Wot I Think – King’s Bounty: Crossworlds

By Alec Meer on August 31st, 2010 at 9:54 pm.

Oops. This was intended to be an initial impressions post rather than a Wot I Think, as I didn’t have the time to give Crossworlds enough of a shake for a verdict. Or so I thought, in my guilelessness. This is a King’s Bounty game, though. It’s a strategy-roleplaying mash-up that plum doesn’t care whether you have time or not. Show it even a hint of your soul and it’ll eat it, with a beaming smile but without any remorse whatsoever.

So here I am, far too many hours later: exhausted, behind on a frightening number of chores, fascinating webgames and half-hearted calls to family members, but merrily game-sated and with my pointy finger of judgement all ready to go. I’ve missed you, Kingy-kins.

Context Party Time first. Crossworlds is nominally the third in 1C/Katauri’s reborn King’s Bounty series, but really it’s the second expansion pack in standalone clothing. I don’t really begrudge 1C that, as I’d like them to make money and thus put the requisite resources into a proper sequel (or the upcoming online version), but it’s important to not go into either Crossworlds or forerunner Armoured Princess expecting something wildly new.

Superficially, Crossworlds is the most cynical yet – having Armoured Princess’ campaign at its core with a bunch of bonus content bolted on. Specifically, a bunch of new quests, units, spells and whatnot for the main story, plus two new mini-games encouraging heightened tactical thinking. Of course, King’s Bounty’s mini-game is another game’s full campaign: there is a lot of content here. There’s even the vanilla version of AP included, in case you missed out on that.

I’m not terribly interested in the embiggening gumpf for the Armoured Princess campaign; I always felt that lore-heavy expandalone abandoned the madcap satire of King’s Bounty: The Legend in the first place, and simply more weight to something already so fatted isn’t much of a draw. I want punchy anecdote-fuelling strangeness, not simply more sprawl.

But there’s more orcs, more tactic combinations, more items and more item-battling. If King’s Bounty’s purpose is primarily as a timesink that scratches the dual itches of strategy and roleplaying, then this is very much the proof of that hour-pudding. For a lazy weekend I’m glad it’s there, but it feels like something I’ve already done to death.

For me, what makes Crossworlds gleam and pirouette so desirably is in the mini-campaigns, where it experiments with just how far it can push what’s proven to be a limited formula. This isn’t StarCraft 2; the game cannot delve off into strange tangents, because it is only really about arranging two armies against each other on hexes.

One of the new mini-campaigns triumphs because it focuses purely on boss fights: the all too rarely-seen biggest hitters of the last two games, screen-high monstrosities equipped with frankly unfair powers such as off-map mega-tentacles, infinite spider-spawns and the ability to fatally bury half the map in rock. Such fights are spaced far apart in the main games, and often encountered when you’re worn down by endless smaller fights and fielding a pathetic, ad-hoc motley crew of whatever units you can afford/find.

Here though, it’s a string of a half-dozen mega-battles, with each one rewarding you comically generously with gold, experience points and loot. It’s not a cakewalk, however, depending on both the difficulty setting and which school of combat you pursue. Rather, it’s a chance to really explore the game’s possible strategies, to buy and combine all the complentary units that are often too sporadically-provided to really make the best of, to accrue item sets and enjoy their bonuses: essentially, to try out all the finer detail that you know the game is capable of, but lack the time, energy and savegames to otherwise bring to bear.

While you can carve through the lot and become king of fights within a couple of hours, that’s not really the point. You’ll do that by joining the first guild on offer, the Undead Veterans, and duly hiring only ghosties and ghoulies and zombies and vampiries and necromanceries until you’ve brute-forced everything to death. That’s just to start you off. What you’re really supposed to do is, as you accrue gold and levels, join the other guilds – the dwarves, the orcs, the demons, even the paltry humans. Each race has distinct strategies and combination powers, demanding greater attention but greater rewards – both visual and in terms of artful destructive merriment. It’s an opportunity to really go deep in KB’s mechanics, rather than to blunder through being given sequentially beefier stuff.

