Legend of the North: Konung is the sort of game that might have been a lot more impressive if it had been released within a few months of Diablo, Blizzard's original action-packed role-playing game, which shipped at the very end of 1996. Unfortunately for publisher Strategy First and Russian developer 1C Company, Konung has arrived much too late, and, consequently, it suffers severely from its dated graphics and uninspired gameplay.
Although it claims to mix in some basic real-time strategy and adventure elements, Konung is essentially a hack-and-slash role-playing game, much like Diablo. You lead one of three heroes on a quest to find and repair the mystical dragon amulet, presumably to save the world--though the purpose of the quest is never fully explained. As in Nox, Westwood's action-packed role-playing game, each hero in Konung will follow a different path through the game.
As your character gains experience, he can recruit other warriors to join him. Apparently, you're supposed to be able to have up to nine followers at a time, judging from the available spaces on the interface. However, it seems that only one character will ever follow you at any point, even though you may have apprentice warriors training all over the gameworld. This is symptomatic of a key flaw in the game: the lack of control over key elements of gameplay. You can ask a shopkeeper to train an apprentice to accompany you, which will generate a first-level fighter, healer, hunter, or blacksmith for you. But you cannot have these would-be companions join you until they reach a specific skill level. That would be fine--except for the fact that you're given no idea whatsoever what that skill level is. As a result, you can have three to four apprentices standing by in every town you visit, but you still need to enter the wilderness alone for some reason.
The controls in Konung are essentially similar to Diablo's simple mouse-driven control scheme, but they are far less intuitive. For example, instead of left-clicking on a target, you have to right-click to launch an attack. It's not a big deal, but it's unnecessarily awkward, since the left mouse button doesn't do a whole lot in the game. You also have to move in and out of combat stance, which can take some getting used to--you might even find yourself accidentally attacking citizens in town when you're just trying to talk to them.
One of the game's most frustrating aspects is the movement speed of your characters. At the default speed setting, your hero and his followers move as slow as molasses, whether they're exploring or engaged in heated combat. You cannot make your characters run, but you can increase the game's speed. This certainly makes your characters scurry about even faster, but it also makes combat pacing ridiculously fast. It can be easy to forget all about the game's speed setting until you're surrounded by a bunch of creatures.
Actually, these bunches of creatures are an entirely different problem altogether. The monsters in Konung ramp up from simple (giant ants) to incredibly powerful (undead, giant venus fly traps, brigands) without warning. Your character is very weak as the game begins, and, as a result, he simply cannot use 90 percent of the good weaponry and armor you find throughout the first half of the game. At the same time, when you exit the first area of the game, you are suddenly faced with monsters that are many times more powerful than you are. Combine this with the inability to bring recruits along early in the game, and you have an unusually frustrating formula for a game. Unless you happen to like being killed early and often in games, no matter which path you choose, you'll find that playing Konung offers little satisfaction.
Even the graphics in Konung are plain at best and very outdated at worst. Four years ago, players may have come away from the game thinking it was a decent-looking Diablo clone--but now it simply looks old and tired. Even when the game tries to produce some sort of impressive visual effect, it fails. For example, the lighting changes as time passes, so nighttime is darker and daytime is lighter. But for some reason, the coloring during the middle of the night changes to an ugly greenish hue, which ruins the entire effect. The detail level in the terrain and the buildings is fairly good, but that's about the extent of Konung's graphics.
Because of its confusing story, unappealing visuals, and counterintuitive controls, Konung ends up looking like a Diablo clone that hit the shelves four years too late. Even at the bargain-bin price of 20 dollars, it's not worth recommending Konung, because it simply isn't fun.