It's good to be the king.

Good news—the prince has ordered your release from Crucis Prison. Bad news—you have to travel across a frozen land to go see him…immediately.  Bundle up, buttercup; this is going to be a chilly ride.

First off, I have not played the prequel game so I won’t try to tell you how King’s Bounty II rates as a sequel; I can only rate this game as it stands on its own. The game is a mix between an adventure story and a turn-based RPG. The adventure facet of the game sees you trekking across the snowy Albion highlands after being released from prison. As you travel, you encounter various people, creatures, places, and so on. Some of the places yield gold and things you can trade for gold. You may even find some objects and weapons you can use to augment your current kit.

Amongst the more interesting things you find along the way are letters and books which can provide some background about the people and the events leading up to your current mission. It seems there is a problem at the Magefactory. (Tell me if this sounds a bit familiar…) There is some sort of problem situation at the Magefactory, and all the mages have to stay isolated there and wear masks to contain… (a bit too obvi, yeah?)  Aaaaanyway, weak social commentary aside, stuff does happen so we’ll give this a pass and move on to the other significant facet of the game, namely the turn-based combat.

When it is time to engage in battle, and you may be glad of it, this game starts to feel like a standard AS&D situation with starting positions, initiatives, and turn-based combat. Each combat unit gets its turn to either move, attack, or both depending on the unit’s capabilities. If you have not played a game with this particular style of combat, be aware of the attack of opportunity. If you are adjacent to an enemy unit and choose to move away from them, they get a free chance to take a cheap shot at you as you move away. It may sound a bit unfair, but this is combat, not Candyland. Like most of the RPGs out there, how you arrange your forces and the mix of forces in your army play a large part in whether you will win a battle.

King’s Bounty II offers three main characters from which you can choose: a soldier, a paladin, or a mage. As you would expect, there are different skills, strengths, and weaknesses based on your choice, but it doesn’t alter the story. You may find, however, that as a soldier you do not get to try to solve certain puzzles because they require a mage to solve them. Don’t worry; the game provides alternate courses of action so you can keep making progress. There are also a variety of NPC types for you to recruit to your army, including soldiers, magic users, mercenaries, dogs of war, the undead, and so on. Each party you recruit has a basic alignment and, as with other RPGs, each alignment will have an opposite with which it does not play well. Be careful with these units, as bringing opposing alignments together in one army will inflict penalties on your overall group. There are ways to get a variety of combat types without incurring too many penalties, but it may take a little tinkering to get your mix just where you like it. Speaking of you, the game will force you to live up to your choices. If you make decisions which match a certain alignment, the game will gradually restrict your choices to match what you have done in the past.

Once you have chosen a main character and start to establish your alignment, you will gain points to use in developing your character skills and abilities. There is a handy skills tree in the game to keep track of what you have and what’s coming up. You get the standard equipment screen with your pack contents, a map showing where you are and where you have been…all the usual things you would expect in a game of this type. You also get a compass at the top of the main screen. It shows in which direction you are pointed and has handy little markers indicating the direction of the next point of interest.

All this sounds great, but King’s Bounty II has few issues. Let’s start with the controls, most of which are relatively intuitive to most gamers. One of the wonky bits is your character’s walking and running. To walk at a normal pace, you need to use the left stick plus the ZR button, otherwise you will start into a slow jogging pace. To my thinking, it would make more sense to need a secondary button to sprint, but there we are. On the topic of getting around, you do get a horse at the start of this adventure. Use the A button to mount and press and hold the B button to dismount. Be ready to wait a few seconds for each action to take place (the process is a bit on the slow side).

This game also has a tendency to be a bit slow when it comes to loading scenes. They are longer than you might like, and there are certainly more of them than you will want. This problem is compounded with losing a combat session. If you lose your forces you will need to travel back to the place from which you recruited them to buy more. You will need to have the gold ready or no more army for you. By the way, there is a limited amount of loot to be found/earned in the game. So, if you run out of money and you get hammered in combat you may be stuck in a no-win situation. There are side quests, but these don’t pay very well and they are also limited in number, so watch your resources. To pile onto this pain, there is no replay feature for a combat loss. Your only recourse is to use your save points well.

The audio experience is a bit of a mixed bag. The music and sound effects are pretty good. Some of the dialogue is, shall we say, a bit south of good. Some of the sidebar dialogue can be informative and funny, but the delivery is sometimes a bit flat. Also, a good portion of it is too predictable.

Combat isn’t as smooth as it should be. There is too much use of the minus (-) button to end a turn and too little in the way of combat setup and execution tutorials. Yes, it’s still a relatively standard turn based combat arrangement, but a few things are different enough to be annoying if you don’t have a heads-up. Finding out in the middle of combat only gets frustrating if what you don’t know gets your dogs of war killed (you can guess what happened there…300 gold gone in a minute).

The visuals are another point of contention. King’s Bounty II looks like the studio wanted to be an epic, high end affair, but didn’t quite have the budget to really pull it together. There are some minor issues with the camera (moving/seeing through what should be solid objects, and the like), elements which look blocky up-close, and general lighting problems; some outside areas are too bright and some of the inside areas are a bit too dark—mostly, a lack of balance between ambiance and contrast to keep things easier on the eyes. Another thing I noticed is that the soldier (he’s the one I started with) has dark brown hair with a few greys. In the between events screen, he looks more like an old man with almost all white hair. Not all the movements and animations are as smooth as they could be, either. Overall, it looks OK but it’s not a top shelf look.

King’s Bounty II has good replay value as you can run the game as three different main characters and make different choices to see how different alignments fare in the game. The visuals are decent, but not top notch. The audio is good. While the game can keep you busy in an epic high fantasy world, it has some issues.