King's Bounty: Warriors of the North|
A venerable turn-based strategy and roleplaying game franchise that began life as a DOS game in the early 90s, the Kingís Bounty series remarkably continues to thrive as a cult classic, thanks to its 2007 acquisition by Russian publisher 1C Company and the subsequent successful releases of Kingís Bounty: The Legend (2008) and Kingís Bounty: Armored Princess (2009).
The latest, Warriors of the North, was my first taste of the Kingís Bounty series, but its staunchly old-school, turn-based strategy/RPG gameplay immediately brought back memories of other similar games from the Kingís Bounty era, including its cousin, the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Rather than attempt to mold itself to more modern game design schemas, Warriors of the North proudly sticks to its roots.
In WotN, you play the intrepid Viking Olaf, the younger son of a northern island king and scapegoat to his conniving elder brother, who gets Olaf kicked out of his homeland. The game continues in true 90s style: the story moves along in arbitrary and sometimes bizarre ways, but it does so with a sense of humor and fortunately doesnít take itself all that seriously. Itís easy enough to skip through if you donít care for it, but if youíre like me and actually take the time to read the often longwinded story and dialogue text, you might get a few extra items out of a conversation. Youíll probably also notice frequent typos and sometimes incomprehensible translation hiccups, but these are somehow more endearing than distracting. Walls of text aside, Warriors of the North mainly involves gallivanting around various islands, either on horseback or boat, in search of treasure and battles. The tutorial at the start of the game isnít terribly helpful, but the game is forgiving enough at the beginning that you can hit the ground running.
Your gaming experience is guided by one of three types of commander you can choose Olaf to be: a Viking focuses on Rage abilities (summon-type skills) to supplement his soldiers, a Skald relies on numerical superiority and healing his units, and a Soothsayer specializes in casting a wide range of spells that aid his army. Combat itself is much like a fancy version of chess in that Olaf and his opponent typically start on opposite sides of a battlefield divided into hexagonal cells and take turns moving across the board and attacking. In WotN, however, you choose your own pieces, may find treasure or hazards on the game board, and can activate special abilities, spells, and summons to make things more interesting.
One of WotNís strengths is the sheer variety of units you can hire and command, from your run-of-the-mill humans to unicorns and man-eating plants, each with unique abilities and strengths, some of which combine with those of other units. Luckily, at least at Normal difficulty, Olaf has plenty of funds to hire different units and try them out, and I found experimenting with units to be one of my favorite aspects of the game.
Available units are finite, though, so itís very possible to run out, especially if youíre biting off more than you can chew and taking heavy losses in battle. Olaf himself doesnít often die (and Iím not sure why he dies when defeated in some battles but not others), but the game quickly makes it clear that itís best if you conserve your forces by fighting enemies your own size wisely, rather than waging a war of attrition against stronger foes.
Unfortunately, this means frequently retracing your steps, since enemies of different strengths are interspersed throughout the sundry islands that Olaf explores. Itís often not possible to continue on one road before you run into a deadly enemy, so youíll need to backtrack and try a different path before returning. Itís also a bit of a pain to run back to buy new troops after every battle, as different locations only provide certain unit types, but because of the way Warriors of the North is designed, itís often not optimal to enter a battle when your army isnít at full strength. Navigating the world could also use a little improvement, as camera angles are limited, foreground objects donít fade out, and I found myself sometimes clicking on an obstructing bank of trees instead of on the road I actually wanted to travel, just because the trees swung in front of my view of Olaf. These inconveniences bog down the game a bit, but fortunately, they didnít prevent me from enjoying the game.
Boss fights, though, are another story. On what seems to be a developer whim that makes little sense (i.e., under the lame in-game excuse that players need to give the bosses a fighting chance), Olaf is barred from using his Valkyrie summons and other rage abilities during boss fights. These boss fights can be rough, and from my experience, more endurance-based slug-fests than strategic affairs. I felt these battles were difficult due to poor design, rather than actual difficulty, and theyíre probably the only aspect of the game that I found a bit annoying.
As for the roleplaying aspect of the game, you wonít be making too many life decisions for Olaf, but he does have stats that determine the effectiveness of his entire army, including a leadership stat that determines how many units he can command. He also has three skill trees that he can invest in when he levels up, with abilities to choose from like causing enemy troops to desert or join your cause when you engage in battle, scouting out enemies to gauge their relative strength and unit types, or crafting and breaking artifacts. Additionally, Olaf keeps an inventory of equippable items, some of which can be upgraded by winning challenging battles against the itemís Keepers.
WotNís graphics, by the way, are lushly colored and lovely, with surprising attention to detail. Lighting cycles between day and night, rambunctious squirrels rampage the snowy pine trees, and the battlegrounds range from snow-covered forests to rocking ghost ships. The Victoriaís Secret renditions of the five Valkyries are definitely cheesy, but I suppose thatís in line with the flavor of an older era of fantasy games, so Iíll let them slide in the name of nostalgia. The soundtrack, though, is fantastic. Itís synthesized, but itís heroic and memorable, with some operatic vocals thrown in for good measure.
Kingís Bounty: Warriors of the North packs quite a bit of content in its single-player campaign, including some almost ridiculously tough fights that are definitely more reminiscent of 90s games than the ones we typically play today. After 20 hours into my first play-through, I still had about three quarters of the world map to explore and can definitely see myself spending at least another 20 hours before that happens. All said, if you like old-fashioned turn-based strategy roleplaying games, Warriors of the North is a solid choice for $29.99. For a few dollars more (price varies by seller), you can get the Valhalla Edition, which includes a stat-boosting unique armor set and some digital wallpapers and artwork.