Wot I Think – King’s Bounty: Warriors Of The North

By Alec Meer on October 30th, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

Oddly the Valkyries are a whole lot less soft-porny in the game itself - it's just the title screen that gets over-excited about them

The fourth game in Katauri Interactive’s reboot of olden strategy/RPG hybrid King’s Bounty is out now. Warriors Of The North requires no knowledge of the earlier games, involving a new storyline and a new hero, and a whole lot of Norse mythology-inspired beasts and magic. More of the cheerful same or a new take on what’s become somewhat routine? Here’s what I think.

I should probably be angry. If I’m moved to shake my fist at the uncaring heavens about identikit military shooters year after year, I should certainly be similarly resentful that the initially super-fresh King’s Bounty series is now on its fourth near-indistinguishable game.

And yet. And yet. Like Armoured Princess and Crossworlds before it, Warriors of the North seems somehow so happy to exist. I’m not in the business of kicking puppies even if one did wee all over my carpet. There are any number of longboats Warriors of the North should and could have pushed out, but instead it settles for adding Nordic units and fine-tuning existing mechanics and not a whole lot more.

It looks the same, it feels the same, it plays the same, and as such I pretty can only say the same things about it as before. Although it does have a HEROIC FANTASY soundtrack so subtletly-free and overblown that I came to love it even though it’s indefensible. But somehow, its robust turn-based-strategy/real-time roleplaying/overland exploring systems, comparable to an infinitely cheerier and more streamlined Heroes of Might & Magic, and its semi-incoherent, consistently enthusiastic absurdist babble makes me warm to it despite myself. D’aww, how could I ever be angry at that face?

A future in which I played a new and not particularly changed King’s Bounty game ever year is not a bad future. Then again I do quite enjoy the Great British Bake-Off and entirely expect to watch it again next year, which probably says a frightening amount about just how easily I take to cosy, unambitious, inoffensive things. I’m a creature who craves calm and comfort, and by God King’s Bounty games give me that. They’re my annual pair of new slippers for Christmas.

But I would love to see them strive as well as maintain that cuddly, compulsive formula.

I’d like, for instance, the new half dozen-odd Viking units to be real game-changers rather than slightly more melodramatic variants of existing units.

I’d like the hero powers, now primarily based around Valykries rather than spectral summons or Armoured Princess’ cutesy dragon, to become agonising and deadly tactical choices rather than so-so spells, and I’d like to have them used against me rather than purely by me.

I’d like the island-hopping that the series now prefers to slowly trudging from zone to zone to offer a true choice of route rather than a fixed order.

I’d like the game’s world to be alive, rather than having fixed enemies in fixed places and becoming empty wastelands once you’ve cleared them out.

I’d love multiplayer.

I’d love a fleshed-out economy which entailed generating specific reinforcements from specific captured/defended territories, rather than just buying from fixed unit stocks as you encounter them.

I’d also like a bigger telly and a second cat, but actually my existing telly’s fine and my cat’s adorable, so maybe I should just stop moaning. I’ve had a happy 20 hours with Warriors of the North and if I really was so damned upset that it was just the same as always, that figure wouldn’t have had a zero at the end of it.

Tellingly though, that figure starts with a 2 rather than a 4, and that’s because, as with its three predecessors, WOTN is over-long and can’t maintain its early energy. An initially playful start, with quests including getting vikings drunk then curing their hangovers, gradually gives way to relentless fetch quests across multiple large zones, with a poor mapping/questlog system making it a headache to work out exactly who was were once you’ve obtained/killed the relevant item/enemies.

I’d be far happier with 20 hours of steadily escalating battles than with 40 of bimbling around fighting the same old zombies and skellingtons again and again. The dialogue remains peppy throughout, in its somewhat translation-mangled way, but the game has only so many tricks up its sleeves – we’ve married zombies, we’ve pulled dragons’ teeth, we’ve fought inside our own belts, and because of half of that stuff happens only in text it now feels like an old man telling increasingly tired jokes at the dinner table, not a series of beautifully absurd events.

And yet. Twenty hours of my time isn’t easily given away these days, so I must have done it for a reason. That reason is a finely-crafted upgrade system, the slow and frequently-rewarded pursuit of new skills, better skills and larger armies. Same as it ever was, but there’s a sense of real effect as you construct your own skill tree or add a new type of unit to your army (for instance the beefy viking Jarls or the huge, ugly Jotun ice-giants) – not the piddly, fractional boosts of a Diablolike.

