King's Bounty fans have been waiting for a sequel for over a decade and following a series of spinoffs they might find the wait wasn't worth it.
King's Bounty 2 is due for release on August 24, 2021, and just over a month before that date, we had a chance to preview the game on what is most likely not the 1.0 build. That carried some constraints along which made me a bit suspicious from the get-go but most of the issues in the game are related to the new direction stemming from the transfer to the 3D universe.
While King's Bounty: The Legend had a story that eventually captured the hearts of many players, soon to become fans, I just don't see it happening with King's Bounty 2. Stepping away from the charming isometric setting into the 3D RPG-like world carries some expectations with it, such as higher quality of characters, their animations and their lines.
Sadly, none of these boxes were checked with KB2 since the story started off in a forgettable manner and by the time the tutorial was over, I couldn't be bothered remembering the names of any characters. Their wooden animations and peculiar writing left much to be desired and no will to get invested into the story.
If you've played any King's Bounty games before or anything along the lines of Heroes of Might and Magic, you will know their worlds are populated with combat encounters, secrets and resources all over the map. That said, the map itself is fairly tiny when you think about it and most successful games in the genre had their way of obfuscating the scale or diverting your attention from it or just let the isometric charm excuse the scale.
King's Bounty 2 takes the opposite approach by putting the player in a 3D world that attempts to emulate a fantasy RPG and its small scale become immediately apparent. Opening a map shows various places you can go but getting from on side to the opposite takes mere minutes and it feels like all these mountains, their paths, castles and ruins could all fit into a single apartment.
This effect is further put on display with fast travel nodes and the mount that makes you move slightly faster. You really don't need any because everything is just around the corner.
King's Bounty may not have many redeeming qualities but if any are to be found, they will be in the gameplay section. That said, it may not be everyone's cup of tea either.
As you travel the world, you will get to acquire new units for your army, consisting of soldiers, mages, wolves, dogs, undead and more. While putting together a ragtag group of weirdos sounds fun, the game will punish you for it because you need cohesion in order to have an effective army. Therefore, mixing factions up will cause lower combat potential overall which, in all fairness, is good design.
Mixing up your units for the selection a faction offers is also recommended since you will need beefy ones in the front to soak up the damage, agile ones to flank the opponents and a strong backline to support your other units or decimate the opposing ones. Overall, there is a degree of depth to building your army but as it grew in size, I found myself steamrolling the encounters which eventually eliminated the true difficulty of the game - attrition.
In King's Bounty 2, you will probably not have much difficulty completing encounters but pyrrhic victory is a term you should get really familiar with, in order to try and avoid it, should you get into the game.
You units are not singular entities. Each unit has several members and if, for example, your group of five archers gets mostly killed off in the encounter, you will need to pay for the new recruits. These unit members can die easily and if an encounter causes enough of these partial casualties, you will start running out of money faster than you can replenish it.
Such design is underused in modern gaming, probably because it can be unforgiving and eventually cause players to not be able to finish a game which would, in turn, lead to negative feedback and possible loss of popularity. It's by no means a bad thing to incorporate attrition that way but the devs certainly deserve kudos for trying to do their thing here. On the flip side, once your snowball starts rolling, this element gets eliminated altogether, as I mentioned before.
As I previously noted, this type of difficulty may not be to everyone's liking. Being able to clear encounters without feeling the danger of getting beaten entirely takes away from the gameplay's suspense and the subsequent sense of accomplishment as you didn't overcome a big obstacle - you just rolled through it while doing your best to preserve the piggy bank.
Graphics and performance
One of my main gripes with King's Bounty 2 is in this section. We were not allowed to take our own screenshots or videos for the review, which sounds fishy on its own but when you factor in the disaster Cyberpunk 2077 was, it becomes a red flag. Back before CDPR's huge game was released, early reviewers were also not allowed to capture their own material and as it turned out, it was because the game couldn't run properly if Geralt's life depended on it.
I don't think this will be the case with King's Bounty 2 on the account of the small scale of the game but it was hard not to notice the massive difference between the graphics quality of the build I was playing and the screenshots provided by 1C Entertainment. Environments looked bland and everything lacked detail, resulting in me feeling like I'm playing a game from 2010.
The devs did note graphics quality is one of the things on their list to improve before release but it remains to be seen how close we will get to the graphics seen in the promotional material.
King's Bounty 2 looks like an attempt to take the series to the next level but without the budget for it. When you're playing an isometric or sidescrolling game, the player immediately lowers some of their expectations because they are aware of possible budget constraints. However, King's Bounty 2 tosses that approach to the side and fails to capture the wonder of a fantasy RPG.
Characters and the story are forgettable and if the graphics turn out to be a downgrade from screenshots and trailers, this game will be in a rough spot.