King’s Bounty II is the latest entry in the now 30-year-old franchise. Originally released in 1990 on PC and 1991 on the Sega Genesis King’s Bounty laid dormant until Russian publisher 1C Entertainment bought the rights to the franchise and renamed one of their existing projects in 2007. The title garnered high praise from critics and had multiple sequels leading us up to the newest version which feels like it could easily run on the original Xbox hardware from 2001. It’s not all bad though, just odd and allow me to explain why.
What Are These Textures & This Game Isn’t What You Might Think
The previous games in the series were shameless in their use of the World of Warcraft aesthetic. This one however attempts to be more of a Dragon Age: Inquisition style behind the back RPG. I thought my Xbox was broken the first time I booted it up because none of the environmental or NPC armor textures would finish loading…. Or so I thought. I really do mean that I think you could make this game work on 2001 console hardware, as it features some of the worst-looking wall textures I have ever seen. The fact that it seemingly runs at 30fps on the new generation of consoles is so absurd that it’s hilarious. Not only are the textures some of the lowest quality around but the animations are stiff, the complete lack of any physics systems on the hair is jarring, and the confined way in which you can traverse the world is confounding. The map for each area seems huge at first, but you quickly realize that it’s a very wide assortment of incredibly narrow paths. I’ll get to why that can be so frustrating as I shift to just what type of game this is.
A major confusing factor for the original titles in the reboot of the series is that you routinely run into roadblock fights that feature much more powerful enemies than you can handle. You are supposed to travel to every nook and cranny you can find so that you get the game’s main resource, gold. You use this gold to build up your army from various unit types. To recruit more powerful fighters you must level your main character, which comes in three fantastical trope varieties of a warrior, mage, and half of each. If you lose a fight your entire army of active fighters are dead and gone, and you’ll need to either pull in from your reserves or go find some money somewhere and start buying them all back. It is not an RPG where you have a team that slowly levels up over time to face more challenging foes. It also features a hex-grid-based battle system that works on initiative numbers to determine who attacks when. This system is a bit of a slog, and you must be extremely careful as if you lose every member of a team then you have to completely repurchase them, but if you have at least one left alive you can use gold to heal them all back up to full post-fight. Let us get back to how the map and traversal works.
At Least it Loads Fast
As previously stated, the map is enormous in the game for each region but as you either run, use your incredibly slow and awkward horse, or fast-travel by running to the nearest stone you begin to see how incredibly limited everything is. Fast travel on the Series X is almost instant, undoubtedly because of how low resolution all of the game’s textures are. If you’re not a fan of invisible walls, being unable to jump, or seemingly do any type of normal modern traversal then this game will drive you quickly insane. It has been many years since I felt something was so out of place. This game does not belong on modern hardware in this form as something “new”. If you told me that this was running at 4k thanks to backward compatibility upscaling on an Xbox One X I would believe it and say that “it doesn’t really hold up”. This being something new and running on my Series X is mind-blowing. I must have spent hours just looking at the various wall, rock, and tree textures, and never once could I believe that this was a new game coming out in 2021. The paths you walk on are small and you cannot deviate. There is no type of traversal outside of the basic ground movement. If you come to a cliff you cannot jump off, fall off, go off a path, there is just nothing outside of the most basics in every area of the game. This comes to the fore in the combat as well.
As I said this is a hex-grid turn-based combat system that relies on teams of up to 5 different troop types with varying amounts per troop, and a leader on each side. Troops and leaders have their own various pros and cons, and there is a benefit to having troops of the same type together through a basic moral system. Basic covers pretty much everything to do with the combat, and if this type of planned-out attack looks intriguing to you then you’ll enjoy it, as the troop type has a nice variety, and the leader choice you make to start changes things up quite a bit as well. The warrior is great with almost any troop type, the mage can do direct damage herself or control the field through her spells with various buffs and debuffs, while the final character has a mix of each that plays nicely together. Combat is never easy, and it can be brutally punishing if you take on a fight that is anything more than “evenly matched”. You can always flee a fight that you run into, as the enormous circle around the combatants makes your world encounters obvious, and choosing to flee if you accidentally start one simply moves you back outside of the circle. While the combat is passable the RPG story elements are very much not.
The Most Barebones RPG I Can Remember
There are a few choices you make as you begin your trek as a newly freed prisoner. You’ve been in prison for six months after being accused of attempted murder of the king. His son frees you despite still thinking you’re guilty as ONLY YOU can do blah blah trope #541 for high fantasy. It is a boring story, competently written and voice acted. Those choices I mentioned are generally “do a good thing that is harder” or “do the bad thing that is easier” and the game always makes your objective for every puzzle insanely clear. You are given a waypoint on exactly where to always go, no matter the task, and any quest items glow as bright as the sun if you’re anywhere near them.
I have called this game very basic before, but this really is the most basic 3rd person RPG gameplay system I can remember. It feels like a relic of 16-bit era games that were well designed for the time when developers were overcoming hardware limitations to make things enjoyable. Yet here we are at the start of a new hardware generation, with PC gaming being more mainstream than ever, and something that would feel at home design-wise in the ’90s is somehow brand new.
I will forever be confounded that this game exists as it does. With texture-work that would look at home PS2 and RPG mechanics that could go back even further it feels like a relic. There is nothing egregiously wrong with it, and if the battle system looks interesting to you, it could be worth getting on sale. Launching at $49.99 US though I can’t recommend it in good conscience to anyone.