King’s Bounty II isn’t the sequel to the King’s Bounty titles you may have heard of – the series of tactical grid-based fantasy RPGs starting with King’s Bounty: The Legend in 2008 and making its way through numerous expansions and spin-offs.
Instead, this new entry bypasses The Legend and heads straight to 1990: King’s Bounty, the tactical RPG made by Jon Van Caneghem and New World Computing. 1C’s latest entry is the direct sequel to that three-decade-old original, as well as being the first time the developer/publisher itself is handling the duties of making the game.
What you’re met with is a curious mix: the hexagonal combat grids for your turn-based battles will be familiar to King’s Bounty veterans, and there are regular bursts of colourful magic lighting up the field or fantastical units – human and otherwise, alive or undead – springing up to clash.
But it’s all mixed in with a far more muted, regular presentation when compared to The Legend spin-offs – it would be easy to get King’s Bounty II mixed up with something like Kingdom Come, say, so long as you ignore the reanimated skeleton warriors raining down arrows on soldiers. It’s similar to what fans of 1C’s version of the series know, while also being different enough to raise eyebrows.
The decision to change things up was down in most part because of the need to design King’s Bounty II with a console market in mind: “When we were sitting and thinking about how to make a King’s Bounty sequel, firstly we decided it couldn’t just be PC, it had to be console too,” says Nikolay Baryshnikov, 1C’s boss. “Once we had consoles involved, that [changed] some of the approach to game design.”
This is 1C’s first go at making a relatively big game, so there have been significant changes behind the scenes of the Russian studio. “It’s not an indie game anymore,” Baryshnikov says. “We have a fairly big studio – almost 150 people working on the game – and I believe gamers now have specific expectations when it comes to RPGs like Kingdom Come or The Witcher or Mass Effect, so we couldn’t propose another budget-looking game. That was the huge change.”
Other changes were introduced in order to mix up old and new – elements like line-of-sight factoring into battles, say. And already 1C is looking to the future of the series, with plans in motion for post-launch DLC that adds battle mechanics and changes significant elements in and around the game. “It should prompt people to play the game again,” Baryshnikov says. “I hope we’re working on the game for the next ten years, expanding on and supporting the game, adding locations, monsters, armies, items, battle mechanics, and so on.”
But we certainly shouldn’t bypass what’s in the game from day one – players choose one of three characters, each essentially representing a class, and the story for each will take you on a different route through the world. “It greatly adds to replayability because playing with different characters is a lot of fun,” Baryshnikov says.
“Plus having the same character but playing with different ideals is almost like having multiple sub-classes.” Ideals are character traits the player decides on as they progress, taking the place of a binary good/bad morality system. Focusing on certain ideals leads to different perks as well as more (or less) effectiveness with different types of unit – a boost if your ideals go well together, a debuff if not.
It doesn’t blow you away at first glance – it’s nowhere near as colourful and fantastical as The Legend, and that is going to be something of a disappointment to fans coming from earlier King’s Bounty games. But the game beneath still ticks a lot of boxes, and a wide-ranging RPG (though, again, not open world) is a distinct step up in what you’re actually getting up to in King’s Bounty II.
Best of all though, this is the first console release since the original game appeared on Mega Drive – though that also meant more work for 1C. “The Switch specifically added a lot of additional technical complexity,” Baryshnikov says, “because we had to push all the boundaries to get such a big game experience on a weaker hardware platform. Plus, again, working on multiple platforms at the same time, having release dates at the same time, that was a challenge.”
Then there’s the challenge we’ve all faced: the Covid-19 pandemic. A lot of work went into decentralising development; at the time of writing, the team hasn’t been in the office since 16 March 2020.
“When you have five programmers grabbing a smoke and discussing a feature, that’s one thing,” Baryshnikov says. “When you have 50 people in Discord or Slack discussing specific elements, that’s a different story. Organising all the equipment, the dev kits, the VPNs… one of the reasons we had to delay the game’s release was because of the Covid-related impact.”
The delays are behind 1C now, though, and it’s nearly at the finish line. King’s Bounty II may be a different take from what some might have expected, but by taking a more traditional route, the studio may well be onto something.
Genre: Tactical RPG
Format: PC / PS4 / XBO / Switch
Developer: 1C Entertainment
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release: 24 August 2021