Monday, November 16, 2009

King's Bounty: Armored Princess Review

I never played the original King's Bounty. So when my editor at Hooked Gamers gave me Armored Princess to review, I approached it from a fresh and inexperienced perspective. Unfortunately, veterans of the series did not take too kindly to this. That taught me an important lesson: Explicitly state how experienced you are with a series when reviewing an entry in it.

Armored Princess

Baal opened the door to Endoria and stormed the lands, annihilating all who dwelt there. The dwarves and elves fell quickly. Now, only the stronghold of Kronberg and King Mark stand against the demonic horde. Endoria's only hope is the valiant Bill Gilbert, who unfortunately is in another world called Teana. To get to him, the king and his chief advisor, Archmage Shivarius, have devised a plan to…

Well King's Bounty: Armored Princess doesn't really engage through narrative. Its story is fairly forgettable, which is compounded by its presentation - the game displays plot points almost completely through dense dialogue trees that the player can easily ignore.

Without going any further into the back-story, players experience Armored Princess as Princess Amelie, daughter of King Mark. She leaps at the opportunity to travel to Teana, find Bill Gilbert, and hopefully save Endoria from impending doom.

Island Hopping

Upon starting a new game, players have the opportunity of choosing between three different classes - warrior, paladin, and mage. Each has varying attributes that result in the warrior being a better fighter, the mage being adept at magic and casting spells, and the paladin being a balance between the two extremes.

Traveling through Teana provides an experience similar to any action role-playing game. The land is littered with shops to purchase items, characters to provide quests, and enemies to fight. However, Teana is divided into numerous islands, each with their own distinctive atmosphere. The island that Amelie arrives upon is what one would expect from the story - a medieval fantasy kingdom with lush green expanses.

After completing each quest, defeating all enemies, and procuring all items, Amelie travels to Caribbean-esque pirate-infested beaches, Nordic-inspired arctic tundra's, charred and desolate wastelands, and more. Arriving at each new island proves to be delightful and refreshing - that is, until you meet the locals.

Building an Army

Again, like any typical character in an action role-playing game, Princess Amelie has the ability to level-up and gain points for use in skill trees. The player can use these points, termed Talent Runes in the game, to increase attack and defense ratings, available mana, monetary rewards after battles, etc. Unlike typical action role-playing games, the playable character in King's Bounty: Armored Princess, Princess Amelie, doesn't actually fight during combat. She is more of a general in a grid-based turn-based affair.

Amelie has seven different slots for her army - five active slots and two reserve slots. Each slot can hold a single type of unit, and there is a plethora of units available for purchase across all of Teana's islands. Archers, mages, knights, zombies, robbers, pirates, bears, griffons, and dragons constitute only a small percentage of the available types. Of course, different strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities accompany each unit type. Archers and mages can attack from a distance, but have low individual health. Bears can do a large amount of damage, but can only melee and are slow moving.

While Amelie can only take five distinct unit types into battle, the number of units is more variable. Each slot can hold any number of identical units, and those identical units' attributes stack. For example, while a ten-Archer slot is identical to a five-Archer slot from an organizational standpoint, ten Archers will do more damage and last longer on that battlefield than only five archers.

That doesn't mean Amelie can have any number of units in a single slot. Each unit type has a different Leadership requirement. If the number of units in a slot exceeds Amelie's Leadership attribute, she loses control of that unit on the battlefield. Amelie's attributes also build upon the base attributes of each unit type. An increase in level and subsequent increase in attack rating for Amelie, translates into an increase in attack rating for all of her troops.

The Battlefield

Combat in Armored Princess is more reminiscent of a board game than a role-playing game. The battlefield is composed of a hexagonal grid. Each grid space can hold one unit type at a time, and Amelie's units typically start on the opposite end of the grid from enemies.

Battles are divided into Turns. Each Turn is over once every unit on the battlefield has performed the available action(s). A unit's available actions for the Turn are typically exhausted once it has attacked. But before attacking, a unit can sometimes move throughout the battlefield or perform a special ability. For example, in one Turn, a bear can use its special ability to double its movement speed, move across four hexagons instead of two, and then attack an enemy if it is in an adjacent hexagon. On the contrary, Archers may not want to move at all considering their ranged attack.

Battlefields come in many different shapes and sizes, and include obstacles. The standard rectangular grid, with opposing forces starting on opposite sides, is fairly prevalent throughout Teana. However, the player can also encounter circular grids with enemies surrounding the player's units, or irregularly-shaped grids that are specific to certain situations, such as laying siege to a castle.

With an enormous number of units and battlefield possibilities, the combat in King's Bounty: Armored Princess is very satisfying due to its thought-provoking nature - a very good thing considering combat constitutes 99% of the game. This also means that no battle is quick and simple. Even "very weak" opponents (the game conveniently informs the player of an enemy army's strength before combat is entered - a very welcome touch for avoiding "invincible" opponents) can take a good amount of time and thought to defeat, especially when trying to avoid any casualties.

Pet Dragon

Thankfully, Amelie doesn't have to rely solely on her army. She also has a pet dragon at her disposal - as lethal as it is cute. Like any army unit, Amelie's dragon can perform one action per Turn. The dragon can call upon a ball of lightning to follow a single enemy unit, or dive bomb from the sky and severely damage every enemy unit. But these abilities aren't immediately or freely available. The dragon levels up along with Amelie through battle and gains certain abilities while strengthening others over time. Each ability also costs a certain amount of Rage, which is gained by regular army combat - attacking and being attacked by enemies.

While Amelie's dragon is an integral part of battle, and very useful when taking on larger armies, it remains off the grid and carefree. After performing an ability on the battlefield, the dragon will fly back to its resting place and take a nap under its tree, oblivious to any tension on the field. When not in use, the dragon will also grab a piece of fruit from the tree, and munch away while watching its allies struggle. It is both a very welcome addition to the tense and strategic combat, and a nice artistic touch. It is always amusing to watch the dragon as it observes battle nonchalantly.

Verdict

King's Bounty: Armored Princess has a forgettable story and dated graphics that seem borrowed from much older medieval fantasy titles. However, its gameplay is superb. The turn-based combat is the main component of this game and fortunately its strongest draw. While easy to learn, it is deeply strategic and very satisfying, especially when defeating an army that is much stronger than your own.

The overall formula of island hopping also proves to be very addictive. Clearing an island of all of its monsters and loot provides a great sense of pride in your army. Traveling to the next island, and observing the new landscape and atmosphere, results in a sense of wonder. And finally, those feelings of pride and wonder are dashed when you realize the armies on the new island completely outclass your own. Of course, that's what makes the game so much fun.

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