My goodness me, this is quite the change. I know it's been a few years since I galloped around the brilliant King's Bounty: The Legend (let's call it a decade), collecting strange fantasy beasts for my unstoppable army, but I didn't realise as much would change in a sequel as this. King's Bounty 2 is like a series evolution. The series that once inspired Heroes of Might and Magic is back. And my, it looks different.
Gone, for instance, is the old view. You no longer look down on your mighty hero from above but follow them around over the shoulder, as if you were playing a third-person role-playing game. It sounds like a small thing but it lets you see a familiar kind of world in a whole new way. The world suddenly gains height and a sense of scale, and you can walk into buildings now, when you never could before. And there's a horizon! Which sounds ridiculous but it really helps reinforce the feeling of a grand fantasy world all around you. And it's realised with gorgeous detail: crumbly medieval villages baking in the sun, lush greenery, colourful flowers, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.
What's more, you can walk up to characters now and talk to them. There's cinematic dialogue, voice acting, choice and consequence. And with this new RPG presentation comes a greater focus on the role-playing elements in the game. Yes, there's a whole story about a Blight and you'll have to stop it, but the more interesting part is how? And the 'how?' is determined by the Ideal you align with. This is a major new system. There are four Ideals - Order and Anarchy, Power and Finesse - and everything in the world is aligned to them.
Do anarchical things, or things for an anarchical entity, and you will earn experience - and eventually talent points and then powers - in the Anarchy Ideal. But doing so will be in opposition to the Order Ideal, which will create more tension the further down a path you go. Naturally the game finds ways to make you choose between them, then. You've found out a secret, for example: who do you hand the information to?
Your alignment can have far-reaching consequences. The units in your army are aligned one way or another. If you're aligned the same way as them, they will fight better for you, but if you're not, they won't. Your character may even begin to refuse to do things later in the game that are opposed to their Ideal. The hope is different playthroughs (which will last around 50 hours, apparently) will be wildly different from each other.
Underneath all of this, King's Bounty 2 is still a turn-based game. That hasn't changed. You might trot up to a combat zone in glorious 3D, but when the fight begins, the camera zooms up and out to show a familiar hexagonal field and your army upon it. (Your army that you've been magically holding in your pocket.)
But there are some fairly significant differences here, too. Battles look different. They take place in the location you were in the world when they began, and you're free to fly the camera around them. No more static, default battlefields. This not only looks nice, it introduces varying terrain. There's now higher and lower ground, and the advantages and disadvantages that come with it, and there are obstacles, and because of it: line of sight.
Unit-count has been drastically reduced. You can no longer condense hundreds of fighters into one super unit. The most you can have in one unit seems to be around six (all displayed on the field). That's because units are individually more important now. They can level up. Earn enough experience and they'll progress through three tiers, changing appearance and gaining new abilities, and increasing in power, as they do.
On top of this, there's equipment to find and fit yourself out with, which in turn affects the performance of your army, and there are new races and creatures to discover and hire. Oh, and while the main character we saw was a male warrior, there are apparently two others, and they may not be human.
The other big thing about King's Bounty 2 is that it's coming to console, which I think might be a first for the series. PC is the lead development platform, but it's been natively developed for PS4, Switch and Xbox One. Actually, the demonstration was done on an Xbox pad, and seemed to control naturally.
Versions of the game for the newer consoles are in development, but were apparently held up due to Covid. "We haven't announced a specific date yet," 1C Entertainment CEO Nikolay Baryshnikov tells me. "All I can say is yes, we do work on those consoles. They've been a little delayed, caught by Covid and getting access to a reasonable amount of dev kits. Yes, we do know there are other consoles and yes, we are working on that and they will come."
It's an impressive showing, a generational leap in what King's Bounty is capable of. Potentially, it's the start of a whole new era of King's Bounty 2 to come. "Spot on," Baryshnikov says. "That's my big dream." Whether it will all come together, we'll have to wait until 24th August to find out.