King's Bounty: The Legend Hands-On

Almost 20 years after the original King's Bounty, the legend continues.

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The kingdom of Darion was once a peaceful place, but those days are over. The setting for the upcoming King's Bounty: The Legend is now populated by werewolves, necromancers, undead monsters, and man-eating plants that look like they were cultivated at the Little Shop of Horrors. As in any good fantasy game worth its weight in rupees, it's up to you as either a warrior, mage, or paladin class to clean up Darion and, above all, serve the king.

Combat in King's Bounty is turn-based and fraught with dragons.
Combat in King's Bounty is turn-based and fraught with dragons.

We played through several hours of a demo version of King's Bounty and are pleased to report that fans of the old-school turn-based role-playing game should enjoy the familiar gameplay mechanics as well as a few new surprises. First we chose a mage from the three preset classes. There are no immediate player-customization options, but you will equip a number of items as well as pick and choose your way through skill trees moving forward. The mage specializes in magic, the warrior in combat, and the paladin dabbles in both. We went with the mage, simply because he had the coolest costume of the bunch.

Immediately you are thrust into the service of the king and told to undergo training with Iron Tooth Richard, a grizzled veteran soldier charged with teaching raw recruits. After enjoying a humorous text conversation with Richard, we started our first training test: to rescue the princess from the dragon. Movement throughout the gameworld is all in real time--simply point and click with your mouse to explore, pick up items, and converse with fellow citizens. Combat, on the other hand, brings you into a turn-based mode. Our mage didn't actually take to the battlefield himself. Instead, he had an army at his command with a number of unit types that fill five unit slots. In combat you may see a single peasant move across the honeycomb-shaped squares of the battlefield, but the number 27, for example, indicates there are really 27 peasants on the prowl for evil monsters.

We had a flaming-arrow magic attack available from the outset. It is only available once per turn and depletes the magic meter, but the powerful missile from the sky deals a lot of damage, and we couldn't resist using it over and over again against the wily dragons. The turns passed and the dragon blew fire at us, but the brave knight and his swordsmen proved victorious. The combat is slower paced, of course, but it's a nice throwback to the turn-based RPGs of old.

After passing Richard's tests, we entered the kingdom proper and met the king and his young daughter. We were enlisted as the king's treasure hunter for our ability to rustle up gold and told to go forth and collect the king's bounties. But first, we used the contents of our purse to replenish our unit slots with swordsmen and archers. As mentioned, Darion is a dangerous place.

On the adventure map, red dots indicate enemies. You can simply ride your horse around them and try to pick up crystals and gold littering the roadsides, or you can engage the enemies in battle. Then again, they may choose to engage you. Either way, the top-down adventure map reverts to the turn-based battle screen and you'll be forced to slay the enemies or perish. If you lose, you'll be returned to the castle, where you can purchase more units and replenish your ranks.

The demo version had plenty of invisible walls that kept us within a stone's throw of the castle, but there was one main quest available to dive into. Man-eating plants have invaded the area, making life miserable for a small village just outside the castle walls. The village leader told us to find the leader of the plants, a giant red plant, on the banks of nearby lake. Eventually we found the giant red plant and had a conversation with it. It seems that the soil of their native land was no longer "tasty," and the plants were forced to survive off "two-leggers..." or humans. In the branching dialogue tree we had the option to attack the monster at any time, but we chose instead to hear out its problems and return to the village leader and let him know the plants' predicament. He suggested we give the plant a cow to fertilize the plants' land, so we bought a cow, returned to the monster plant with the gift, and the monster promised not to eat the villagers anymore. Problem solved, quest log updated.

Choose your own path on skill trees based on your preferred play style. We like trying to kill everything that moves.
Choose your own path on skill trees based on your preferred play style. We like trying to kill everything that moves.

Our action was limited to this small area, but we did see several other kingdoms on the map, including the Freedom Islands, Ellinia, Kordar, and Murok. The typical races are in play: humans, dwarfs, elves, orcs, undeads, and demons. Thankfully you'll be able to outfit yourself in a number of interesting ways to better fend off your enemies. There are item slots for weapons, helmets, armor, shields, boots, and belts, with an endless number of options. The first helmet we found was actually a clay flowerpot; our first shield a wheel from a cart. We found it's best to head to the castle shop for more powerful--and expensive--items.

So far, we've enjoyed the smooth battle animations and sense of humor in the numerous text conversations. King's Bounty: The Legend has already won several awards in its native Russia, and is slated for release in North America later this year. Until then, fans of old-school RPGs certainly have something to look forward to.

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