King's Bounty II is a turn-based tactics / CRPG hybrid set in a medieval high fantasy world filled with mystery and intrigue. However, it's definitely a mixed experience as it can be engaging and enjoyable but I can't wholly recommend it because of a few serious problems.
King's Bounty II is set in the Albian Highlands in the northern region of Nostria inside Crucis Prison. On Prince Adrian's order, you were set free and now, the prince wants you to meet with him immediately. In a passing conversation, a guard mentions that there has been a disaster and the mages are forced to wear masks because of a quarantine; sound familiar?
A long journey later and after nearly being assassinated, you finally make it to the imperial capital of Marcella. There, Prince Adrian tells you his purpose for letting you free. It's not because he believes that you're innocent (you were imprisoned for good reason, after all) but because he requires an agent to find out what is the cause of the disaster at the Monpatris Magefactory. After I left the castle, I didn't even know what the Magefactory was but I was excited to find out. Meanwhile, the blight (some kind of magical corruption that destroys all life) is slowly decimating the fertile lands. What is the blight, how do you stop it, and what role does the mysterious scryer play?
In King's Bounty 2, you customise your very own army from recruiters that you find around the world. There's a huge variety of units that you can choose from: human warriors, dwarves, ferocious creatures, undead, elementals, bandits; you name it. Some units are ranged while others are melee and some are spellcasters. It might be a good idea to have units of different roles in your army so you can place melee units up front as they protect your ranged units while they cause massive long-range damage.
Specific units can have a different alignment: order, anarchy, power, and finesse; order is opposed to anarchy while power is opposed to finesse. Your army gains a combat buff if all of your units belong to the same alignment and there's a penalty if you have units of opposing alignments. You might want to avoid opposite-aligned units and keep in mind that if the majority of your army is order and you toss in a power or finesse unit, the penalty is much less than if you deploy an anarchy unit, for example.
These 4 alignments also influence your character progression as well as quests. During your adventure, you'll have to make difficult ethical decisions. For instance, should you feed starving refugees by negotiating with honest farmers or make them work for bandits and brigands? There really is a massive number of quests for you to take on and everywhere you go, there's someone who needs someone else to solve their problems (hint: it's you) and it's up to you to choose how you want to solve those problems.
Usually, you're given 2 choices that reward your hero alignment points in either order, anarchy, power, or finesse. Depending on what you choose, you gain access to exclusive upgrades. Order gives you higher leadership and increases healing and the duration of buffs. Anarchy gives you more gold and increases counterattack damage as well as damage while you have wounded units. Meanwhile, power gives you better combat characteristics like attack and defence and finesse grants you spells, spells, and more spells.
On top of all that, there are 3 classes to choose from: warrior, paladin, and mage. I went with the mage because how could I not? Using spells is quite fun. I also gave the other classes a shot. Katharine, the mage, has access to the best combat spells. You see, you can use spells once per round or twice with a very late-game upgrade. Elisa, the paladin, has the highest leadership, meaning she can recruit more units in her squads. Having more units is of course very important but it can also be more expensive after you inevitably lose your squads. She can also learn the life and light spellbook so she can use healing spells, a few army-wide buffs, and a very useful summoning spell.
Lastly, Aivar, the warrior, has the highest warfare; meaning your squads deal more damage. I definitely found the mage to be easiest because burning ray (a direct damage spell) is extremely useful at the beginning of the campaign. Later, you'll also find a few spells that give combat buffs to your entire army such as enhancing armor or increasing your entire army's damage by a massive 30%.
The SRPG combat itself is serviceable for a turn-based tactics game. Every round, ally and enemy units each take a turn but the order in which they move depends on their initiative. Melee units obviously have to move close to deal damage and they can also counterattack once per round when they are attacked by another melee unit. They also have a special property called a control zone: any unit moving in and out of the control zone suffers an attack from that unit which is kind of like overwatch in XCOM.
Ranged units are extremely useful to have as they can attack without fear of counterattack. Be extremely careful, though, because when they're approached by an enemy unit, they can no longer attack distant enemies and can only attack with melee. However, you can move away and take damage from that unit's control zone. Anyway, your hero can cast one spell each round and there's a huge range of spells in King's Bounty II belonging to 4 different schools: air and fire, earth and ice, life and light, and death and darkness.
As you can see, King's Bounty 2 can be a fairly enjoyable turn-based SRPG but... there are a lot of "buts" so allow me to make a quick list of some aspects that bog down the gameplay and it's not pretty:
- Losing battles is extremely punishing. A whole army might cost tens of thousands of gold so forget about actually losing a battle; just load the most recent autosave instead. Amazingly, there's no menu option to retry battles. In other words, you'll have to load the autosave, wait through a loading screen, restart the battle, and wait through another loading screen. It takes way too long.
- If you complete a battle and lose squads, you have to go all the way back to the recruiter who you bought them from to buy them again. If you fast-travel there and back, that's a 2-way trip and that means 2 more long loading screens.
- Did I mention that the loading screens are way too long? Did I mention how many loading screens there are? I really can't stress this point enough and it's games like this that make me wish I had a PS5.
- Occasionally, the game will crash; roughly, once per long game session. Thankfully, you can still load your last autosave but in a few cases, I lost quite a bit of progress. How frustrating... 😠
- There are some puzzles but they're a little too simple as most of them involve pressing buttons or runes in the correct order.
If King's Bounty 2's developers somehow fixed the abhorrently long loading times, added a restart function in battles, and if I didn't have to go back to the same few recruiters constantly then it would simply be a much better game. Sadly, that is not the case. I have to say it like it is: every minute that I spend sitting through loading screens is a minute spent not having fun.
King's Bounty 2 features fun tactical battles while telling a memorable story as it immerses you in its high fantasy world. But, boy oh boy, prepare for a barrage of ridiculously long loading screens and plenty of other unstreamlined elements.
- + Fun turn-based tactical battles with plenty of extremely varied unit types
- + Excellent storytelling and worldbuilding
- + Loads of side-quests and areas to explore
- - Tedious load times even for simple tasks
- - Losing squads is a little too punishing
- - Suffers from occasional crashes