King's Bounty: Dark Side - PC Preview

King's Bounty is a hybrid strategy/RPG title that brings turn-based combat on a hexagon grid with a variety of role-playing hooks (experience, money, items that can be outfitted and a skill tree to customize your character's strengths) - basically checking all of the boxes I look for in a title like this. King's Bounty has always had a few unique tricks up its sleeve, usually wrapped up in bright, pleasant graphics and one of my favorite soundtracks to a game to date. This latest iteration turns the story around. Instead of being a paladin or wizard looking to protect the human race from vile orcs and demons, you are in fact the leader of the different orcish, demonic and vampiric hordes. The end result is a fun, deep game that never takes itself too seriously and is absolutely worth playing.

Right off of the bat, I knew something was a little different than my previous experiences playing King's Bounty. Instead of simply being a human who has one of three classes, each class is now represented by a dark race. The warrior side is represented by Orc-Baghyr, predictably representing the orcish races. For those leaning towards magical tendencies, the vampiric character Daert represents the undead. The demoness Neoleene is representative of the old knight or paladin class, which is a hybrid of the other two.

The visuals are not everyone's cup of tea, but I have always been quite fond of them. The characters may not have a ton of animations, but they have a nice amount of detail to them during combat, the backgrounds often have some elements moving around the often bright, vividly colorful worlds. As good as it looks, the music from this series has always ranked as some of my favorite. Perhaps my biggest disappointment is that while I have always enjoyed the presentation to King's Bounty, there is a distinct feeling of having 'been there and done that' as neither the audio or the visual has changed noticeably over the last several years. It all still holds up well, but future releases might benefit from a slightly fresher coat of paint, so to speak.

In the prior King's Bounty titles, these darker forces were not available until much later in the game, but here instead of having some of the weaker human archers or dwarven soldiers, you have access to undead, demons and orcs right away. It also feels like Dark Side has increased the difficulty just a smidgeon, which is not a bad thing as on the default settings I could usually blow through the prior iterations in fairly short order.

The game plays out in a few ways. For starters, you have access to an overworld type of map you can click to move around. Sometimes you will stumble onto buried treasures, other times the loot will be out in the open and then there are opportunities to find huts or villages where you can buy and sell items or units. Also on these maps are other creatures. Most of the time when they 'see you', they start to chase you down and if they come into contact with your character, a battle ensues.

Here, your character is more of a general and does not participate directly in the combat. Instead you have units of differing types that you can deploy. Almost all of them have their own strengths and weaknesses, special abilities and ranges of movement. Some characters rely on ranged attacks, others attempt to deal direct damage, some units have supportive capabilities and all of them are viable parts of the combat strategy. King's Bounty has been around for a very long time (we had a brief Retro Reflection on it a few years ago, when it was released for the Sega Genesis), but one of the most interesting aspects to the combat is how the number of troops in each unit is the primary measure of success. The more troops you have in a unit, the harder that unit hits your opponents. When it runs out of troops, the unit is destroyed. If all of your units are destroyed, you lose the game. Your leadership here is important, because the higher that total is, the more troops of a specific type you can have - thereby effectively raising both your hit points and damage output.

The combat itself is certainly good enough on its own, but there are other twists that get sprinkled in. You can find scrolls or use a spell book to cast magic on the field of battle. These can be attack or buffing spells. There is also a companion that uses the rage you build up in combat, and these rage abilities can make a huge difference in combat if used properly. There are oftentimes objects on the battlefield worth noting as well, such as traps or treasure chests.

While you explore, a rather humorous tongue-in-cheek story plays out in a series of quests. You can stick to the main storyline or slide off to run some other errands in the form of side quests. These are almost always worth doing, if just for the experience and loot. Levels do not come easy later in the game (I often focus on the leadership abilities that grant experience bonuses as early as I can), but provide nice boosts.

There is a lot of content to be had here, and if you are familiar with the King's Bounty series, it will immediately feel familiar and be easy to pick up and play. If not, and you enjoy a nice mix of strategy and RPG in your game, King's Bounty: Dark Side felt very polished throughout the Early Access.

We are running the game on a pretty powerful machine, but we never encountered any crashing, visual hiccups or stuttering music. This was an issue that crept up a few times for me in earlier versions of the game on an older machine, so it was nice to see King's Bounty: Dark Side playing so smoothly from start to finish. The blend of strategy combat mixed with RPG character progression creates an almost ideal blend of game for me personally, making King's Bounty: Dark Side a title I am very excited to see releasing soon.

Preview by Nick

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