Review

King's Bounty: Dark Side Review

  • Game release: May 16, 2014
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

You don't know the power of the dark side!

Depending on your age, it might be difficult to get John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band's "On the Dark Side" out of your head during the entire 30-ish hours it takes to finish King's Bounty: Dark Side. Comparisons to a hit single seem oddly apropos here, given how this turn-based strategizer sticks to your brain. The latest addition to the long-running fantasy franchise is expectedly excellent, thanks to tremendous tactical depth both on the battlefield and with character progression, loads of monsters to command, and a turned-on-its-head story that gives the bad guys a starring role.

The plot is straightforward, although there are significant twists and turns from past King's Bounty games. Here, for the first time, you get to choose your starting race. And those races are a long way from the usual heroic figures you guided before. You choose between a vampire lord, a sultry demoness, and an orc warlord, each of whom has been booted from his or her homeland by white-hatted servants of the light. The writers soft-sell a bit of the evil stuff with explanations about how there always has to be a balance between the light and the dark, and a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink humor has been tossed in. (Some translation problems with the text make it hard to take anything too seriously here, in any case.) But the bottom line is that you portray an evil, murderous jerk who turns peasants into zombies for kicks, slaughters enemies for laughs, and seeks out the best people in the land to corrupt for a dark spell that will be used to forge the ultimate anti-good-guy weapon.

Demonic familiar Blackie comes with a creepy kabuki mask as well as some powerful black magic that is very handy on the field of battle.

This ne'er-do-well saga is lengthy, too. All three protagonists get together early on under the guidance of a cowled evil spirit, who provides tips on how to get rid of the light forces. The game is single-player only, and there are a good 30 or more hours of play here. Difficulty settings are dead-on, too. Easy is exactly what it should be, a cakewalk where you rarely find your armies seriously challenged, and the following levels step things up acceptably until you get to the aptly named "impossible." Since tactical fantasy games like this tend to lean on the tough side of things (I still have nightmares about the Disciples series, and there were excruciating moments in the earlier King's Bounty games as well), it's good to see a broad range of difficulty settings to accommodate all players.

As in earlier games in the series, the story plays out over a number of islands that you gradually explore and conquer for the dark side. All come complete with various maps that feature the usual twisty-turny pathways stocked with loads of goodies like chests of the gold that serves as the sole in-game currency and magical artifacts. The isles are attractive, if a little on the cartoony side, and so packed with detail that you may have to squint to make out various types of objects that you can take or rummage through, like snake eggs, chests, coffins, and funeral urns.

You portray an evil, murderous jerk who turns peasants into zombies for kicks, slaughters enemies for laughs, and seeks out the best people in the land to corrupt.

Quests are as detailed as the landscape, with intricate plot points, plenteous dialogue from non-player characters, and multiple steps that make it seem as if you are playing a proper role-playing game instead of a tactical game with a dash of RPG flavor, as is usual in this genre. Granted, a lot of these assignments are basic "go there, kill them" deals or delivery jobs. But they still got me more involved in the proceedings and made the world more of a living, breathing place than just a place filled with incessant battle arenas. I became attached to my vampire lord alter ego (although I did want to rename him, since Daert isn't exactly an intimidating moniker for a prince of darkness), even when he was vamping princesses and beheading kings. Unfortunately, the game doesn't track nearly enough information about what you're supposed to be doing in the quest logs; Instructions are generally given out during dialogue sequences with NPCs, but they're not stored for easy access later on.

Confusion is not a problem when it comes to battle arenas, which make up the majority of King's Bounty: Dark Side. Even with all of the game's intricacies, the main maps are just places where you scare up battles with patrolling or stationary enemies. As is traditional in the tactical fantasy genre, you serve as the general of a small army of Tolkien refugee troops, slotted into five positions. Your protagonist's leadership score governs how many creatures can be commanded at any given time. This--plus the cost of troops, their availability (which isn't really a concern after the first couple of islands, since you always have ready access to strongholds via teleportation and local shops selling just about every manner of unit you could want), and the tactical concerns governing which sorts of soldiers you want to take into battle against certain enemies--is at the heart of the game.

Maps are colorful and loaded with so much detail that you may want to take a break and zoom in to look more closely at the spooky scenery.

You have a tremendous number of choices in combat. You're free to pick from all of the units available in the entire series, light or dark. While you may be a bad guy, you have puppet rulers providing access to the good guys (well, corrupted versions of the good guys, like dark paladins and heretic priests). You field armies of zombies and spiky-heeled demon temptresses, giant spiders and snakes, knights and griffons, assassins and pirates, and so forth. You can mix and match, although attack skills, special abilities, and the ability to make ranged assaults are always more important than alignment. I generally went evil whenever I could, both for the novelty of it and due to personal preference. Mostly, I couldn't get enough of the demons, especially the imps with their useful fireballs and clopping kung-fu-kick melee attacks.

