King’s Bounty: Warriors Of the North
Developer: Katauri Interactive / Publisher: 1C-SoftClub / Platform: PC / Release date: Spring 2012
High-fantasy games in particular are often subject to a form of what one could call narrative elephantiasis—just a little too much Epic going on to easily keep straight, just a smidge TMI concerning the dalliances of the royalty, the tragic history of blood-lines…sometimes, no matter how big the in-game world’s actual problem. Then you just want to get the Cliff’s Notes on it and start slashing and looting.
While the King’s Bounty series has certainly been around long enough, the newest installment, Warriors of the North, gets more or less right to the point: Our new son-of-the-Northling-King hero, Olaf, looks around, determines that there are just far too many undead rearing their ugly heads for his tastes in the Northern Lands of Endoria, and decides to by-Gods do something about it. Also, it’s a role-playing game with grid-based tactical/battle elements, and they’ve added a bunch of new stuff, locations, units, skills, let’s roll, already; sheeesh.
Even so, Warriors Of the North does service to fans of the previous games not only by way of tying all of them neatly together (the previous games, not the fans), but by adding the new race of the Vikings from the North (and by virtue of being an Epic update in itself, offering King’s Bounty fans another 40 to 50 hours of gameplay,
You select a Paladin, Mage or Warrior character type (and difficulty setting) to follow. In Warriors of the North, you’ll have the Valkyrie (Valyries? Valyrii?); you’re a Viking, so it follows you’ve got the Valkyrie helping you out in battle. As has been the case, the overarching exploring of the game-world, acquisition of treasure, running away from monsters—or, if you’re in that kind of mood, running towards them—takes place in real-time, until such time as you actually find yourself in a combat situation. At that point, the game employs a turn-based tactical fighting system on a hexagonal grid.
Wanting to show off the new goodies, the 1C folks wasted no time and called up the super-new Valkyrie allies for help right off the bat—’help’ against a piss-poor, nigh-defenseless enemy force whose combined total martial prowess was so pathetic that the guy demonstrating the game initially toyed with the idea of just giving the assembled foes the option to run away! The first supporting ally to make an appearance was a Fire Valkyrie who unleashed a devastating, area-effect magical attack that instantly and utterly obliterated a lot of people, and was certainly categorical Overkill by any rational standard.
As the ranks of our Vikings (needlessly) closed the fighting-distance to the luckless (and doubtless already-terrified) survivors of this initial magical onslaught, the next display of power came in the form of opening up our spellbook and invoking the game’s new Rune Magic spell (which was evidently so heinous that it temporarily knocked out the A/V connection between the laptop running the game and the LG flatscreen on which we were viewing it).
Next, we witnessed the usefulness of teleportation magic in combat: Zap your quicker, nimbler fighters instantly forward right up in the enemy’s face, let them get in a quick attack, and then zap them back to among your assembled ranks—not only an irritatingly-effective combat tactic, but a good way to get be the first side to loot the tempting treasure chests that occasionally populated the game’s hexagonal battle-grids (whichever side reaches said chests first obviously has the option to empty them, but the gain comes at the price of not being able to perform any additional offensive or defensive actions for the remainder of that turn)
As players level up, they obviously gain more skills, but they also gain Leadership points that can be used to recruit new members into your sprawling campaign against the burgeoning necromancy of the undead. Maybe those men or women or whatever following you into battle are hardened combat veterans, or maybe they’re dicey thieves with useful, sneaky skills, or maybe they’re just grunt-line peasants you’ve formed into fighting units…but in any case, the sheer numbers you can assemble are pretty impressive: 39 archers, 40 Bears, 70 Vikings…hell, a thousand untrained-but-violent common peasants thrown against a major creature in a human-wave attack is not out of the question here—a situation where the aforementioned teleport-and-attack option is quite viable. The 1C guys have boasted of forces numbering up to five thousand. So…yeah. Depending upon a given player’s style, variable tactics can serve equal ends, and some players might try the flash-and-bash approach with a mere handful of super-buff units like Dragons. Other character classes such as Assassins can teleport all the way across the battlefield to the enemy, stab or poison them, and quickly return—and not even take a single retaliatory attack in the process.
Of course, Morale becomes an issue, so each of your combatants have their own smiley-face indicators to show how good they’re feeling at the moment. Care must be taken, here—lump your ordinary human followers in with ranks of the undead, for example, and their happiness and willingness to serve will drop sharply, perhaps catastrophically. When Morale drops, so does Initiative…and it’s always best to get in the first punch, or two, or six, if you can manage it.
The game boasts a wide variety of locations, from the Viking homeland to open seas that must be navigated by ships…and even realms and characters from the very first game are accessible, albeit now properly changed and/or aged (a character who was a very young girl in a previous game now grown to maturity and motherhood, just as an example, a nice tip of the helm for long-time fans of the series). Along the way, mounts such as ordinary horses along with many stranger beasts can be leveled up—in the case of horses, to winged Pegasuses (Pegasi? Pegasum?), for a help traversing a huge game-world.
And in addition to all that walking-around/flying-around game-space, there is still the ‘inner space’ of various weapons to be conquered; if you’ve tackled, for example, the increasingly dangerous ‘Item World’ levels to be found in games like those of the Disgaea series, you already know something of that drill. You’ve acquired a super-badass sword, but it came at the cost of being possessed—essentially ‘powered-by’ a demon, who resents your notions of ownership…so every now and then you’ve got to go ‘in there’, inside the hyper-real realms within the item in question, and remind him/it who’s Viking Boss, here. Story-driven and purely a single-player experience, King’s Bounty: Warriors of the North is slated to ship in Fall 2012—and welcomes returning, conquering warrior-kings and new, rising Heroes alike.