Moreover, it’s what a time-starved urchin such as I has been craving since The Legend. More of a formula I loved, but without having to commit to 20+ of wibbly, unevenly translated dialogue and far too much tedious lore. The main campaign has that, and frankly the pages of text bore me senseless now it’s decided to be a capital-F Franchise rather than dick around further with the zombie-bedding, unkempt playfulness of the first game. The arena mode is something I’ll go back to repeatedly, determined to better myself, to try new stuff, to investigate the orc buffing tricks, to try and afford the complete Vampire gear set… It’s a sort of King’s Bounty: Greatest Hits mode, but most importantly it’s encouraging you to do better, rather than to simply slog through.

The other, longer mini-game acts a coda to Armoured Princess, documenting a slightly spurious set of battles following the blithering climax of the last game. Rather than being more of the same, these are about the game being an absolute penis to you. Honestly: a massive, spiny cock of unfairness. Which is exactly why it’s great.

Tiles that teleport units back to the start. Buildings that endlessly spawn new enemies. A corridor full of deadly laser traps you have to traverse before laying the holy smackdown on the lizardfolk beyond. It’s comically unfair, but somehow balanced just so it’s still possible – and enough so that you’ll keep going. It’s breaking the rules to keep you interested; wearing sexy clothes but throwing pins at your face whenever you get near.

It’s exactly why I fell in love with King’s Bounty: The Legend in the first place. It’s taking a fairly staid formula – Heroes of Might and Magic’s turn-based battles – and pouring weird chemicals into its brain, creating something comfortably familiar but even more comfortingly unhinged.

I wish Crossworlds did more, especially given the melodramatic title. It’s showing us the same core stuff, the same core places and the same core fights, and I really need it to move on after three years. But this is as far as it could sensibly push what it is capable of, and it goes much further than Armoured Princess, the staid and unambitious middle-child of this vital series, ever did.

As such, it’s the title I’m going to nod to whenever anyone asks me which KB game to pick up. It mightn’t have the anecdotal power of the first, but that surprise delight was also hamstrung by a dreary, grindy second half. Crossworlds is a game you can tackle in peppy chunks, enjoying a series of fresh experiences rather than one over-long one. This is the status quo-perverting wonder that made King’s Bounty sing, now extended to its strategy rather than just its setting. It might cling to safety in the broadest sense, but it’s impossibly clever and cartoonish where it matters.

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60 Comments »

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  1. Vinraith says:

    Sounds fantastic, and I’ve been a sucker for anything with “King’s Bounty” on the label since the original Genesis game when I was a kid . Out of curiosity, though, does Crossworld’s completely invalidate any need to own Armoured Princess? That is, is there any benefit to having AP if you have Crossworlds, and is there anything in AP that didn’t make it in to Crossworlds? I’ll still buy it regardless, but I’ll be kind of annoyed if there was really no reason to have picked up AP in light of the new one.

  2. Alex Bakke says:

    Did you pick booze or caffeine?

    Or both?

  3. pakoito says:

    Sh*t I just bought the first one for 10 quid…

    • Premium User Badge

      Sunjumper says:

      Don’t worry that means more King’s Bounty goodness for you.
      The first part is still rather excelent and once you have finnished it you might get Crossworlds a bit cheaper. And then you have them all!

  4. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I’m sorry.

    That fairy/nymph on the first picture is making me horny.

    I’m sorry.

    • Xercies says:

      BAN THIS SICK FILTH!

      But i don’t blame you she is quite nice. But i’m afraid what that says about us both lol.

    • geldonyetich says:

      “I appreciate you’re bent over and waiting, my dear, but I must say that lumbering monstrosity you’re using as a perch is totally killing my mood.”

      Ahem, prying my mind out of that gutter for a bit, I’ll just say that I’ll be waiting until I finish the original King’s Bounty and Armored Princess before moving on to the expansion… which may take quite awhile, these games are (as the article suggests) massive time sinks.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      Stay hard, I mean strong, and resist your temptations! There are people brave enough to have that kinds of fantasy pictures set as their wallpapers:
      http://img541.imageshack.us/img541/413/creditsbg1680.png
      (this one courtesy of 1C forum user)

      This is a credits screen of KB:AP, by the way.

    • Vinraith says:

      @geldonyetich

      You don’t want to finish AP before you play Crossworlds, since Crossworlds expands the AP campaign.

