Review: King’s Bounty Crossworlds asks if you’ve got time to Kill

Review: King’s Bounty Crossworlds asks if you’ve got time to Kill
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Platforms:

Windows PC, Steam

Game Name:

King's Bounty: Crossworlds

Publisher(s):

1C Company

Developer(s):

Katauri Interactive

Genre(s):

RPG, Adventure, Strategy

Release Date:

September 17th, 2010


Before I get into my review of 1C’s latest expansion to the venerable and much beloved King’s Bounty series, I must make two disclaimers:

1. It isn’t really fair that I am writing this review, because I am already a huge fan of the franchise, and have experienced WoW-level addiction to earlier installments in the series. OK maybe not WoW-omg-my-gf-left-me-and-I-have-no-job-and-think-something-dead-is-rotting-under-my-desk-level addiction, but I do recall thinking, gee whiz, this sure is almost as addictive as World of Warcraft.

2. Before you buy this game, make sure you are at a point in your life where you can afford to spend dozens of hours playing a video game, because King’s Bounty is a huge {time-suck and game-play sessions can easily extend into day-long affairs as combat sessions become increasingly involved, before it finally leaves you to collapse in a heap asking yourself where the hell the day went. And for those of you who are die-hards who play Impossible mode – this write-up is not for you.

For the Unacquainted – A Very Brief Rundown on What King’s Bounty Is

Released way back in 1990, when dinosaurs walked the Earth, the original of King’s Bounty was an adventure role-playing game from New World Computing that eventually influenced the design of Heroes of Might and Magic and was even included in some Heroes collections. It was later remade into a Heroes title for the PS2 and released under the title “Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff.” In 2008 a “sequel” to King’s Bounty was released under the title “King’s Bounty: The Legend.” The King’s Bounty games use a turn-based combat system laid out on a hexagonal grid that has always somehow reminded me of Holo-chess from Star Wars wherein each character, with its unique set of abilities and movement rate come to life on their turn.

In Heroes of Might and Magic, each turn (consisting of all players’ moves) is represented as a day, and days then taken into weeks and months. This doesn’t figure or matter quite as much in the King’s Bounty games, as the campaign’s tend to feel more intimate in scope.

Players move their hero across a map of the world (again in Heroes this feels like it is covering much greater distances and epic scale) with the ability to pause by pressing the space bar. Enemies can and will aggro, engaging the Hero and her armies into the three-quarter view, hexagonal turn-based combat described above. Outside of combat, the hero is free to roam, explore and loot as they please, independent of the turn-based system.

King’s Bounty: The Legend was a critical and commercial success and was succeeded by a second installment called King’s Bounty: Armored Princess.

Armored Princess introduced some interesting new game-play features: a pet dragon is given as a gift to your hero Princess Amelie (the player is able to chose the type of dragon – which come in different colors, (each offering different Mana, attack, defense or other special benefits) and the dragon levels up along with the hero, becoming increasingly powerful and helpful in winning battles. This added component to the combat actually becomes quite significant and introduces a new strategic dimension to combat scenarios.

Kings Bounty Armored Princess

For the first few levels I found myself relying upon it so heavily that I almost forgot to open my spell-book once I had leveled up enough to start inscribing my scrolls. I would caution against this sort of leaning on the dragon too heavily, because it is easy to overlook the fundamental strategies that can get you out of trouble in the first place. Interestingly, the developers understand this and have one of the NPCs in boot camp caution against letting your guard down or not healing up your army’s troops.

One caveat here – though you can go through battles manually, carefully choosing your next attack or defensive strategy, there is an option to toggle on auto-combat where the AI does its best to make choices for you. I only wish that there was a speed option to accelerate auto combat mode like in Heroes of Might and Magic, as larger armies can take a very long time to resolve combat.

Which brings me to another gripe, though it is not one for which I can fault the developers – make sure you save after every combat. If only to preserve the time you have invested in going through a battle. Once you are engaged in combat, it is impossible to save, and if you take the chance and jump into a new conflict without backing up your game, and happen to be defeated, you could very well lose hours of progress. So save, and save often, and save into a new session every time, so you can jump back before you did something stupid.

Armored Princess also introduced the very interesting ability to travel by ship to various islands. In some games this could simply be a story-based port from one zone to another, but here, they actually allow you to travel locally by ship, even engaging hostile ships or to access otherwise inaccessible spots on the islands, or you can click the long distance button above the map, to teleport to other sections of the world map.

