a hiccup most of the time. Still, while the story itself was unremarkable, the amount of depth in both character building, exploration and strategy make this game a winner with me, as a fan of this genre.