King's Bounty is back for a strong expansion to last year's hit title, Armored Princess.
In case you didn’t know, I’m a huge Heroes of Might and Magic fan. If you’ve read some of my reviews, you’ve probably heard me mention and/or rave about the series as it holds a very special place in my heart. So, when I got to review King’s Bounty: The Legend two years back, I was pleasantly surprised to become caught up with the similar series that was actually New World Computing’s predecessor to the Heroes of Might and Magic games. Boasting a more fluent over world exploration than the Heroes games and an alternate take on gameplay (1-player strategy RPG as opposed to multiplayer turn-based RPG), King’s Bounty: The Legend managed to hold up as a strong remake to the original 20 year old classic.
Having already seen an expansion in the past year (Armored Princess), King’s Bounty: Crossworlds is a unique expansion in that gamers who didn’t play through the first two games can purchase it in conjunction with Armored Princess for an extended experience. But can this game provide enough changes to the formula to enthrall gamers once more and can 1C Company continue their success in reviving the classic strategy based series?
One of the greatest parts of the early HoMM games were the excellent expansions, particularly for Heroes 3. Each sequel brought about several major additions to the gameplay including a random multiplayer map generator, level editor, new faction, and a slew of new campaigns in Armageddon’s Blade as well as ultimate artifact creation (by combining artifacts), a campaign editor, and even more incredible campaigns in Shadow of Death. Now, these additions may not seem to be significant by our standards today but 11 years back I found them to be the perfect additions to an already near perfect game.
So, with the release of King’s Bounty: Armored Princess last year, 1C did do a great job of improving some of the problems with The Legend but didn’t really provide some of the monumental improvements I would have expected. The main gist of improvements were some added troops, artifacts, and spells and though I thoroughly enjoyed the game and the new campaign, the formula wore on me a little bit that time around.
With a third installment in three years, I hoped that the game could add enough new material to draw me back into the series. Seeing that there are key distinctions between sequels and expansions (where sequels are expected to bring improvements across the board and expansions are expected to provide a large amount of new material added on top of the original game), I didn’t expect 1C to reinvent the wheel with Crossworlds but I was hoping for more gameplay tweaks to go along with the story additions (Armored Princess provided a fine new campaign but lacked in its other additional material). King’s Bounty: Crossworlds did manage to add more significant gameplay modifications than did AP but it also seemed to lack in terms of the story department compared to previous games (when not counting the previously experienced Armored Princess campaign.
Effective Gameplay Additions
Though Crossworlds isn’t a completely new game, it certainly succeeds in adding the type of gameplay elements I would expect from a successful expansion in the series. First of all, the game adds two different mini-campaigns that see a different take on the game’s overall format (which was a welcomed addition to the game for me, seeing as the original formula was wearing on me a bit). The first of the two is a campaign that sees Arthur fighting his way through a coliseum. Aside from moving around the great over world that we’re accustomed to, this campaign focuses on the combat alone, allowing players to do minimal things outside of battling (buying creatures, artifacts, and spells, as well as collaborating with guilds). The important part of Arthur’s campaign is the fact that it allows new players to experience some of the epic boss battles they may not have seen before playing the game and also allows veterans to really test their tactical mettle (the game’s higher difficulties really lead to some difficult battles).
The second campaign features a shortened traditional campaign that also puts more of an emphasis on battles than before: as you traverse the small over world map, attempting to gain the highest honor of “Defender of the Crown,” Amelie must fight off all of the ambushes set in her way (and a good deal of them at that). It still didn’t really feel too much different than the model of continues coliseum battles like in Arthur’s campaign (especially since there was a lack of story emphasis here as well) but it was a fun diversion from the traditional style of King’s Bounty gameplay nonetheless.
For those of you who didn’t get to experience Armored Princess, 1C has a treat for you: rather than playing through the original game, you can play through this expanded version, Orcs on the March, where it is essentially the original campaign with an entirely new faction added into the mix (the race of Orcs) as well as a new set of items, spells, and quests to boost the overall experience. But, the only problem is that you'll have to buy both versions of the game to be able to do so (since this is an expansion). As I can see from a brief search on Amazon, though, the price for both games bundled together is only $29.99 so it's not too much extra to get the entire experience (and if you haven't played The Legend, you can buy all 3 for $34.99).
Still, having played through Armored Princess already, I found it a little dry to play through the extended addition of the campaign seeing as there aren't many key additions to the story and it's been just a year since my experience with AP. And, considering the full retail price of $19.99 just for this expansion, I can't see how many fans of the series who originally purchased Armored Princess would want to spend the large amount of extra dough for only small additions.
The only minor gameplay problem I had with the game was in the repetition of battles. Since you won't have the choice to skip battles if enemies are severely outnumbered (aside from recruitment), you'll be forced to fight even the most trivial battles to move through certain areas.
Finally, the addition of a game editor is also a great move by 1C. Though I didn’t actually get a copy of this said editor in my review kit, I can say that I love the idea as a tool for diehard fans of the series. In Heroes of Might and Magic games, I found the editors extremely fun to play around with but I especially liked downloading others’ maps and campaigns from the internet to extend my overall experience with the games. Hopefully there will be a decent amount of user created downloadable content available in the future so that I and other fans of the King’s Bounty universe can have the same enjoyable extension to our gameplay.
Searching for Story
Like was mentioned before, King’s Bounty: Crossworlds doesn’t stand up well with gamers who have already played through Armored Princess (there really isn’t enough story additions to warrant another purchase of a slightly modified game). Though it’s the definitive version of the game for gamers not having experienced the game before, the lack of an additional campaign meant a lack of overall substance for my tastes. Sure, 1C was able to get the gameplay additions right this time around but after the short mini-campaigns were finished, I found it hard to push myself through playing the Armored Princess campaign a second time through (even with the addition of the Orcs). The mini-campaigns are a nice changeup of gameplay mechanics but in terms of story are very shallow. Thus, the only strong story comes in the form of the original game, which can lead to a lot of repetition for fans of the series that have already embarked on the adventure the year before.
I feel like the best way they could have avoided this complaint (it’s no doubt a complaint of other critics as well) was to add an additional campaign into the mix (sure, you can include the full version of Armored Princess but the game shouldn’t be advertised as a new standalone game if there isn’t an additional campaign on top of it aside from the mini-campaigns). For anyone who hasn’t played the game, however, I will reiterate that this is the best version of the game to date.