Your hero isn't just a figurehead, either. While he doesn't personally enter the fray on the field of battle, he plays a huge role through special abilities and casting spells. Hero progression is a big part of the game as well. Experience points from battles go into leveling up, which increases core abilities like the attack-powering rage and the magic-powering mana. You also earn and collect might, mind, and magic runes that are used to purchase various arcane talents on extensive skill trees. This allows a considerable amount of customization during the campaign. Runes always seem to be in short supply, forcing some tough choices regarding when you're going to spend them on upgrades, and how you might spend them. I went all-in for magic, given how much offensive spells were turning the tide in battles.

Quests are as detailed as the landscape, with intricate plot points, plenteous dialogue from non-player characters, and multiple steps that make it seem as if you are playing a proper role-playing game instead of a tactical game with a dash of RPG flavor.

Allies are also gained over the course of the game. You acquire associates through various evil deeds and by corrupting the innocent. And you also acquire the assistance of a demonic familiar called Blackie (thankfully, this guy you can rename), who can whip out devastating magical attacks during combat based on the amount of rage you currently have in stock. He gains experience along the way as well, opening up new abilities and enhancing current ones. Some are almost overpowering. His orc strike, which drops a magical weapon on the head of a single enemy, does spectacular damage, and the black hole can take out a gang of tightly packed foes. Blackie functions similarly to that of the pet dragon in King's Bounty: Armored Princess, but with added evil.

Vibrant artistry is another part of the appeal. Dark Side is somewhat dated in appearance, and the translation problems give the game some of its budget-game aura, but it has the classic allure of comic-styled fantasy art that goes back to the Erol Otis covers of D&D modules in the '70s. Monster art is colorful and cartoony, but it works in this setting, and little added touches ensure that these scenes are not static. Lots of 3D background effects on both the main map and the battle screens give the game a lively look.

Hero progression and lengthy skill trees add depth to tactical combat beyond the battlefield.

The music is even more impressive, and includes everything from operatic choruses to more stereotypical classical tunes, including one piece that sounds like a riff on one of the more memorable sections of The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed. Sound effects are also fitting. Most have been reused from previous King's Bounty games, although the distinctive giggles, gasps, and grunts from creatures continue to give them personality and make every battle sound a little bit different from the last.

King's Bounty: Dark Side broadens the formula that has powered this franchise since the beginning with a gothic storyline, an extensive number of quests, and a ton of troops that can be used in countless ways on the field of combat. This is one of those cases where familiarity and excellence peacefully coexist, and that approach tends to work well whether you're singing about vanished rock stars or gaming with creatures of the night.

The Good
Long and involving, with a huge main storyline and loads of quests and battles
Great selection of monsters and warriors to stock your army with
Extensive skill progression trees
Magic adds a considerable amount of tactical depth in combat
Powerful classical and operatic musical score
The Bad
Translation problems with the dialogue
Sparse quest log can lead to confusion
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Brett Todd cruised the dark side to check out the selling points of evil for around 30 hours in the course of writing this review. Having played (and reviewed) several King's Bounty games, he is intimately familiar with the series.

Discussion

71 comments
clqtte
clqtte

King Bounty series are good ones

advocacy
advocacy

Not available yet on Steam?

zizo490
zizo490

without reading the review : is this game like nox :) ?


DecapitatedOrc
DecapitatedOrc

I'm a fan of the King's Bounty series so will most likely be splurging out on this one in the near future. Agree though that this should be the last game in the series and that it's high time they develop a new engine. Does anyone else who plays the King's Bounty games find that those small, highly detailed graphics strain the eyes quite a bit? My eyes get pretty sore after pulling a few consecutive hours playing the game.....! 

nparks
nparks

Hey, man.  The life of a peasant is rough.  Maybe they're happier as zombies?

chibistevo
chibistevo

Graphics look serviceable to me. But I have been playing Shovel Knight a lot

RyuRanVII
RyuRanVII

I love the "new" King's Bounty series, but it's time to make a brand new game with new engine, assets and mechanics. I won't spend more 100 hours on the "same" game again. I want something completely new!

csward
csward

Wow did this guy get paid off by the devs? This game is VERY rough around the edges and an 8 is misleading to say the least. 