Navigating the ship is as simple and elegantly implemented as moving your hero about the map on horseback – just point and click. Right-clicking and holding allows you to rotate the camera and the mouse-wheel lets you zoom in and out. Also, using the arrow keys, you are able to pan left right and forward in a given area for even more control over your field of view.

Another nice feature is the skill that allows you to right click on any enemy you see and get some clues as to their strength in comparison to your own army. If you add some troops, the assessment may change from “Very Strong” to just “Strong”. This danger gauge can be developed as a skillset so that more and more information is given in advance of engaging in combat.

It is incredible how many pages and options can be accessed without ever feeling confusing. Sure there are some things that will remain hidden or hard to find until you are more familiar with the game and all of the parameters, but the devs have done an excellent job of implementing all of this in a very easy to use UI that becomes increasingly intuitive without every feeling cluttered.

And the game never stops offering new surprises – even after hours of gameplay, I discovered a new facet when I happened to mouse over an old belt in my inventory and noticed an offer to upgrade it. In order to do so, however, I had to fight the Keepers, and upon electing to do so, was transported to an alternate dimension where I had to face off against a rather sizeable army backed by healer and buffing towers.

Needless to say, my first attempt to simply update my armor’s belt prmptly sent my whole platoon packing. So be sure you have your army at top form before reaching for what might seem like an easy armor bonus.

Aww You Did Such Nice Sound Design? You Didn’t Need to Do That For Me…

I would be remiss not to mention that the game features incredible sound design – on a high end sound system with a sub-woofer, I was detecting very subtle nuances in the lower frequencies that would be lost on a crappy set of speakers – but the sound designers have taken the time to create a rich and nuanced sound palette. The music is hypnotic and beautiful, and though it sounds like a MIDI orchestra, as opposed to a true orchestral recording, the arrangements grow to glorious crescendos, reigniting attention and excitement even when you are just loitering around the map.

So on to the sizable expansion pack called Crossroads, which is more of a three-set package.

Champion of the Arena

Crossworlds - Champion of the ArenaThe Champions path introduces big time fights and lots of pyrotechnics fighting beautifully-rendered creative mega-bosses who will not hesitate to summon all the extra backup they need.

A wide variety of guilds are available each with their own little idiosyncratic perks, and even micro-worlds to explore, usually involving more lush and painstakingly-crafted scenery, stores for buying weapons and armor, different troop types, scrolls and other goodies. It is an interesting twist on the typical King’s Bounty game-play without requiring any new learning. It’s all about fun and discovery, and of course even more variety.

king's bounty crossworlds turtle boss
Dayumn that's a huge, magnificent, ancient turtle...let's kill it.

Defender of the Crown

Crossworlds - Defender of the Crown expansionWherein Princess Amelie chops off her goldilocks, styles em into a bob and dyes it black. Defender of the Crown feels more like a true expansion in that the storyline is (almost) an extension of where we left off with Armored Princess. There are some new monsters and spells showing up, but alas, I must admit it starts to just feel like more of the same. Except that the ability to win combat is exacerbated by nerfed resources and tougher mobs from the outset.

The pretense here is that Princess Amelie has done all there was to do in her chapter of destiny, and now she has one last thing to prove: that she can become the true Defender of the Crown by hacking her way through huge random mobs of monsters with fairly limited resources.

The new features in this expansion include:

  • Six fierce battles in unique arenas
  • Three new heroine skills
  • Random enemies and allies

What “fierce battles” translates to, however, are really long, often frustrating, difficult and ultimately uneventful turn-based battles that eat away at the time you have left on Earth like lime through a Mafia hit. Despite all the combinations of monsters and spells, there really isn’t much more to do that win or lose. More AoE’s and DoT’s would be nice, but I don’t know; maybe by this point I had just started burning out on extensive, turn-based combat, much like even the most stalwart pizza lover can only take so much pizza.

Is the AI getting smarter? Not really.

I wonder what is going on under the hood with the autocombat AI. As I sat there duking it out with a lizardman and giant sandworm army for twenty minutes (mostly due to the fact that the sandworms keep spawning more, so it really just becomes like digging up weeds) I decided to switch to auto combat mode; one of the pet dragon’s abilities is the Mystic Egg – which after a full turn spawns a random animal troop to fight on your behalf.

The trick is keeping the egg from getting damaged during what can potentially be a very long turn. But in auto-combat mode my pet dragon flew up and deposited a Mystic Egg right in front of the enemy line! What is the reasoning behind this? Because it thought that the animal backup should be right there to attack when it spawned, presumably – but apparently the AI didn’t have the foresight to consider that the enemy might attack the egg right away, or conversely, the AI had sufficient intelligence to look at that egg, and make destroying it job one.