  5. MindFukr says:

    Steam release date?

    • Oneironaut says:

      1C’s website says it will be released on September 17th.

    • Javier-de-Ass says:

      at least armored princess had a simultaneous, or just a couple of hours/days later release on steam compared to gamersgate, you’ll should be fine here aswell. even if they don’t advertise for it beforehand. although I suspect it’ll get one of those startup splash screens a couple of days before it’s out.

  6. Auspex says:

    Damn it! The impending release of Crossworlds has been the only thing stopping me from buying (and subsequently pouring numerous hours into) Armoured Princess.

    Do we know when it’ll be out?

  7. Dominic White says:

    Whew. I suddenly find myself rather glad that I didn’t pay for Armored Princess. No, I didn’t pirate it – it was part of my Metaboli (Gametap UK, and totally better than its US counterpart) subscription. Means that I don’t need to hesitate to buy this one.

    Although I WILL give it a few weeks after release to see if it turns up on Metaboli as well.

  8. Freud says:

    I loved the first one they did, but have no real desire to play either expansions. I guess I’m all King’s Bountyed up.

  9. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUcking love kings bounty.

  10. Gothnak says:

    Yay, still playing KB, it’s that icon that sits in the top left of my desktop when i think ‘i have no idea what i want to play’… I’ve only just got to the Elven & Demon worlds (At the same time, which i think is slightly out of sync on my part)… So, i can finish that off, and by then, this should be on sale on Steam and i’ll pick it up and carry on.. :)

    Can someone please do another Etherlords now too?

    • origo says:

      Etherlords, wow, now that’s something i’d like to see reborn. MtG fights in 3d done right, yum, yum. Story and landscapes could use iprovements though.

  11. getter77 says:

    I bought the rest upon timely Gamersgate sales, and I shall do likewise with this one.

    Also, unless my memory fails, wasn’t Crossworlds supposed to be the one that lets loose on more of the modding capable front?

  12. hun23 says:

    @pakoito
    The first (well, first new one) has been on GoG for the past few weeks. You could have bought it there for $9.99 US, unless you wanted a box.

    I played the hell out of AP and enjoyed every odd moment of it

  13. BooleanBob says:

    25 comments in, and nobody else thought that King’s Bounty: Crosswords was challenging Bookworm Adventures for the crown of the Word Puzzle/RPG subgenre?

    • MWoody says:

      You’ve hit on something here. Puzzle Quest style revamp of a puzzle genre with metagame, only this time focused on crossword puzzles.

      YOUR AXE DOES 8 DAMAGE TO SQUARE 8/D. YOU HAVE REVEALED A LETTER!

    • dadioflex says:

      @mwoody You’ve just described Bookworm Adventures. Brilliant game to play with kids. Until you realise you’re shouting at them not to hit submit at CAT because you’re searching the board for a six letter smackdown.

    • terry says:

      My exact first thought upon misreading the article title. There’s a criminal lack of cryptic crossword puzzlers and I could see a Nelson Tethers-style affair doing quite well :-(

  14. Gritz says:

    Will there ever be a WIT for Victoria 2?

  15. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    I liked KB until I was done with the first area but was (almost literally) out of troops and the game ran out of units for me to buy. Was a real kick in the butt moving to the new area with tougher enemies and me without reinforcements. I was probably terrible at it to lose so much arrow fodder, but still…

    • Vinraith says:

      Yeah, some of the challenge of the intro areas is in managing to get by on the troops you have access to. As the story progresses some troop sources replenish, and at higher levels some sources of lower level troops become infinite, but it’s important to be careful about how you burn those early troops and the game should be much more clear about that. You can always come back to an area to get extra goodies, so there’s no need to fight the tougher optional armies until you’ve got more firepower.

    • qrter says:

      Really? There’s a limit to the amount of troops you can buy? What would be the point of that, especially when it’s never mentioned within the games?

      I’ve played KB and AP and never bumped into limits like that, but I play at pretty low difficulty levels.

    • mrmud says:

      It says so right next to the troop your buying…
      I dont understand how you could have missed it.

