King’s Bounty II (Xbox Series S) Review

King’s Bounty II leans heavily into conventional RPG elements while retaining the tactical, turn-based combat for encounters. Has it made a game that’ll appeal to a larger audience, or diluted the experience too much for long-time fans?
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King’s Bounty II – developed by 1C Entertainment and published by Koch Media – is the latest entry in a long-running series that stretches back to 1990. With each iteration, the IP has slowly transitioned from a tactical, turn-based battle game with minor RPG elements, into a full-blown RPG that retains the turn-based battle system for combat. That said, the King’s Bounty games have always been hybrids, with a focus on improving your hero and their armies between battles. King’s Bounty II just goes a step further and feels like a fully-fledged RPG – with a hint of Eurojank – that retains the tactical, turn-based combat of its predecessors. From a gameplay perspective, it’s a great choice to introduce new players to the IP. However, dividing resources to expand the traditional RPG elements results in a game that, on the whole, feels like a mix of modern and dated elements.

For those worried about coming into the IP fresh, you require no knowledge of the prior games. King’s Bounty II picks up 320-years into the “Age of Prosperity”. There are references to King Maximus from the original game and subsequent events, but you don’t have to play the original to understand the current state of the world and the new plot. If you’re interested, several books will fill you in, but these narrative links are just a bonus for long-time fans.

What’s important to know is that the current king has fallen gravely ill, his son liberates you from prison to investigate evidence of a growing conspiracy in Nostria, and you’re thrust into an adventure that’ll have you solving everyone else’s problem while trying to understand the nature of the mysterious blight that is consuming Nostria and parallel realms. The word of the prince carries a lot of power, so you’re soon equipped with some basic hero gear, a trusty steed, and a small retinue to accompany you on a trip to the capital. Once you clear the lengthy tutorial region and reach the capital city of The Crown Lands, events kick off in earnest, and your investigation will take you to every corner of the sizeable map.  

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Character models and armour pieces can look good, but the limited number of canned animations make dialogue sequences feel bland. On the upside, I was always entertained by my Paladins responses.

With a stronger focus on conventional RPG elements – primarily dialogue, exploration, and player-choice – King’s Bounty II offers up an intriguing plot to keep you moving forward. However, it’s not without pacing issues, difficulty spikes, and dubious writing at times. The King’s Bounty games have always been campy, but this sequel tries to subvert some common fantasy tropes with mixed results. Some quests tackle topics like the treatment of refugees or even the murder of children, and these are often handled poorly. The voice acting fails to capture the tone of the conversation, there are attempts to inject humour during sombre interactions, and the basic quest structure ensures complex events have simple resolutions.

The main quests, at least, feel more tonally consistent and coherent. Several seemingly disconnected leads often converge on a single encounter that moves the story forward, while that basic quest structure ensures the game moves at a brisk pace (for the genre). This is for the best, as King’s Bounty II shines when you’re swiftly alternating between dialogue, exploration, army management, and battles.

Unfortunately, there are tons of side quests that drag down the pacing. You start your quest with a two-prong investigation but it’s not long before dozens of markers litter the map. Unfortunately, avoiding these side quests is unwise as they feel essential to maintaining a steady difficulty curve (unless you’re confident with your army composition, spells, and tactics). Many are insignificant side stories, but some flesh out key characters or lead you towards triggering main questlines. They also offer up ideology choices, quirky characters, potential combat allies, unique locations, and the genre staples: gold, experience, and gear.

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Each hero starts with a default selection of spells or abilities in a specific ideology, but you have full control over their progression from there. You can reset skills at any time, once for free, but not your ideology levels.

Following in the tradition of its predecessors, King’s Bounty II lets you select from one of three classes. The warrior focuses on martial skills that bolster his armies’ power and survival. The mage focuses on using high-level spells to affect the flow of battle, magically bolstering her troops and crippling her foes. The paladin is a jack-of-all-trades, able to dabble in both specialties, but she can recruit units for less and quickly build a larger army. This choice mostly affects the early game and some dialogue, but you’re free to branch out and multi-class as you progress.

You’ll quickly find yourself making decisions – binary and clearly marked – which raise your hero’s affinity for one of four ideologies: order, anarchy, power, or finesse. The more you stick to one ideology, the more you can advance in the associated talent tree. However, the more consistent you are, the more likely you’ll become locked into that ideology. Your hero will eventually refuse other actions, restricting your choice of allies or routes towards the end-game. It’s a good system but I just wish quests outcomes were not so black-and-white. You’re typically choosing between outcomes that are good or chaotic, and actions that are subtle or reckless.

