Review: King's Bounty: The Legend

Keane Ng | 10 Dec 2008 17:00
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King's Bounty: The Legend is completely out of its mind. The game's explosively bright color palette, cartoony medieval stylings and magic knight superheroes call to mind something akin to World of Warcraft, but a Blizzard game has never been this insane. What other game lets you marry a zombie, have kids with her and then givess you money and stat bonuses for raising a monstrous human-zombie hybrid family?

There's genuine anarchy at the heart of King's Bounty, both in its whacked-out vision of an archetypal fantasy world and its meticulously complex gameplay. A modern remake/sequel to the 1990 original that acted as a precursor to the Heroes of Might and Magic franchise, King's Bounty is a strategy-RPG with a number of mechanics borrowed from other games - turn-based battles, character classes, skill trees - that nonetheless manages to feel wholly unique. It has enough flavor to let you take a zombie for your wife, but it occasionally proves ignorant of some common-sense rules of how to make a game fun.

For starters, the King's Bounty has almost no structure. After you choose a class (Warrior, Mage or Paladin) and graduate from the training dungeon, the colorful land of Calradia is effectively yours to explore. From the opening continent there are dozens of quests available to you, and the game offers little guidance on what to do first. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on your personality - adventurous gamers will be occupied for hours, but others might quickly find their quest log taking up half their monitor and, without any sort of quest tracking built into the interface, feel bewildered and lost.

I was definitely in the "bewildered and lost" category for much of my stay in Calradia. That wasn't because of my overpopulated quest log, though: King's Bounty is a satisfyingly deep game, but it's horribly inaccessible. Turn-based battles on a hexagonal grid might not sound that complex, but factor in managing your character's skills (which you assign through a Diablo II-esque skill tree), dozens of different unit types with special attributes and abilities, randomly generated battlefields and enemy encounters, and you'll quickly find you're hitting the quick load hotkey much more often than you are the attack command.

Randomness is a huge issue, because the game will often populate an area with enemies far beyond your means. Getting my zombie wife was no stroll in the park. The path leading to the NPC I needed to find to complete the quest was blocked by a spider that I wasn't nearly powerful enough to defeat. Experience trickles down at a snail's pace, and I needed experience to get more troops, so I couldn't just grind it out to get stronger. Besides, I'd heard that the zombie wife was a highlight of the opening area of the game - why should there be a random artificial wall blocking me from my true undead love? I ended up awkwardly luring the spider out and dodging it. For a game that's all about the combat, shouldn't avoiding fights be the last thing I want to do?

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