Don’t Check Your Patience at the Door
The King’s Bounty series has been around since before Sega made, and stopped making, consoles. In fact, the originals were playable on DOS. Since then, the series has undergone a variety of upgrades to make today’s demanding gaming audience happy. The latest installment in the series is King’s Bounty: Crossworlds, which isn’t so much a sequel as it is a large and comprehensive expansion. It features the original King’s Bounty: Armored Princess and then adds three additional “campaigns” on top, one of which is the original with some extra updates.
It is important to note that there are three versions of Crossworlds. The full version is a standalone game that contains the original Armored Princess plus all the new content. The second version contains just the new content but is still a standalone game. Finally, the third is more along the lines of a traditional expansion pack, therefore requiring you already have Armored Princess installed on your computer. Providing the varying options is great because for someone like me, a newcomer to the series, the full version feels right, whereas veterans who already own Armored Princess won’t be forced to purchase it all over again.
Crossworlds is a mix between RPG and turn-based strategy. In each campaign, you control a main character and guide him or her through a real-time world talking to NPCs, accepting quests, using gold to acquire troops to fight in your army, and upgrading your weapons, skills, and spells. But, once the battles begin, the RPG, point-and-click movement is replaced with a turn-based, hexagon-style strategy game. At this point, you must move your forces around the board, picking the right mix of spells, attacks, and unit combinations to achieve victory. Sure, it’s a tad slow compared to a hack-and-slash title, but that isn’t the point. There is a lot of depth to the combat in Crossworlds, which makes it a lot of fun to play as well as a great deal of experience to master.
In fact, I decided to skip the tutorial during my first attempt at the game. Naturally, I got my butt handed to me rather embarrassingly. After that point, I started to get a the hang of how the combat played out, and, before I knew it, I was winning my battles rather decisively.
One flaw in the game’s design is the lore and story, which obviously affects the RPG elements a lot. All the voice acting is limited to the cutscenes, which don’t really provide much in the way of role play. After that, all lore and quest information is given in the form of long text trees. Moreover, you can tell there is an attempt to make the player feel like he or she is actually making decisions because different dialogue options are available when speaking to NPCs. Unfortunately, they are merely cosmetic, as choosing to say something mean or bratty rather than accommodating doesn’t seem to affect the outcome of the conversation in the slightest.
Another issue with Crossworlds, which is more of an issue with Armored Princess, is the lack of a big world. Throughout the main campaign, you’re forced to traverse small islands laid out in a linear fashion. Once you defeat the main bad guys on one island, the next one becomes available. From there, you simply fast travel between them and continue. The combat system is obviously the core gem being offered by the King’s Bounty series, so it seems unfortunate that the RPG elements don’t complement it as well as they could.
Crossworlds includes an updated Armored Princess campaign as well called Orcs on the March, which simply adds content to the original game’s plot, so it is difficult to hail it as being much more than a glorified DLC pack. On the other hand, Crossworlds does offer campaigns such as Arena Champion, in which the player assumes the role of Arthur, a knight who has been tricked into competing in arena combat to achieve fame and fortune, and Defender of the Crown, which has players in the shoes of Princess Amelie again, showing the events after Armored Princess. Both of these campaigns break the standard quest-based RPG elements and replace them with boss fight after boss fight.
The arena style gameplay in Crossworlds is arguably the shining point in this offering, as it focuses almost completely on tactical, turn-based combat. Defeating each boss one at a time will require a lot more than simply massing troops and getting upgrades. Those who don’t mind sacrificing a bit of lore and story for overcoming strategic challenges will enjoy these campaigns very much.
Visually, Crossworlds definitely finds itself pledging to the stylistic form, sacrificing realism for over-the-top and colorful environments and characters, and it works well. Controlling your hero and moving him or her around the game world feels very much like a custom game of Warcraft III. The top-down, third-person style doesn’t do much for the RPG portion of the game either. It is difficult to connect with the character when you feel like you’re watching from a blimp hovering over the map. Conversely, you do get a more personal look at the characters once in combat, as the camera comes much closer in for the action. There is no blood or gore in the game, as it likes to keep a very light-hearted and fun tone, and to its credit, I barely even noticed the lack of both. Crossworlds is visually competent, knows exactly what it is trying to display, and executes it well.
The game is also about as simple to control as it gets. Almost everything you need to do can be done with a mouse. Moving your hero around the map is as simple as pointing and clicking where you want to go. Interacting with NPCs, purchasing items, upgrades, troops, and looting resources around the map are down by simply left-clicking. Crossworlds manages to offer a deep strategy game coupled with the ease of simple controls, a combination not seen as often as gamers would like.
Another factor that hurts Crossworlds is in its menu usability, which is a problem because of how much it offers. After launching the game, all four campaigns are selectable, but switching between them requires restarting the game. While this may seem like a minor inconvenience, it does cause some confusion. For example, I promptly saved my Armored Princess campaign so I could switch over to the Arena Champion campaign. After an hour of battling giant monsters, I decided to save my game. On the screen showing all previously saved games, I noticed nothing was there, which made me think the saved games were stored in separate folders, one for each campaign. Unfortunately, I was mistaken and accidentally overwrote my original saved game of Armored Princess.
King’s Bounty: Crossworlds is an odd game to review. At its core, it’s a rehash of the original Armored Princess, but with a myriad of updates and content. Considering this, it is difficult to comment too much on the game without feeling as if I’m writing a review on Armored Princess instead. Regardless, Crossworlds is an enticing package because of simply how much it has to offer gamers who love deep, turn-based strategy games similar to Heroes of Might and Magic. Its three versions makes it easy for newcomers like me to grab everything at once and enjoy what I’ve been missing, while also catering to the loyal fans who already own the previous versions. If you like this style of gameplay at all, you’ll like what Crossworlds has to offer. For $34.99 or less, depending on which version you want, you can’t get much more bang for your buck.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The stylistic, colorful, and cartoonish visuals go well with no blood or gore, and make this run well on almost any PC. 3.5 Control
Being able to play an entire game with a few mouse strokes and clicks is underrated today, especially considering the depth of gameplay. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is unremarkable, the sound effects can be annoyingly repetitive, and the voice overs are what you’d expect, but they aren’t noticeable enough to ruin the game. 3.5 Play Value
The rather slim RPG elements coupled with deep, strategic, turn-based combat, and a lot of new and extra content makes Crossworlds a definite value. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.