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Equipping your hero with high-level gear imparts several benefits to your army and spell-casting abilities. Some can be found while exploring the world, some are purchased from merchants, but most are side quest rewards.

Despite the expanded RPG elements, combat is inevitable, and King’s Bounty II retains the hex-based maps, with chokepoints, height differences, and cover to consider. Unit initiative determines the army order each round, and each squad in your army – think melee, ranged, and support classes – functions as a collective, with a stacked health pool and damage output based on the number of surviving members. There are dozens of recruits to acquire – militia, bandits, dwarves, beasts, or the undead – but they’re aligned to an ideology.

There are skills to offset morale penalties when you mix and match units, but this stops you from cherry-picking the best during the early game (that, and the increasing cost). For those prone to finding a good combination and sticking with it, you’ll have several missions that give you an excuse to control different armies in once-off scenarios, with limited units and spells that make it feel more like a chess puzzle than a typical battle. Almost all unit types are useful given the rock-paper-scissors approach to damage and they can gain veterancy over time (which is retained, even if you need to recruit a fresh squad). There is, however, a clear progression towards higher-tier variants – think spearmen, swordsmen, and knights – and you don’t want to fall too far behind.

In battle, you always start by placing your units within a small zone, taking into account weaker units and potential cover from ranged weapons. You then progress turn-by-turn, round-by-round, until one army is wiped. At any time, you can view unit skills and weaknesses – something essential to surviving tougher battles. You’ll want to move ranged units to high points, rush your melee units to lock down enemy movement, keep your mages safe to cast support spells, and decided which spell your hero will use (you can only cast one per round). For anyone concerned this sequel has been too watered down, you’ll be happy to know battles remain the most engaging, challenging, and tactical element.

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When in doubt, claim the high ground. Ranged units can dominate the battle, capable of hitting enemies on the far side of the map if they have a clear view over the battlefield.

Unfortunately, King’s Bounty II is not without issues. When it comes to combat, the difficulty is inconsistent and it’s impossible to determine the “real” challenge before entering battle. You can always retreat and come back later, but it’s possible to hit a brick wall while following a questline. A balanced army and packed spell-book will take you far, but I’ve had “equal” opponents shred my lightly armoured units in the first turn with crossbowmen, but I’ve managed to fight to a bloody victory against a supposedly “undefeatable” foe. Countering units is one thing but the spells available to the opposing villain are the true killer. I’ve had my entire army unable to act on the first turn. I’ve had the damnable confusion spell cause attacks to kill more of my own units than the enemy. I’ve spent several battles just casting counter-spells and buffs to scrape through.

Sticking with a single army composition can be a liability unless you’ve invested in the spells to offset their weaknesses. Consistency and survivability in battle are also essential, as gold can be used to reinforce surviving squads cheaply in the field. Returning to a recruiter means paying full price for a new squad. As a result, more losses during battle mean less overall gold received. And you want gold as high-tier gear at merchants has no level restrictions. In King’s Bounty II, money equals power!

Unfortunately, outside of army management and turn-based combat, other gameplay mechanics begin to feel perfunctory as time goes on. You explore on foot and horseback, engage in back-and-forth dialogue with quest givers, solve some basic puzzles, loot valuables without being questioned, run between merchants and recruiters, and tweak your character build. The shift to a standard third-person perspective and more traditional RPG elements certainly grounds you in the world, but these mechanics feel underdeveloped in contrast to the combat encounters (and other dedicated RPGs).

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Exploring the world on foot is significantly less compelling, but the game provides dozens of rune- or sequence-based puzzles to engage your brain once in a while.

With the shift to an open-ish world, there is a nice flow to exploration, questing, and battles. In addition to your quest objectives, the world has multiple roadblocks you need to clear as you progress across the map (often serving as a form of level-gating). So long as you don’t beeline towards a distant objective, refresh your troops periodically, and invest in some new gear, progress feels smooth – aside from the aforementioned difficulty spikes. Areas you clear of enemies or the blight are often reoccupied by civilians, recruiters, and merchants. It provides a sense of progression beyond simple stat increases.