    • dadioflex says:

      Troop management made me stop playing KB about two thirds of the way through and about a third of the way through AP. Backtracking to the vendors was a chore, and both games had run out of charm long before I got bored with them. That was on NORMAL, maybe I would have liked it more on EASY.

      But then there’s people saying they love the game, but haven’t gotten as far as I did in KB. If they love it, why haven’t they finished it? Any psychologists out there, is there a need in many people to strongly identify with their peers’ interests like this? There is, isn’t there? Oh earthlings, you ever baffle and amuse me.

    • pipman3000 says:

      because they don’t obsessively backtrack to the starting town to restock every time they lose a peasant.

      buy the troops from the local dwellings and stash the weakened ones in a castle some where. that’s what they’re there for.

      or better yet don’t let your troops die like imperium conscripts.

    • pipman3000 says:

      be ibraum gaunt not zapp brannigan.

    • Clovis says:

      I got burned out on King’s Bounty because I always felt the need to bring an overwhelming force with me. I quickly understood that troops were limited, so I was constantly worried about them dying. Like most strategy games, the more troops you bring to the battle, the less troops you lose. So, I’d obsessively restock my army all the time. That required annoying backtracking, even when using local troops as much as made sense.

      Some commenter once mentioned the idea of just being able to restock from anywhere. Why can’t you do that? Would it hurt the game at all? Once you’ve cleared a path it pretty much stays clear, so what’s the point of making the player traipse all over the world? The game is full of magic, so why can’t I have a magic portal connecting all troop spawning locations that I’ve found? It would make the strategy more fun too. I often didn’ t even try certain combinations because I didn’t feel like walking to the other side of the map. This is just one of those old gaming conventions that just needs to die.

      Anyway, regardless of that, the game really was fun for a good 30+ hours. I own AP, but haven’t really played it much yet.

  16. netsukemonkey says:

    @ Clovis

    Totally agree.

    I always wished for a better transportation system in KB The Legend – particularly in the later stages where I spent ages back-tracking to get my favourite troops. It took a lot of enjoyment out of completing the game.

    Of course, a counter point might be that I’m supposed to adapt and use the local resources around me, which to some extent I did, but my army always felt strangely empty without my Royal Snakes and Dwarfen Cannoneers! Still loved it despite this flaw and it plays a large part in my decision not to play Armoured Princess (that, and the fact it’s a massive time sink!)

    • Zogtee says:

      I get this image of snakes, demons, archmages, and dragons hanging out at every inn, waiting for the royal treasure hunter to pass by.

      Also, If I read the article right, the series of boss fights was a mini campaign and a smaller part of the game proper.

    • Zogtee says:

      My reply above was directed at Hamster, btw.

  17. hamster says:

    I’m also one of the guys who have this crazy obsessiveness of keeping my troops on tip top condition and preferrably end fights with minimal or zero losses. I don’t do this by running back to town/inns anymore – I do this by using spells like SACRIFICE. More specifically, attack with unit, then sacrifice it to bolster another troop, then TIME BACK so it’s back to full health. Alternatively, I sacrifice troops that i can get an infinite quantity of. Do you have any idea how long it took me to replenish my troop of demons? Not that long but it was painful and how i spend alot of my time – just replenshing necros, demons, skellies, lake fairies etc. And this is all because there are very limited quantities of these troops in my game, and some of them are sold really far away.

    IMO this is something that ought to be fixed. If you unlock a certain troop type, these troops should be available at all merchant inns. Also, how ’bout unlocking some special troops for a reward? There’s nothing like freeing that crazy archmage of doom from his staff of doom in his tower in Arlania only to be offered 13 Archmages for sale. With empty item slots too. Imagine, instead, that you get special archmages, or unlimited archmages.

    Regardless, I think the game is still pretty darn fun. You really have to be strategic/tactical. There are some people that have beaten the game on Impossible without losing a single troop. Jesus christ. Although ever since halfway through the Elven lands i’ve had zero losses i’m still losing guys when i engage in tough fights (i.e. KARADOR: holy crap.) Anyway i’ve been rambling for long enough. I think i’ll pass on Crossworlds since it doesn’t seem like another full campaign but a series of boss fights and I already have Armored Princess anyway. Would like to know, regardless, what and how many new units/spells have been added and whether they are significant.