It’s fine! It should be a £10 expansion pack rather than a £25 expandalone, and as such I can’t in good conscience recommend Warriors of the North over picking up King’s Bounty: The Legend or Crossworlds for far less. It is more finely-balanced, it is free of the slightly grating cutsiness of Armoured Princess and being a big, tough, hairy viking on a flying pony (a quickly-obtained alternate means of navigating around the large overland maps) is a constant delight. So, for this year, I guess I’m okay with another pair of slippers and another series of the Great British Bake-Off. Next year I want Doc Martens and a chilli competition, though.

King’s Bounty: Warriors Of The North is out now.

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60 Comments »

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  1. President Weasel says:

    Is more of the same really such a bad thing if it’s a good same, and the more is done well?
    Discuss. (yes, I know Alec just did. You can too, thread commenters)
    As someone who happily paid for both Mount and Blade Warband and With Fire and Sword, I am perfectly happy to live in a universe with iterations, when the iterations are decent and not too expensive.

    • Greggh says:

      Could not understand half of your post.

      Also, “more of the same” means its the same thing, in a fresh package. If you add more, to the same, its no longer “more of the same”, its more, in the same… wait… your post made me confused, scratch that.

      • ScubaMonster says:

        What? I understood perfectly what he said. Anyway…

        I personally don’t mind if a new game or “sequel” is basically the same as its predecessors as long as it’s done on the same level of quality. It’s like having a billion Mega Man games that are basically the same thing but still fun. I actually think it’s worse when they change something completely, or at least too much from the original.

        • atticus says:

          My 8-yearold self called. He wanted you all to know that Mega Man 2 is the best game ever.

          Anyone shaping a nostalgic smile to that sentence should immediately head to ocremix.org and download some mp3’s. Trust me.

        • valz says:

          The post didn’t make sense. If you understood it perfectly, that means you made up what he meant in your own head, based on assumptions. That said, I suspect most of us came to the same conclusions – his meaning is fairly obvious, despite being expressed bizarrely.

          • slight says:

            His post absolutely makes sense. It’s a little florid but it definitely makes sense.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Did you know there are no more dutch elms left in Britain

    • ScubaMonster says:

      I guess it’s a fine line you have to walk. Don’t change hardly anything then you get yearly Call of Duty titles with hardly enough difference to matter. Change something completely then you have a sequel that does nothing for the fans of the original. I guess a good rule of thumb is to take the original and just add more to it.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Saying Discuss as an imperative in a post is self-aggrandizing and juvenile.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Whereas saying discus is juvenile and a pun.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        Thank God we have important, humble posts such as these to set us aright in these matters of such high importance.

    • geerad says:

      I think what’s best is a tick-tock cycle, like Intel does with processors.
      Tick: New and interesting game
      Tock: more-of-the-same sequel with some refinements
      Tick: New and interesting sequel

  2. SuperNashwanPower says:

    That totally is he-man

  3. Eschatos says:

    I do think you meant “indefensible.” Otherwise a nice review with a not-unexpected conclusion. While it would be nice if Kings Bounty would reinvent itself or innovate, I’ll be happy to spend $30 as soon as I tear myself away from Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.

  4. JackMultiple says:

    Oh, now I see what you meant. For some inexplicable reason, I misread your intro as “…Norse mythology-inspired breasts and magic”.

    • Lanfranc says:

      It wouldn’t surprise me if some people would bristols at that top image.

  5. Squirrelfanatic says:

    Do I see it correctly that the Big Ol’ Spiderboss has yet another comeback in this game? They could at least have pretended to be innovative with that fella and re-skinned it to be a frost spider or something.

  6. bluebomberman says:

    Do you still have to run around all over to get your preferred units?

    • NathanH says:

      This is important to me as well, I cannot stand having to piss around for ages getting my favourite units together.

  7. Mattressi says:

    I was considering it until I saw that the Vikings have horned helmets.

    • lordcooper says:

      You must be horrible to live with.

      • Mattressi says:

        I guess I should have clarified – I already own Armoured Princess, so the only reason I was interested in this was because Vikings are awesome. But, the Vikings in this are the typical not-Vikings. No reason to get it if my only reason for being interested is gone.

  8. Drake Sigar says:

    This feels like another repeat of my feelings over Mount & Blade. I’m waiting for a full blown sequel – the next evolutionary step in the franchise, not another expansion!

  9. Armante says:

    Hmm. So RPS has come out against misogyny and the depiction of women in videogames, yet you post the pic at the top with five scantily clad females, and Hotline Miami’s WIT gets similar treatment.
    Bit surprised at that..