The graphics for this game would be average in 2003, but are piss poor in 2014. The animations are extremely basic and boring. There is no way to know the strength of an enemy before you fight them and they will have easy low level battles in the same cave as hard high level ones and the enemies look identical on screen. No autosave to my knowlegde.  Sparse tutorials/explanation. Clunky UI. Very little strategy compared to say, Final Fantasy Tactics. I cannot understand why you would give this game an 8.

tomservo51
tomservo51

Is this better than Blackguards?

archav3n
archav3n

Will gonna get this. I have all KB collection on my Steam.

dani3po
dani3po

I am playing Might & Magic heroes VI: Shades of Darkness right know. I like the game (I've played all of the series from the second), but I begin to get tired of the turn system. Maybe I should try this series.

hitomo
hitomo

kings bounty and might&magic are like dead ends of rpg evolution

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

I would say here that King's Bounty: The Legend was rather refreshing to me; I wasn't expecting a completely single-player game with something similar to Heroes of Might & Magic's gameplay.

And Bill Gilbert - f*ck, there's no sillier-sounding default name for a hero in a fantasy strategy game.

Darkhol0w
Darkhol0w

This game releases on 14 August if I remember correctly.

I've been waiting to play another expansion of King's Bounty so can't wait to play this one!

zoeyleft
zoeyleft

The graphics in this game is so horrible I couldn't stand to play it. Even though I LOVE turn based combat/strategy games.

naz99
naz99

God damn i love this series Kings Bounty: Legend was my game of the year back when it released...but they need to do a proper sequel now,all the ones they have released so far have been more like expansion packs.

Gooeykat
Gooeykat

Does this game have city management?

Daian
Daian

I love this franchise, such an underrated series, needs more attention from mainstream gaming media.

Etagloc
Etagloc

@zizo490 not at all. All the kings bounty games are "heroes of might and magic" style single player games

Act_Chill
Act_Chill

@DecapitatedOrc King's Bounty took a big chunk of the Heroes Might and Magic formula and with "small" changes made it feel like a different game. They made you feel closer to the hero and the story line, but at the end of the day it was the same turn based combat. The first King's Bounty and then Armored Princess were great. I played through twice! But the Warriors of the North wasnt as good or maybe I am starting to get tired of the formula. It is basically new maps and new heroes, but same exact mechanics and graphics. I think this game series has been under rated and there is very little coverage. I didnt even know Dark Side came out until today! 

Etagloc
Etagloc

@RyuRanVII very true. I played the first 2 and really enjoyed them, But didnt finish the 3third. not because it was bad, but it was just to similar after 100+ hours.

Act_Chill
Act_Chill

@csward A game like this is not about the graphics. They are no good, but they are good enough. They didnt add new units, new bosses, or new skills. The dark follower is basically the same as the dragon or valks from past games. There were hardly any artifacts. I am 3/4 way through and I have empty slots as I never found a belt and only found like 2 artifacts for my 3 slots. 

Deano
Deano

@csward pretty obvious you don't know anything about the series, also graphics level isn't the pinnacle on how to judge a game or something like minecraft would get a 2

Act_Chill
Act_Chill

@dani3po Get Kings Bounty Armored Princess. Probably the best in the series. The first one was good to. The third they got lazy and this one (the forth) I dont think they even tried. 

Freedomination
Freedomination

@hitomo Wouldn't call any of them RPG's. Unless you were referring to the actual might and magic series and not heroes of might and magic...

Vojtass
Vojtass

@zoeyleft Not true. Graphics are great. What you can dislike is colorful art style - but this is a matter of taste. Some people don't like graphics in Trine.

Culochilegge
Culochilegge

@zoeyleft A true turn based game lover never care about graphics, expecially when it's a KB game.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@naz99 

Indeed. Heck, I am seeing warning signs from these expansions - Katauri Interactive seems to be running out of ideas for new gameplay.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Gooeykat 

Nope. There are no irritating cities to deal with and no turn-based day/week system. The gameplay is completely about hauling the hero/heroine's ass and his/her army's asses around getting into all sorts of trouble at the player's own pace.

naz99
naz99

@Gooeykat No its more like a single player rpg/turn based startegy hybrid,you run around the map in real time doing quests picking up loot etc but when you attack an enemy it goes into a turn based battle map almost the same as the heroes of might and magic franchise but with alot more options.

Renoo27
Renoo27

@Daian  Would you recommend one plays some of the previous games in the series, or can you jump straight in to this one? 

estorski
estorski

@Act_Chill 

>> King's Bounty took a big chunk of the Heroes Might and Magic formula

I believe it was pretty much vice versa ; )

DecapitatedOrc
DecapitatedOrc

@Act_Chill @DecapitatedOrc I thought Warriors of the North was more or less as good as the other ones in terms of gameplay, but what made it worse was that it was far more buggy. I would often get the game just exiting to Windows, usually after playing for several hours at a time. Mind you, I probably liked Legend the most as you could create and name your own character, rather than having to play set characters.

