King’s Bounty: Warriors of the North is a follow-up to the criminally underappreciated RPG/strategy masterpiece King’s Bounty: Armored Princess. Actually, on second thought, Warriors of the North is a follow-up to the disappointing King’s Bounty: Crossroads, but let’s just forget that game ever existed, shall we? If you are a fan of this series and you loved Armored Princess, then this review has some good news for you: Warriors of the North is a lot like Armored Princess. It offers you a large new campaign, some new areas, and just enough new bits and pieces to make it worth your while. The game can be criticized for being too much like its predecessors, since its new features are mostly minor to the experience. This flaw is forgivable though, because the formula is very strong, and there isn’t much competition in the genre. If you aren’t a fan of this series, or if you have simply never heard of it, then Warriors of the North is a good place to start. King’s Bounty’s combination of challenge, depth, and tactical choices are virtually unparalleled in the strategy genre.
If you have never played a King’s Bounty game, then a brief description of the series is probably in order. You control an army composed of five legions. With that army, you roam the world, looking for treasure and fighting packs of enemies. Combat takes place in turns on a hex-based grid. As you win these battles, you gain money and experience, which you then use to make your armies larger and more powerful. At various dwellings, you can recruit new creatures to replenish your ranks. The series also includes some basic role-playing elements, like an inventory, magic spells, and a skill tree. Using all of these tools, you defeat your enemies and, at the end, you face off against the evil big boss and save the world.
In addition to magical abilities, King’s Bounty: Warriors of the North features rage abilities. Like magic, these abilities can be used to summon creatures and damage enemies. However, rage functions different from magic. It accumulates when you give or take damage, and it dissipates between battles. Thus, it adds an entirely new element of strategy to fighting battles. You may wish to take on a tough group of enemies right after a weak group of enemies, so that your rage meter will be full. You may choose to fight a battle using a depleted army, lest you squander your rage by spending five minutes replenishing your troops. Rage adds another dimension of strategy to the game, and that makes it a great mechanic.
If you are a veteran of this series, then you will probably notice a few small tweaks and refinements to the formula. The first addition is the Nordic Valhalla/Ragnarok-themed starting area. Perhaps taking a cue from Skyrim, you won’t start off just recruiting generic archers and pikemen, but rather Vikings, jarls, beserkers, and warrior maidens (Ladies clad in Viking helmets who ride polar bears). The travelling companions that you meet are Valkyries – warrior goddesses who provide you with special bonuses and abilities. Once you get past the first few hub areas, however, you won’t notice the difference. You eventually come back to areas that were in the first game and encounter orcs, elves, dragons, and other typical fantasy fare. Although the initial location has changed, the art style hasn’t. There are snowy areas, mine areas, forest areas, dwarven mine areas, and abyss/hell areas. The strength of the King’s Bounty series has never been its fiction, and nothing has changed for Warriors of the North in this regard. One area that has changed, however, is the music. Warriors of the North features a lot of original material. It is generic, but generally pretty pleasant. It is at least a good thing that Katuri recognized the need for some new music after using a lot of the same music for the first two games.
Warriors of the North is also more generous with some convenience items that you had to earn in the first couple of iterations. Boats are free now – you get one in every area without spending any gold. No longer do you have to earn the ability to carry reserve troops in your skill tree. Since trudging back to your base to replenish your armies can be a bit tedious, this change makes the game more convenient right at the start. The game also gives you the ability to fly almost immediately – another convenience that wasn’t available until late in Armored Princess.
The colorful art style of the previous game returns. It is unimpressive technologically, but it is still very easy on the eyes. It is amazing how much a full color palette and some charming style can make up for the lack of modern bells and whistles. Polygon counts are low enough that this game could have been made in 2006, but this reviewer will take colorful style over a brown and gray bloomfest any day. This game won’t be confused with Assassins Creed any time soon, but the animations are still pretty good too. Each unit type has a personality that comes out in the way that it moves across the battlefield or celebrates destroying an enemy troop. Assassins crouch and creep. Ogres and Giants lumber along stiffly and swing massive sticks as weapons. Warrior maidens pat their pet bears on the head as if to say “Good boy!”
King’s Bounty: Warriors of the North excels where the best strategy games tend to excel. It gives you a huge variety of options for how to build your army and win battles. It is both well designed and well balanced. The game features a dizzying variety of units, special abilities, and spells. Beating the game isn’t a function of how well you can sniff out the most overpowered abilities. It is more a function of how well you understand these abilities, when you should use them, and how to combine attacks for greatest effect. This game is the type of experience where you can stare at the screen for a few minutes, just contemplating your next turn, and how the enemies might react. It is possible to use every unit and ability in the game at least once; everything is useful in some way. Likewise, enemies will quickly punish you for bad moves and complicate your life by using abilities that seem almost unfair at times. You will, for example, learn to hate enemy Necromancers, who can resurrect fallen undead armies, ad infinitum. To a newcomer who hasn’t yet learned to expect these attacks, battles can be frustrating affairs. If you are taking on a King’s Bounty game, you should either have some turn-based strategy experience, or you should play the game on the easiest difficulty level.
The massive variety of friendly troops, enemies, and their abilities makes for a complicated and engrossing experience that can keep you playing for hours at a time. Each race, of course, has some units that fulfill a basic functionality like “tank”, “fodder”, and “ranged attacker”. However, each one works a little bit differently, which means that an army composed of humans will play differently from an army composed of orcs. The variety is good, but Warriors of the North does suffer from overabundance of undead. Long before the game’s massive 75+ hour campaign is over, you will be sick to death of fighting skeletons and zombies. The game also reuses a lot of the areas from the 2008 campaign King’s Bounty: The Legend. It even reuses one area within the game, which is why the middle portion of the game is a bit of a grind.
One of the flaws of King’s Bounty: Warriors of the North is that the story adds virtually nothing to the game. It is told to you entirely with text and a sense of humor reminiscent of “The Princess Bride”. It is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously, which helps offset how generic and banal it is. Loads of uninteresting characters spout seemingly endless, boring dialog that you will probably just want to skip through. The attempts at humor are frequent, but chances are, you won’t notice them as you click through huge dialog trees in an attempt to receive or complete the game’s various fetch and “kill monster” quests. An interesting story or setting isn’t necessary for this game to be enjoyable, but it would have at least been a nice bonus. If this series ever gets a bigger budget, some voice acting for the main characters could go a long way towards giving more weight to the events of the game.
On top of the great strategy gameplay, Kings Bounty: Warriors of the North offers a great value with its $30 price tag. The worst thing that you can say about it is that it doesn’t deviate much from King’s Bounty: Armored Princess, besides a few details and a few conveniences – or is that the best thing that you can say about it? After all, Armored Princess was an excellent game. If you played it three years ago and you haven’t touched it since then, this formula should feel fresh for you all over again. If, on the other hand, you played through Armored Princess a few times and you would like something completely new, then you could be put off by its similarities with Warriors of the North. If this game had come out in 2009, it would be worth a higher score for having been more fresh. Either way, King’s Bounty: Warriors of the North is a very good game, and whether you are a strategy fan who is new to this series or a fan of King’s Bounty, it is definitely worth owning.