    • Zanchito says:

      What about the depiction of men as testosterone filled meatbags with their arms wider than their heads, solving everything by bashing it (or shooting it) to pieces? Equally sexist and distasteful to me.

      • Drake Sigar says:

        That image is meant to appeal to men though, because that’s who we wanna’ be.

        • Zanchito says:

          And women want to be thin, curvy and gorgeous, same thing. Everybody likes being as fit for attracting good mating partners as possible.

          • AngoraFish says:

            I don’t know about you, but I look exactly like that guy… well, expect for the axe.

    • lordcooper says:

      Thing is, Norse Mythology itself was quite sexist. They’re just working with the source material.

      http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Freyja.aspx

    • Drake Sigar says:

      I’m not entirely sure how posting the… box art or title art (whatever you want to call it) of a videogame translates to an endorsement. Furthermore, the art on Hotline Miami doesn’t have a scantily clad female for the sake of it. The girl is likely a drug-addled hooker in a bad place, being rescued by a masked sociopath who for one shining moment taps into his buried chivalrous instinct. The image accurately represents the game and the seedy grimy world it’s based around. Freakin’ context, man. Maybe you should look into that next time instead of implying any female not wearing a burka should be covered because oh dear god, I can see her elbow!

      I’m teasing on that last part (most of it). Sexism is a big problem in games, but is every single image with a scantily clad female sexist? No, of course not.

      • NathanH says:

        Well, you could say that featuring a scantily-clad woman to appeal to appeal to the male audience’s adolescent “save the hottie” fantasy and so reaffirm their manly chivalrousness is clearly sexist. But if you were to say that I would have to hit Reply and say “Oh don’t be such a bore”.

    • Sarkhan Lol says:

      I’m glad they posted it or I wouldn’t have known how ridiculous it was.

      • Sarkhan Lol says:

        Don’t stop though, I love our >:( RPS HYPOCRISY >:( threads. Have you noticed how they like some games but not others?? HMMMM.

        • NathanH says:

          I heard that they only like games that Robert Florence has paid them to like.

          • atticus says:

            Word on the street is that John Walker tweeted hashtag #kingsbounty4everrulez in order to win a Gameboy Advance.

  10. InternetBatman says:

    It’s important to note that this game was not made by the original developers. This could be a good thing, but it will probably lead to more identikit games.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      Exactly, I don’t know why this article even bears the tag “Katauri Interactive”, as this was made by 1C-SoftClub. 1C are clearly milking the series for all it’s worth until gamers are nauseated, a bit like all those Painkiller “sequels” were made, but not by the original devs.

      Meanwhile Katauri are still working on their new MMO Royal Quest. Too bad I don’t like MMOs and that they often spell doom for development studios.

      • Serpok says:

        This royal quest is already out and it’s a quite weak f2p grinder

  11. Flavioli says:

    I for one don’t mind one bit if they release similar iterations of games I love, with incremental improvements. I LOVED all the previous King’s Bounty games so I was very excited to see this game hit the Steam “shelves”. In fact, I hoped dearly that they wouldn’t change the formula in any significant way, and I’m happy to say they didn’t, for the most part.

    That said, this iteration does have some pretty annoying issues compared to the previous games. For one, hard mode is, thus far, pretty damn easy (except that damn spider boss, that’s a pain). I have never yet been even remotely short on money; about 4 or 5 hours in I had over 200k gold, in contrast with Princess where I was always short on gold at the beginning, which made finding more gold feel thrilling and rewarding, and encouraged careful gameplay and good choices of units. Also, almost every unit you can buy in the first few areas are vikings, and the rest are usually not very interesting (wolves, bears, snakes and the like); nothing interesting like royal thorns, assassins, etc. The most annoying bit is that probably around 99% of the enemies you face are the same undead units, as far as where I got (about 10 hours in). I have yet to see a single dwarf, elf, human, lizard, orc, demon and most neutral classes… gets a bit monotonous. You might also notice that playing in hard you will barely see any enemies rated in red (such as lethal, etc), and a very large number of them will be rated weak, which kind of makes me wish there were more challenging armies. Also, as Alec mentioned, you get the flying horse pretty much immediately, which some might like, but I felt really took away the challenge of pulling enemies out of alcoves to try to get around… it also makes the levels all seem much smaller and makes getting away from danger totally trivial, so there’s never really any sense of danger anymore. There also doesn’t seem to be any way to equip your “followers” with items like before… you can donate items to Valkyries (your followers in this game), which boosts a few select bonuses, but they can’t equip items, so all those interesting artifacts you find will most likely give way to a really good one you get early in the game (since you can only carry one). It’s a pity, cuz they added a ton of items this time around. I would have done many things differently, but what do I know.