That said, it’s a fairly static world. There are interconnected paths, diverse biomes densely packed, cities separated by improbably small distances, and dozens of NPCs standing around waiting for the right trigger to offer a quest. There’s also no shortage of side paths to explore with puzzles to solve and chests of loot to discover (to an excessive degree). However, there’s a definite thrill to seeing a battlefield that perfectly replicates the area you were just exploring. It makes the world feel more cohesive.

Despite feeling as artificially condensed as its hex-based predecessors, especially when tearing around on horseback, the high-fantasy setting, sweeping vistas, immersive ambient audio, and serene soundtrack often had me thinking of exploring Cyrodil in TESIV: Oblivion and the Faelands in Kingdoms of Amalur.

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Look too closely and you’ll spot muddy textures or detail drops in the distance, but the sense of scale is maintained throughout. The world feels a lot bigger and more alive than it is.

Visually, King’s Bounty II can look good in places and highly detailed during the turn-based battles viewed from above. There’s plenty of fine detail in many locations, but the third-person mode can still feel like you’ve zoomed in close while playing an isometric game (at least on the consoles). Despite being developed using Unreal Engine 4, it can leave the game looking distinctly last-generation. There are similar-looking NPCs of varying quality; limited animations during dialogue; high-resolution textures or detailed props alongside their low-resolution, low-polygon variants; and terrain streaming issues. It never pulled me out of the experience, but it was noticeable.

The ambient audio does a lot of heavy lifting bringing each location to life, even if the visuals and NPC density did not. The music is classical fantasy fare but alternates between atmospheric when exploring, and exhilarating during battle. Battle and spells sounds are a mixed bag, but I always enjoyed listening to my meteor spell land on a group of annoying mages. The voice acting is a highlight, though not for the reason you may expect. It can be uninspired and awkward, but it’s often so-bad-it’s-good. Some characters sound like they’re hamming it up, others are just bored, but many are unintentionally hilarious. Elisa, the peasant-girl-turned-paladin, became my favourite. She sounds equal parts sincere, naive, enthusiastic, and idiotic, with one-liners and lofty statements that had me cringing or laughing aloud.

All things considered, there’s a lot of systems that make up King’s Bounty II, and it provides an interesting hybrid of conventional third-person RPG with deep, tactical turn-based battling. The developers set out to create a game that introduces more players to the IP and, despite a few issues, it succeeds. The tactical, turn-based combat and army management remain the highlight, while the non-combat RPG elements are derivative and streamlined, keeping you moving forward. Sure, they can feel perfunctory and underdeveloped over time, but the frequent story beats and bouts of combat do their best to mask that fact. As a final bonus, and unexpected in a modern release, King’s Bounty II was technically stable on the Xbox Series S, with fast loading times, only a single crash in 25-hours of play using Quick Resume, and zero mission scripting issues.

A review code for Kings Bounty II was provided to Gameblur by the publisher

King’s Bounty II (Xbox Series S) Review

King’s Bounty II (Xbox Series S) Review
8 10 0 1
King’s Bounty II provides an interesting hybrid of conventional third-person RPG with deep, tactical turn-based battling. The tactical, turn-based combat and army management remain the highlight, while the non-combat RPG elements are derivative and streamlined, keeping you moving forward. They can feel perfunctory as time goes on, but frequent story beats and bouts of combat do their best to mask that fact.
King’s Bounty II provides an interesting hybrid of conventional third-person RPG with deep, tactical turn-based battling. The tactical, turn-based combat and army management remain the highlight, while the non-combat RPG elements are derivative and streamlined, keeping you moving forward. They can feel perfunctory as time goes on, but frequent story beats and bouts of combat do their best to mask that fact.
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    8/10 Very Good
    The unfolding narrative is an intriguing, investigation-based affair. Mostly campy fun but a few serious topics are handled poorly.
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
    The tactical, turn-based battles and army management remain compelling, but the run-of-the-mill RPG staples - think dialogue, exploration, looting - feel perfunctory over time.
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    The battlefields look highly detailed from afar but down on the ground, many locations can look distinctly last-gen.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    Ambience and music work in tandem to create atmosphere, while battles sound suitably impactful. The unexpected highlight was the voice acting that (mostly) falls into the so-bad-it’s-good camp.

The Good

  • An intriguing plot with player-choice driven progression
  • Tactical, turn-based combat and army management remain compelling
  • Brisk pacing that keeps you alternating between dialogue, exploration, army management, and combat
  • An artificially dense but immersive open world to explore

The Bad

  • Non-combat mechanics can feel perfunctory
  • Inconsistent difficulty
Total
20
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