by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
A non-extreme makeover
I love to complain at Ubisoft for their decision to rename Heroes of Might & Magic to Might & Magic: Heroes, it’s a dumb name for a great series. But then I learned that the series went through a worse transformation than a simple reordering of words. Really, Might & Magic: Heroes doesn’t look so bad knowing that it was originally called King’s Bounty.
I’ll let that sink in for a while.
Successfully resurrected with King’s Bounty: The Legend back in 2008, publisher 1C has supplied us with a steady stream of addons and sequels. While gameplay remained almost identical with every iteration, the differences in scenery kept the games fresh enough to keep fans interested. King’s Bounty: Dark Side is looking to repeat that trick. Can it get away with yet another level-makeover?
The Dark Side
After having spent 6 years playing King’s Bounty as a do-gooder, you finally get to spend time on the dark side. In fact, one could argue that it is - because - of all the good you did that your allegiances have turned - they had to. The forces of The Light have all but destroyed those of the dark, taking out the last remaining strongholds of the Orcs, Demons and Undead in one fell swoop. But without Dark, there is no purpose for Light. High time to restore the balance.
You get to choose which of the unfortunate dark races you will represent, but will fight for the… good of all three. Your choice doesn’t really affect the story, but it does change how you play. Choosing the Orc as your main protagonist, for example, you’d get the most out of your armies if you focus on developing your Might side of things, where Demons and Undead favour Magic. That’s not to say you cannot have an awesomely destructive Orc mage. There are no restrictions in how you develop your character whatsoever, you are just nudged into a certain direction.
This is even extends to the Rage abilities. As with previous games in the series, Rage spells come in addition to your character’s spells. This time around, they are tied to ‘Blackie’, an odd black creature that can channel abilities from all three evil races no matter which one you play. Casting Orc Shield puts a shielding ring of rocks around one of your units, damaging all enemy units at the same time. The Demon spell Jealousy has the potential to bring enemy units under your control for a short period of time. The Undead spell Black Hole does exactly what the name suggests, creating a miniature black hole in a location of your choice, damaging any and all units around it. Almost all of these can be upgraded in strength, area of effect or duration.
Apart from a new story and different Rage abilities, Dark Side brings very little new to the table. Sure, you get an extensive campaign which is bound to keep you busy for weeks, but other than that it is pretty much the same game. Underneath the hood is the same 3D engine as was used last time around, with the only visible update being some improvements to how the camera behaves on the campaign map. An attempt was made at creating more dynamic battle maps, but I fear that has not worked out all that well. In some battles, the normal rectangular map is replaced by something with more variety in shape, such as triangle, square or upside-down bell shaped maps. Almost all of these have depth issues that make selecting and moving units around the map a little tricky. It’s not a big issue, but for an otherwise very polished game these maps feel out of place.
And then, of course, there are the obligatory new units. Well, they are not actually new, they are ‘darkified’ versions of existing units, with a slightly different look and new abilities. With the sheer amount of variety in the already existing units, it’s not like we were going to get bored in the first place, so the lacklustre new units are breaking the mood in any way.
Emperor’s new clothes
All in all, King’s Bounty is starting to feel a little old. You explore the campaign map’s islands, fight chess-like battles with stacks of fantastical armies, cast spells to buff your units or hurl pain at those of the enemies and that’s pretty much it.
Don’t get me wrong, King’s Bounty: Dark Side is still a great game, and if you have played only one then I am certain you will enjoy this one too. In this case, I wholeheartedly recommend you to go out and get your turn-based strategy fix. Yet if you are like me and have already spent upwards of 400 hours in Katauri’s otherwise beautifully crafted world, then the sense of Deja Vu is creeping up, and boredom is right around the corner.
Beautifully crafted world, fun to play on the “wrong” side for a change.
It’s pretty much the same game as its predecessors.