    Overall I’d say it’s by far the weakest entry in the KB series so far (again, I’m only about 10 hours in so it might change). Still worth it if you’re a KB fan like myself, but I really hope some of these things get “fixed” a bit in a patch (especially the lack of early enemy variety and the overabundance of money in Hard difficulty).

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      Good to know, thanks for this brief listing of issues. That makes it bargain bin material for me, sadly. I loved the first two games (still have to finish The Legend – I swear I’ll make it this time!) and have only dabbled briefly with Crossworlds. On the one hand, the Viking theme looks fresh and interesting, on the other hand there seem to be fewer improvements to the formula than there are new issues.

      Armored Princess to me was like a less humorous sequel to The Legend but still brought a lot of new ideas to the table and therefore felt like the series was advancing in some way. Apparently this isn’t the case here.

      • Flavioli says:

        There’s some improvements in this one, but not many. I guess I could enumerate some.

        One nice thing to see is that they added a TON of items… seems like there are items flying off the walls, in contrast with The Legend where I really wish they had added more item variety. There is also an option to donate an item to a Valkyrie (each Valkyrie takes a specific type of item, like weapons, regalia, belt/gloves/boots, etc), which “boosts” her bonuses, but that seems to only have a limited effect (not sure if it’s bounded by level, but I can’t give one of them any more items, which bums me out).

        The viking units are pretty interesting, overall. An all-viking team is actually quite fun and effective, although not as much as some of the previous ones like dwarf teams in Crossworlds.

        There is another row of those bonuses you get from “achievements”, for a total of 15 in contrast to 10 in Armored Princess.

        They added lots more spells and abilities, including a new school of spells called “rune” magic. The problem is all the new spells are rune magic, and the old spell schools (chaos, order, distortion) have nothing new. This is annoying if you are not a magic class and want to focus on one school of spells.

        The replacement for the rage abilities are Valkyries and your own character, who has a few abilities… they are ok I guess… not as interesting as the system in The Legend. I’m also a bit ticked off that they still make these abilities potentially get worse at levelup (let’s face it, forcing you into making the rage cost triple for any of your choices is just making all of those abilities worse if you want cheap abilities).

        They boast a “rune” battle system but I think it’s a bit underwhelming… pretty much you can assign some units a rune during the start of each unit’s turn, and there’s a limit per rune (usually one of each, out of three runes). The runes give them a small bonus to either attack, defense or crit chance. The problem is that the effects seem to be almost negligible… turning on an attack rune will cause my dudes to go from like 50-60 kills to something like 52-62 kills. It’s kind of underwhelming, sadly, but at least they did something new.

        The defensive path (skald, previously paladin) gives you a new ability called Edda, which lets you start the battle with the choice of several different bonuses. Not sure what the other 2 classes get.

        Also I’m sure some players will enjoy getting the flying horse early in the game, even though I didn’t.

        I’m sure there are more additions that I haven’t seen yet.

        I should note that I played a few more hours and it seems like things switch gears quite drastically in terms of suddenly making different units available for your army… this was like 13 or 14 hours in for me, but I took my time. Also, if the plot interests you, they did something kinda cool in terms of setting after the spider boss.

  12. lordcooper says:

    Then I shall pay you in flesh wounds.

  13. Lobosolitario says:

    So for a newcomer to the series, which would be the best title to go for?

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      I’d say go for the original, if only because unlike this one it was made by the original dev, Katauri Interactive.

      You can even get it DRM-free on GOG.com.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      I’d also say try The Legend to experience the “real deal”. Armored Princess is still pretty good and has some interesting new mechanics, like in-game achievements that give you bonuses for having killed enemies in a certain way or using a certain set of spells regularly. Also, there is a greater variety in creatures / troops in AP which I liked. It has less funny / weird dialogue though, which was one of the strong points of TL.

      I guess you can’t go wrong with either of them, especially if you can get the Platinum Edition (I think that’s what the bundle containing all new games up until Crossworlds is called) during a sale. Be prepared to play those games for a long time though, not only because they can be a bit addicting, but also because they take quite a while to finish (at least that’s true for me).

  14. TheXand says:

    The King’s Bounty games are my guilty pleasure. They’re so vibrant and gorgeous and a great way of easing stress. This review pretty much hit it on the head.