Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, monster-based monster strategy (again!) with (even more!) monsters King’s Bounty: The Dark Side.
Last week I moaned about not being able to get monsters to work together to destroy humankind. I should have just waited for this week, when King’s Bounty: The Dark Side (or just Dark Side, depending on what you’re reading) gave me the monster team-up of my dreams. Zombies, demons, vampires, orcs, goblins, imps, three-headed dogs, skeletal archers, necromancers, and even dragons, all in the mix, and more importantly all working together for monsterkind.
The monster factions in the world of King’s Bounty are reeling. Elves (goddamn elves!) have invaded the orcs’ homeland, the vampires have been overrun with Van Helsing wannabes, and human knights have laid waste to the kingdom of demons. I’ve chosen to play as the demoness, Neoline, hoping she’ll be a more interesting tactical choice than the orc, who I assume just hits things with a cleaver. And I don’t want to play as a vampire because, I dunno, aren’t we kind of tired of vampires by now?
As Neoline, I’m tasked with defending what’s left of the demon empire and searching for some way to fight back against the encroachment of humankind. I quickly gather some monster units: a crowd of fire elementals, several imps, and whatever the plural of a cerberus is. They all eagerly follow my battle orders despite the fact that I’m wearing a g-string, not exactly the sort of garb that would inspire confidence during times of war. I’m not the only one, either: both types of demonesses I recruit are also wearing thongs. I hope one of my quests will be to find us all some pants.
The Dark Side is like, what, the 23rd “expandalone” for King’s Bounty? But, it’s actually my first exposure to the series, and I’m super-digging the mix-and-match combat with my collection of monsters. Currently, my favorite move is to send my stout three-headed dogs charging across the board for a bite attack, then wait for my enemies to surround him on all sides, which they invariably do. At that point I have my demoness use her teleportation spell to swap my cerberi with my fire elemental. Oh, you thought you had a dog surrounded? No, you have a fire thing surrounded, and it can explode into an even bigger fire thing, burning anyone surrounding it. Suckers!
Of course, I can’t stick with one set of monsters for too long, as I’m constantly coming across new beasties to add to my posse, and there are only so many slots. It’s hard to resist trading in my demonesses for some creaking skeletal archers, because there’s just something cool about skeletal archers. Some zombie units become available, and there’s no way I can pass on sending a crew of maggoty undeads lurching into combat. Goblins, I could probably pass on, but these aren’t simply goblins, they’re Furious Goblins! I must have them. I’m in monster heaven! Which I guess is hell, technically. I’m in hell!
As with Endless Legend, I’m a little dismayed when I have to pit my collection of monsters against other collections of monsters — my dream is for all monsters to be united — but I have to admit that twice as many monsters on the battlefield make combat twice as much fun, even if they’re not all on my side. I see vampires who can transform into bats, necromancers who can raise the fallen, laser-shooting floating beholders, flying griffins, giant snakes and spiders, even ancient bears (which are I guess are just bears, but older and thus more knowledgeable about bear combat).
I even unlock The Book of Evil, which I sort of expect to just be a simple spell, but it turns out it’s a giant book that actually scuttles around on the battlefield. A giant evil book! It bites enemies, and can summon a giant floating skull to vomit on people. It’s a giant evil monster book. It’s the best.
Things take a bit of a turn when I run into a real monster, a proper monster, perhaps the king of all monsters: a dragon. At first we just chat, and I think maybe we’ll be friends, but then he suddenly decides, nope, he’s gonna eat me. He fries my beloved cerebri. He toasts my imps, who have been with me from the beginning. He trashes the orc unit I’ve picked up and makes mere bones out of my skeletons. Eventually, I manage to beat him, at which point he agrees to allow me to add dragon units to my army, under the condition that I first bring him a princess to marry. As luck would have it, I recently met one.
Princess Sally is her name, and she recently sent me on a quest to turn two women, her perceived competition, into toads. I didn’t opt to do this, I just tricked her into thinking I had. Don’t get me wrong: I’m an evil monster, and turning people into toads is something an evil monster would do, and I’m totally on board with the evilness of that. It’s just that as much as I’ve been enjoying the monster-mashing this game provides, I’ve also been experiencing a growing concern while playing.
See, a recent quest offered to me by a man was to fight some pirates that were giving him trouble. The princess, meanwhile, having accepted the toads, offered to pay me in kisses. Okay, sure, she’s the stereotypical princess: spoiled, clueless, I get it. But another quest involving a woman led to her eagerly seducing a knight.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve encountered a quest centered around a woman — or even a conversation centered around a woman — that didn’t involve jealousy, seduction, love potions, or beauty. And just look at my own badass demoness, Neoline. She has a little monster advisor who can offer three attacks in battle. For the orc-themed attack, called ORC STRIKE, he transforms into a two-story orc and summons a spectral weapon to plummet onto the enemy. For the vampire attack, called NECROPACK, a dark cloud of hellish skulls sweeps along the hexes. The demoness attack? It’s called JEALOUSY. It summons a gold statue of a naked woman that other creatures fight to protect. Uh. Barf?
Now, like I said, this is my first King’s Bounty game, so I’m not entirely sure how to take all this. The game seems to have an off-kilter sense of humor, so perhaps it’s trying to poke fun at these fantasy stereotypes? It’s also an unfinished game, and I haven’t even finished the unfinished part, so I’m really not trying to point a stern finger of absolute judgement. I’m just asking, really. What do you all think?
I mean, I’m supposed to be a badass demon, right? Then why are my responses often that of a timid child?