Either way, something here didn’t work quite right.

king.s_bounty-_crossworlds-screensho
Really summoned demon - you're gonna attack the magic spire and not the casters - really?

In a second instance I had a small troop of Demonologists summon a Cerberus-based NPC. Though the NPC was standing right in front of the enemy caster who were happily nuking my back line, the homunculus proceeded to focus its attention on malignant totems scattered on the battlefield behind it. Lame.

I would have preferred the option to at least set targets or actions for my pet in combat. Then again I was a Night Elf Hunter Beast Master spec in WoW, with a Warlock alt, so I have been spoiled. Still with so many other delightful fruit flavors to offer, why can’t King’s Bounty Crossworlds give me what I want?

So while Champion of the Arena added a new rock star battle-style to the franchise, Defender of the Crown felt like a weak add-on to Armored Princess – just more of the same, sandwiched between two larger concepts.

The pretense, however is that you must prove your worthiness as Defender of the crown, not through sheer numbers, but rather by virtue of strategy – which is to say using less resources to greater result and I guess this may appeal to some who have exhausted the primary campaign.

So on to (what I deemed) the main course:

Orcs on the March

Crossworlds: Orcs on the March expansionAt first glance I was confused when I starter my new campaign with Orcs on the March because the opening cut-scene was identical to that of Armored Princess. In fact I tried starting it three times before I decided it wasn’t a glitch and moved on into the familiar opening, introductory dialogue with the King and everything else until I started to notice that everything was not quite the same as my familiar Armored Princess saves.

It seems that rather than be an expansion in the traditional sense, where the world is expanded and new quests are added, Orcs on the March is a sizable embellishment (afterthought?) of the former title. As if the devs thought – hey we missed an opportunity to make this into a more focused campaign setting with a well-defined threat.

In fact in the package, 1C has included the original Armored Princess game, perhaps for the sake of comparison, nostalgia, value or all of the above.

Nonetheless, I almost wish I had started this game with Orcs on the March to begin with, because essentially I was starting the whole thing over again,

On the other hand that is almost like saying I wish I had seen the digitally embellished version of Star Wars first rather than the original. OK, fine, I’ll roll with it.

The most obvious change is the abundance of consistently goblin-themed encounters. Now, rather than just fight assorted packs of random monsters, there is a sense that the goblins and their armies are the Dark Side, thus creating a greater “sense of purpose” in the game. Whether or not this makes the game more compelling is questionable since it homogenizes the baddies, but it does reduce the sense of grinding for grinding’s sake, and the goblin avatars are, as should be expected, delightfully rendered, with lots of personality.

(A general note for the King’s Bounty games: make sure to click those left and right arrows over purchasable items, spells and troops – you may otherwise not find many other choices available to you.)

There isn’t much more to say beyond that I love playing this game and Orcs on the March just integrates a new, common enemy race, new spell types and so on into the mix along with dozens of other little flourishes.

Order now and we’ll throw in this bonus Game Editor!

Just in case, this whiz-bang trio of embellishments isn’t enough, the entire Crossworlds package is rounded out with a convenient editor complete with a comprehensive help system. The editor gives players the ability to create additional content for the game and modify it in any way they desire.

It is important to note that unless you purchase the second or third tier iterations of the package (US$29.99 and US$34.99 respectively), King’s Bounty: Crossworlds requires King`s Bounty: Armored Princess to be pre-installed on your PC.

What Say You, Jury?

A hyper-addictive, beautifully designed and realized adventure RPG, minus one star for too much time wasted grinding at redundant mobs. Is it worth twenty clams? Sure, for the lovingly crafted work and amount of additions – why not? But if you have been here before, just ask yourself what your time is worth in Wetware hours – you may just be headed back to the grind…

Games as good as King’s Bounty: Armored Princess are very rare indeed, and the Crossworlds expansion built upon it, is almost that good.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Visit the Official King’s Bounty site.

Get King’s Bounty: Crossworlds on Steam

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One thought on “Review: King’s Bounty Crossworlds asks if you’ve got time to Kill

  1. Armored Princess is a realy good game. But I dont need this expansion because I want a good storyline too. I played Orcs on the march, and now I have to play it again with some improvements…hmmm
    Then there are lot of arena battles, but this stopless fights… not the big motivation.. So currently I prefer Grotesque Tactics. and maybe I play crossworld after I forgot what I’ve done in Armored Princess. ^^

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