    • Clovis says:

      It would be pretty cool if at any inn/castle/whatever you could pull up a screen showing everything available to you. Plus a bunch of empty grey boxes for all the stuff you can unlock later. It’d give the game a “gotta’ catch ‘em all” feel.

      Anyway, the other advantage is that you could see all the stats and bonuses really easily. I’m pretty sure I totally skipped over some creatures because I forgot they even existed. Sure, I could look at spreadsheet online for this, but then it’s back to the world travelling to get the team together. It’d be so much fun to pick a crazy group of guys and then quickly get to try them out.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      There is a nice little utility called Game Scanner, which lists all creatures and items in shops, chests and other places. They are generated at the start of game. Believe me, if you want to have a no-loss game then this is a must, unless on easy (or you have both experience and luck) Why? Because you’ll know whether you get your preferred units suited for your preferred strategy – or not. Or items.

      I’ve never had any problems with recruiting too, unless my hero was levelling too fast. But with Sacrifice, Resurrection, Time Back, paladins, demonologists and inquisitors you can create your own troops (only sacrifice is always needed, others are optional). In KBAP I travel to other isles not to recruit but to finish a quest or terminate some remaining foes.

      I consider KBAP to be better than KBTL, because it’s really just the same, but with many little fixes and changes which make life/playing easier and more fun. There are some bugs carried over from KBTL, for instance inquisitors raised from dead as creatures of darkness – other inquisitors, and the four official mods are necessity, but I like it better than HOMM5 or other such games (which have some merits on their own). I like this tactical kind of strategy, where you are a warrior, and not some custodian who needs to care about castles, stables, finances and all that unfunny crap.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      Correction: the utility I mentioned is called Save Scanner:
      http://forum.1cpublishing.eu/showthread.php?t=11780

  18. squirrelfanatic says:

    @hamster: You can find a lot info about Crossworlds on the official forum. Some of the new units have already been revealed as it seems.

    I don’t know if it has been mentioned before, but there will be several different versions of the game with different pricings. I.e., owners of AP will get a discount price for CW (I think it was 19,99$, more info somewhere on the forum, as already mentioned). This might also be the reason for the general confusion about whether you need AP to be installed on your computer or not in order to run CW.

  19. Vinraith says:

    Preorders are up for both the “requires AP” and “doesn’t require AP” versions on Gamersgate, complete with links to this article.

  20. Confuddled says:

    I still don’t get it.
    Will this be Armored Princess as a core story and plotline, but with extra side dishes inside it, or will this be a seperate game that’s got the same character, dragon, but different and seperate plot / game / locations?

    What I am saying is: Will Crossworlds be identical to playing AP, but enhanced, or am I missing something if I never buy / install AP?

    And accordingly, will I have a levelling dragon in both? NEEDZ TEH CUTE DRAGONZ!

    • Javier-de-Ass says:

      it isn’t standalone. it’s the expansion to armored princess and requires it to run

    • Saiko Kila says:

      It will have both. There are three versions (depending on the market, i.e. county), the cheapest one requires KBAP and is the best for people who have invested in the game already and it’s an EXPANSION, the middle one has KBAP included (STANDALONE, or base+expansion if you wish) and the deluxe version, most expensive, has even KBTL, the first game included. There is a modified campaign with KBAP, and two new campaigns (one with male hero, one with Amelie from KBAP). And editor.

  21. Angelo says:

    Are there any screenshots of the editor? Does it come with every game versions?

  22. CWalker00 says:

    Mildly related, Kings Bounty The Legend is £2.50 on GOG.com. That’s a steal.

  23. Fumarole says:

    Crossworlds is on Steam now for $10 for preorder, with The Legend thrown in as a bonus. I may have to get this one.

  24. Nick says:

    Loved both games, though after playing the Legends through on hard twice, I’d racked up something like 160 of gameplay though…

    Found AP quite challenging, only finished on normal cause I couldn’t earn enough gold to replenish army and progress in hard after about the third island. Anyone else have more luck? A few tips on teh strategy you used?

  25. John Doe says:

    Just something to know, but for some reason everyone on steam now owns this game, even if they didn’t buy it.