doctor_kaz's King's Bounty: The Legend (PC) review

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A solid remake of the classic computer game

"Casual fans need not apply". This is a sticker that would be appropriate on the box of "King's Bounty: The Legend", a remake of the classic strategy game from the early 90s. It is a solid remake that should appeal to hungry turn-based strategy fans. It is clearly aimed at the hardcore strategy crowd, which is both good and bad. Good, because it has the addictive and complex turn-based gameplay that makes these games so appealing. Bad, because it has some issues that will scare off all but the most dedicated turn-based strategy gamers. This is the ultimate niche game. If you have fond memories of the original game, or if you just like building armies and leading them into tactical turn-based battles, you'll find a lot to like in "King's Bounty: The Legend", as long as a few issues don't turn you off.

The original King's Bounty is generally credited with inspiring the Heroes of Might and Magic series. You travel around the map with an army composed of a few different creatures ranging from wolves and giant dragonflies to knights and beholders. You complete quests by destroying enemy armies and storming castles. Battles take place on a hex map, where you and your opponent take turns moving troops, attacking, defending, and casting spells. King's Bounty doesn't stray very far from convention, and that is fine here. It is still a great formula, and it is implemented very well.

King's Bounty gives you a huge variety of monsters and spells to work with and fight against. With all of these options at your disposal, you have a near endless variety of tactics that you can use in combat once you gain a few levels. At the default difficulty level it is very easy to find a challenge, and there are no easy answers. Should you use your spell to heal a unit, or to bombard a dangerous enemy? Should you charge your bears down the field and attack the enemy archers, or should you hang back and use ranged attacks? Almost every battle has these questions. They are the hook of a great turn-based game. The balance is very good. There aren't any useless or overpowered abilities or monsters that break the game. Just about every battle has something to offer. Even for lopsided battles, you will want to minimize the damage done to your army. This is the most important aspect of this game, it is a big success.

Beyond quality combat, the game has some high level strategy and light role-playing elements. Choosing which creatures to recruit requires some thought, since each of them has some strengths and weaknesses, and some will be better against some opponents than others. You gain levels through experience and can enhance your character with rings, amulets, shields, and the like. You can also improve your character by spending runes that you find on a development tree. These elements add more choice on top of a game that is already rich in content. The game has tons of quests that rarely go beyond simple item collection and monster killing, but no matter. They serve as a good excuse to travel the world killing things.

Hardcore strategy gamers will enjoy this experience, but a more casual crowd will be put off by some of the quirks and problems with the game. One problem is that traveling the world map is usually pretty boring. Big battles weaken your army, and that requires you to backtrack to the buildings where you recruited your soldiers. Sometimes, it takes longer to make the rounds to the nearby castles to replenish your troops than it does to actually fight with them. The process is tedious. The world in King's Bounty is big and lots of area is open to you from the beginning. At least half of it, however, is too tough and hostile to survive at first. You will often find yourself leaving tough encounters unfinished for a later time (sometimes, much later). There are quests an hour into the game that you aren't strong enough to finish until fifteen hours later. The game does very little hand-holding, and that makes the early parts pretty rough. Another issue that is hard to ignore is the lousy journal and quest system. Your journal simply lists quests in tiny print and it doesn't give you a lot of information on how to complete them. The world map provides basic data, but it doesn't have any quest markers (unless you manually add them). It also doesn't record where you can recruit various creatures and buy equipment. You can mark these locations yourself, but that is just another example of tedium that gets in the way of having fun.

The only reason, and it is a good reason, to play King's Bounty is to enjoy the strategy experience. Gamers looking for quality writing, characters, or story won't find it here. The writing in the game is amateurish and just plain bad. The game gives you numerous opportunities to ask important characters about their backgrounds and tell stories about battles and heroes past. None of them are interesting at all or of any use to the game. To its credit, the tone is tongue-in-cheek and the game doesn't take itself seriously. The setting, however, is derivative and King's Bounty does nothing to make it interesting

Since King's Bounty is targeted at a niche audience, you might expect that it doesn't sport cutting edge graphics and the fruits of a big budget. If so, then you are correct. The synthesized musical score is pretty unremarkable and it gets repetitive quickly. The game features no voice acting and doesn't have much audio besides basic monster noises and battle sounds. The production values aren't bad though. The shapes are a bit blocky and on the whole the game looks a bit outdated, but it is still quite pleasing to the eye. The graphics are stylish, bright and colorful, the spell effects are fun to watch, and the monsters display a lot of creativity. Furthermore, the game runs wonderfully on a mid-range system. On my laptop with an Nvidia 8600M and 1GB of RAM, I was able to run the game with full graphical settings and no frame rate hitches.

Some of this review's complaints might make King's Bounty: The Legend sound like a bad game, but it isn't. The core game, the strategy and tactics, works wonderfully. It is mostly on the periphery where the problems lie. Some of them, like the monotony of building and rebuilding your army, are inevitable because of the game's formula. Others, such as the pointless dialog and the lack of good quest markers, are less acceptable. Gamers who love a good turn-based experience should be able to look past these issues. If you do not fall into this category, however, then chances are "King's Bounty: The Legend " won't be a lot of fun for you.

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