It would be very easy to say that King’s Bounty: The Legend is just a Heroes of Might and Magic clone, only it’s not. And that’s not just because the first Heroes of Might and Magic was inspired by the original King’s Bounty, but mainly because, while being far from original in any way, it really is a different game that stands on its own. And because, at least in my opinion, it’s much better than Heroes of Might and Magic V.
I’ll do something I usually don’t and start writing about the many good parts of this game by mentioning graphics. What the graphics of King’s Bounty: The Legend aren’t is this mix of insane polygon counts, texture details and particle effects that can make you check whether you didn’t accidentally start some video card performance testing software instead when you load one of the major titles of the recent years. What this game’s graphics are, however, is absolutely gorgeous, despite the obvious loss of texture detail when you zoom in. The art style and the colors used make the game world a pleasure to look at, while all these little details that you are even likely to miss if you’re not paying attention bring it to life on your computer screen. Squirrels darting from tree to tree and poking their heads out curiously, hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower both on the adventure map and around the battlefield, crypt walls coming alive when you get close, chests opening, bones rattling or eggs moving in nests when you pass your mouse over them, the scenery details that are normally obscured during combat but become briefly visible when the camera zooms in for a few seconds for a critical hit, kill or summon, all the very brief but extremely appropriate combat animations, including the pretty hard to notice way in which each unit type celebrates victory… But I’d better stop now and simply say that this is not a demonstration of technology, but one of art…
Something else that works really well in this game is the combat. And that’s a very good thing, considering how much time you’ll spend fighting. It could easily become tedious or frustrating, especially considering the size of some of the armies you’ll be facing, but it never does. There are relatively few units, but each of them is different, most having talents and abilities that you’ll need to learn to use properly in order to make the most of them. The fact that you can only have five unit types on your side when you enter combat may seem too limiting, but it only serves to make you pick your army carefully, according to which units best fit your playing style, how well they complement each other and how effective they will be against the enemies you expect to face. The spells are also very effective if used properly, a good and patient mage being able to fully compensate for the small armies he can lead into battle and end most fights without any losses. And the Spirits of Rage only add yet another layer to the tactics once you’ll be able to command them, which will happen relatively soon after the start of the game.
And another good thing is the fact that King’s Bounty: The Legend is a long and quite addictive game. Now that may not sound like a good thing if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, but if you’re looking for a game to keep you busy for a while or at least to make you feel that you got your money’s worth if you purchased it, this is for you. You’ll always find yourself wishing to explore just a little more, to fight just one more battle or to complete just one more quest, especially since, unlike in other similar games, your movement on the adventure map is not turn-based and the duty of managing the kingdom’s economy does not fall on your shoulders. The only resource you’ll really be managing is represented by the units you can recruit, which are usually not replenished, so if you take all the units of one type available in one location you’ll need to either find another location that sells the same type of units or decide on another type to replace them with from then on.
But not everything is good, of course. One thing that bothered me was the way wives are treated in this game. The only thing you can really do with them is have babies, since the only things you can say to your wife are that you want to have a baby or that you want to divorce her. And, especially since I’m too against having children to even have them in a game, I felt quite bad to just keep a wife sort of as an item with item slots of its own, just for the bonuses she can offer, unable to have any interaction with her. Adding a way to build a real relationship with your wife, perhaps obtaining some quests from her after marriage, and getting perhaps higher bonuses if you get along better would probably have made this aspect of the game much more interesting.
Another problem are the quests. They’re just there to keep you going, very rarely being interesting in themselves. Considering the atmosphere the game can otherwise generate, that’s a pity. Still, it doesn’t bother me as much as it normally would because the game is designed so well that it really only requires an excuse to keep playing, not a real reason. And the quests provide just that excuse and little else.
And then there’s the lack of an editor. I think a lot of interesting campaigns could have been created by the players, some of them featuring much better quests than the game itself, but this opportunity is not provided. The game has a good replay value for those who are interested, since most things are randomized and your strategy will need to be changed significantly not only according to your class but also according to the unit types and spells you’ll happen to find along your way, so the lack of an editor is more of a missed opportunity than a significant problem in itself, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless.
I could also mention that the game’s AI isn’t going to win any prizes, but I’m not so sure that’s such a bad thing, considering the size of the opposing armies. If such powerful enemies would also use very intelligent tactics, the game would easily become frustrating or perhaps even impossible to complete for most. Still, I can’t help but be bothered when the computer makes stupid mistakes such as slowing an unit that already has the minimum possible speed or applying the same spell effect on an unit twice in the same turn.
In conclusion, King’s Bounty: The Legend isn’t an original game, but it’s a very good game. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a good argument in support of the idea that standing out doesn’t necessarily require doing things differently, but it does require doing them well.