Act_Chill
Act_Chill

@Etagloc @RyuRanVII Totally agree. I didnt finish the third as the quests are very forgettable so it boils down to the same turn base battles over and over. I got 3/4 through this one and got bored. As far as I am aware there were not any "bosses". The other game had 4 massive units to battle. There were hardly any artifacts and none that i found you had to dive into them to upgrade. It seemed to be a poorly done sequel. Armored Princess brought in rage/dragon and the flying horse ontop of new bosses and units. The third one didnt do anything new and neither did this one...

hitomo
hitomo

why higher? I am just sayin it will not evolve anymore and it did not since the 90s

csward
csward

@Vojtass @zoeyleft No the graphics are average in the year 2003. They are similar, but worse than WC3:TFT. It's sad.

Darkhol0w
Darkhol0w

@Renoo27 @Daian King's Bounty > King's Bounty Armored Princess > King's Bounty Warriors in the North > King's Bounty Dark Side in this order. ^^

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Renoo27 

You might want to wait until Humble Store offers this game in another bundle - if ever. ;)

naz99
naz99

@Renoo27 @Daian You can jump into any although you may aswell start with the first one you should be able to get it very cheap now

Vojtass
Vojtass

@Renoo27 @Daian Play previous games, they are awesome. Just don't expect full voice over.

Act_Chill
Act_Chill

@estorski @Act_Chill You are probably the only person who knows that there was a King's Bounty game in like 1983 before there was heroes of might and magic, but around the time of the first might and magic. The new King's Bounty is such an upgrade I wouldnt even say they are the same. 

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@hitomo 

RPGs are meant to be that way. You are griping about something which has already been defined by conventions a long time ago.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Vojtass @Renoo27 @Daian 

Considering the sometimes awful translation, I would suggest not expecting any voice-over at all.

When there is legible voice-acting, it's usually cringe-inducing.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@hitomo 

You should tell that to yourself when you are making the generalizations which you have made.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Vojtass

That's interesting to know. Maybe Katauri Interactive or 1C outsourced the Polish voice-overs to a competent audio company.

hitomo
hitomo

@Gelugon_baat @hitomo  I think I was very specific, wasnt I ? ... but in the case I made a genrelazing statement about how generalized those games are in opposition to being evolved, then my generalizing comment is valid and not sign of blocking something from my point of view wich may be importent about the specific object we are talking about, the KingsBounty type of Game ...

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@hitomo 

If you are going to say that, how would you know that RPGs would stay like they are, i.e. metaphorically "in stone"? You said "nothing set in stone", remember? Or maybe you fancy yourself a prophet of sorts?

hitomo
hitomo

@Gelugon_baat @hitomo  lets ge to the core of this ... the stacks of Units, wich represent somehow the healt and unit strenght ... its so abstract to calculate in battle and when preparing , it never translates into fun ... maybe I am looking more at the M&M games here, but this seems extremly simliar ... so I am looking at the newest irretation of this theme and it still Looks and feels like back in the days, so I say myself, this isnt evolving, lets call it a dead end ...


and then you come along and say I m generalizing things ... ;)

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@hitomo 

Well, what do you expect when there are such things as statistics? Of course there would be number-crunching. :/

In fact, doles of RPGs and strategy games even have number-crunching - including The Banner Saga. You know, The Banner Saga which you gave a 9 to?

If you could stomach the numbers metagame in The Banner Saga, why couldn't you stand those in the Might & Magic series? Double standards on your part, I suppose?

hitomo
hitomo

@Gelugon_baat @hitomo  the banner saga was touching ^^ ... I dont know, its taste ... I played Heros of Might and Magic - the browser game, wich I found to be the most developed form of this battle system, cause army managment outside of battle has as good as no real Impact on the long run, but the game itself gets a horrible grind after the first area ...


I am stunned how well ESO got rid fo number crunching without sacrificing complexity, in fact, invnting a total new approach to build a caracter inside a rpg game


regards

King's Bounty: Dark Side More Info

  • Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    Time has come to join the dark side. Take a trip to the other side of Teana, to the part of the world that has yet remained unseen to the royal bounty hunters. Take advantage of buying the game at a reduced price available during Early Access right now!
    8.2
    Average User RatingOut of 5 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate King's Bounty: Dark Side
    Developed by:
    1C-Softclub
    Published by:
    1C, Excalibur Publishing Limited,
    Genres:
    Turn-Based, Strategy