When Andrzej Sapkowski’s classic series Wiedźmin was first translated into English, it was known by the name ‘The Hexer’. Obviously, the name never stuck, and the series was later rechristened ‘The Witcher’. However, it is arguably two decades after this event, that a game kinda fits the Hexer title to a tee – King’s Bounty II.
King’s Bounty is a historical franchise dating back to 1990, the same year Fire Emblem was released in Japan. However, whereas the latter series served as a jumping-in point for the SRPG genre in Japan, King’s Bounty served as an important stepping stone for the genre’s prowess in the Western market. Flash forward 31 years and several spinoffs and developers later, the folks over at 1C Entertainment have revived the series with the aptly titled ‘King’s Bounty II‘. Much like the original trailblazing title, 1C hopes to evolve and shape the SRPG genre in new and exciting ways.
I had the ability to jump into a demo of the forthcoming title. The demo itself contained about 10 hours’ worth of content and provided enough time to get a real taste for the game. It must be noted that the version of the game I played was on PC, the specs of my PC are about halfway between a Series S and Series X, and that it was subject to change. While I largely suspect that the Xbox version will be similar to my experience (and having used the controller for part of my playthrough, I will be the first to say they have done an excellent job with the controls) it needs to be said that this is not 100% certain. However, I still have a lot to talk about in regards to the game.
Firstly, the game itself has taken more than a few pointers from the likes of The Witcher, Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age and Fable. Now, serving as the connective tissue between battles is an assortment of open-world environments, filled with NPCs, quest givers, lore pieces and puzzles. Players can choose between three protagonists (I personally opted for the mage Katharine), and can make meaningful in-game choices across a spectrum of morality. Choose Anarchy or Power, often the easier ways out, and revel in the riches at the expense of others. Opt for Finesse or Order, and you may find yourself underfunded and overextended, but the impacts of your heroic efforts will pay off in spades.
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the game has not lost sight of the original’s tactical combat system. Once again, combat consists of hexagonal maps wherein the issues of positioning, tactics and abilities are key. Your character does not actually fight amongst their troops in the conventional sense but can throw out spells and buffs/debuffs to keep the battle interesting. These require the use of Materia, a crystal-like substance that is a common reward in-game.
The story of the game has echoes of classic Tolkein literature and is structured somewhat similarly to an Elder Scrolls title, down to the tutorial. There is a blight across the land, an assassination plot and an unlikely hero at the centre of it all. Needless to say, what was shown of the story thus far was fairly typical fantasy stuff, but the side-quests are where the game particularly shines. One had me chasing down the exploits of a hero, another put me in the shoes of some legendary warriors, and a further quest had me recovering lost chicks so a hapless chef could broil them for the king (um… you do you pal).
In terms of the presentation, there is a lot to unpack. Firstly, King’s Bounty II is almost entirely voice-acted and while some of the performances were a bit hit or miss, the main characters seemed great. The game is also surprisingly a looker in the environmental design department, with some incredibly clean assets. Character models are a bit more uncanny, but still get the job done well.
Finally, I do need to briefly address that there were some technical issues I encountered when playing, including one that is destined to be exploited in the speed-running community if not patched out, but the team has indicated they are aware of these issues. Given that the bulk of a game’s polish often takes place in the final months, I have faith that King’s Bounty II will be shipped in good shape.
All in all, I think King’s Bounty II shows a lot of promise. It’s not often one finds a AAA offering in the SRPG space, or in the turn-based strategy space for that matter. The game looks (mostly) visually pleasing, the combat is deep and the blend of open-world exploration and strategy is a unique twist not often seen within the genre. While there are still some bumps in the armour that should (and likely will) be smoothed out, there is a lot of promise in the end result. I hope the final product is as mighty as it has the potential of being.
Huge thanks go out to 1C Entertainment for the chance to get hands-on with King’s Bounty II on PC. You’ll find the game releasing on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch and PC come August 24th 2021. Keep an eye out for our full thoughts concerning the Xbox version around that time.