Armored Princess is the best game that this genre has ever seen.
Turn-based strategy war games like this have a formula that is simple, at heart. You get money, so that you can raise an army, and then you conquer, so that you can raise a bigger army, so that you can conquer and get more money. It is a highly addictive carrot-and-stick process when it is executed properly, which is the case with Armored Princess. The game gets a lot of the little things right. One of them is making the game appropriately challenging, so that you always have a strong incentive to make yourself stronger. Armored Princess is semi-open ended, which means that you will have access to a lot of ground to start the game. Much of it is populated by enemies that are much too powerful for you to handle at first. These enemies provide you with a clear incentive to go out and conquer weaker enemies, so that you can come back later and show off how powerful you have become. Defeating the tougher enemies almost always gives you an appropriate reward – more incentive to do battle.
These battles are where Armored Princess truly shines. Battles take place on a hex map, where your five legions do battle against the enemy legions. It is truly turn-based combat at its finest. There is a huge variety of units in the game, and although lots of their abilities and functions overlap, there are no two of them that feel quite the same. When you combine all of the units with your spells and other special abilities, you have a huge arsenal at your disposal with which to take on the brutal enemies that the game has to offer. You have to learn the enemies' strengths and weaknesses so that you know what tactics to use and what creatures to take into battle. If you surround a pack of enemy knights, they will devastate your legions by doing a powerful whirlwind attack. If you allow enemy wolves or cavalry to get to your archers or priests, your guys will get destroyed in melee combat. If you leave your troops in a nice little line against a red dragon, he will breathe fire and burn them all. These same tricks are available to you, of course. You will need to figure out how to use each of your enemies to chain abilities together and destroy as many enemies as possible. You might have to charm an enemy's most dangerous, but vulnerable legion and have him attack another dangerous legion. You might have to use an area of effect spell to soften up your enemies at the start of a battle. You may want to teleport your cheapest army across the map to soak up damage. There are tons of options and limited resources. There is no end to how much time you can spend thinking of ways to use your armies and abilities. It is a strategy fan's dream.
King's Bounty: The Legend also did this, but the game had some minor issues that bogged it down sometimes. One of them was that the continents were big, and full of long, winding paths that would be tedious to navigate. Armored Princess takes place on a series of smaller islands, with more open space that is easier to navigate. It also has a fast travel system to go from island to island, which makes
completing quests and replenishing your armies more convenient than it was before. Late in the game, you get the ability to fly, which lets you travel quickly across continents. This stand-alone expansion is, in general, more polished and less tedious than its predecessor.
In addition to some minor refinements, Armored Princess adds some new units. Specifically, it adds a whole new race, the lizardmen. The new race is mostly a success, because the new creatures feel different, instead of just reskinned copies of the creatures in other races.
Armored Princess also retains the RPG-like development tree from the first game. As you accumulate runes through battle, you can add all sorts of abilities, from something as simple as better defense to more interesting powers, like improved initiative and the ability to keep armies in reserve. There aren't a lot of differences that I can remember from "The Legend", and that is mostly a good thing. The development tree worked well in the core game, and it works just as well here.
In addition to armies, abilities, and spells, you also have a pet dragon that can occasionally use its own special ability in battle. During battle, you accumulate rage points and then spend them to damage enemies or provide support for friendly troops. The pet dragon serves the same function as the Rage Box in King's Bounty: The Legend. As with "The Legend", the rage mechanic adds another element of strategy to the game. Since it accumulates during battle and drains away when you aren't in battle, rage encourages you to string battles together, instead of resting between them. In Armored Princess, your dragon has nine abilities, whereas in "The Legend" your box had 16 abilities. The dragon is more fun to use though, because the abilities are well balanced and all useful, whereas the Rage Box had more than a few abilities that you probably didn't touch.
As if the new spells and abilities weren't enough, the game also offers you a choice of travelling companions that you can pick up along your journey. You can equip them with the same items that you can equip yourself, and in turn, they give you more special bonuses and abilities. One guy might make your orcs fight better. Another allows you to upgrade specific units. As with every other aspect of the game, the most useful ability depends upon the situation and your other abilities at hand.
The skill in a game like this isn't in figuring out the one or two most overpowered abilities and then using them over and over again. The skill is to have a handful of tactics available to you for each battle, so that you can always put your weapons to use most effectively. The huge variety of powers, creatures, and tactical options in this game can be overwhelming for anyone who is not highly experienced playing this kind of game. There is an Easy setting that makes the game less punishing, but make no mistake, this is a game for the hardcore strategy gamer. This is a game for those of us who love to take a weak army of peasants and spearmen and build them up into a juggernaut of dragons and knights.
It might take a while for you to discover the areas where "Armored Princess" is better than "The Legend". For the most part, they look exactly the same, which isn't a bad thing, since both games are colorful and stylish. Technologically, the look is outdated by a few years. The look is somewhat blocky, as if the game had come out in about 2006. It's not all bad though, since the style makes up for a lot of it. The audio is kind of forgettable. Most of it is reused from the first game, which didn't have great music anyways.
The one major flaw that the original game had, which stays intact here, is the lack of a good story, and tons of drawn out, worthless dialog. Early in the game, you will start to notice that the game is constantly giving you quests in the middle of long, long conversations in a box in the upper left with microscopic text. It's almost comical how the game puts paragraph after paragraph of tiny letters that add pretty much nothing to the game. Chances are, you will soon be skipping through it just to get to the part where you learn what monster to kill or what reward you are going to get.
It's too bad that the story doesn't add much to the game's value, but it's not necessary. Armored Princess still offers an incredible turn-based strategy experience. It has depth, it has challenge, and best of all, it has the lasting value that only comes from a strategy game that has been well-designed and tested. If you enjoy tactical turn-based games, especially the King's Bounty or Heroes of Might and Magic series, then King's Bounty: Armored Princess should be an essential part of your gaming collection.