Royal Bounty HD
If you have played the original King’s Bounty or the older Heroes of Might and Magic games (specifically HOMM2), then Royal Bounty HD will look immediately familiar. And that’s because it’s basically the same game. In terms of gameplay, it’s practically a direct remake of King’s Bounty. Though it doesn’t dare to do much more interesting than that, it’s a mostly decent updated rendition of a classic.
For anyone who hasn’t played the originals or is a bit rusty, I’ll recap on the general gameplay first. In games like these, your main character is a solo hero who roams the land scooping up treasure and investigating interesting looking buildings which usually give some bonus to stats, skills, or resources. Enemies are scattered around the map posing threateningly but are too lazy to engage, instead waiting for you to walk right into them to trigger combat. Many monsters are coincidentally placed in front of treasures and buildings, while stronger foes are strategically placed to create bottlenecks, forcing you to clear out a certain section of the map and build up recruits and experience before you are ready to take them on and break into the next area. It’s all pretty blatant yet works disturbingly well at creating that ‘just one more turn’ feeling.
Combat itself, meanwhile, it’s a turn-based tactical affair taking place on a hexagonal grid. Like a true hero, you don’t do any of the fighting yourself but sit back comfortably on your steed and let your minions do the dirty work. Being more of a strategy game than an RPG, you don’t have a party of rag-tag adventurers and misfits with mysterious but inevitably regal pasts fighting for you, but rather a small army made up of numerous nameless ‘stacks’ of units – dozens to hundreds occupying each slot. You may have at any one time 80 peasants and 20 dwarfs hustling along with you in your trek across the land – which I can only imagine would be absolute hell to feed and manage. Once units are dead, they’re gone forever – and for the first part of the game the only method of repopulating your budding horde is at the various habitat structures scattered around the place. Every 7 turns (7 days in-game) a new week begins which repopulates all the habitats, presumably by 3D-printing another batch of identical peasants for you to send to their quick and probably painful deaths. Despite not doing any fighting himself, your hero does gain experience from combat, and with each level up improves in stats and can choose an ability to gain or improve upon. He can also eventually learn spells and sling fireballs and missiles at enemies or buff his own troops with hastening or blessing spells to boost their power. Later you can eventually find equipable artifacts, which magically boost the attack and defense capability of your units.
In true fantasy style, you’ll start with only a couple of filthy peasants to your name, who aren’t quite sure which end is the pointy end – but eventually start finding more advanced habitats that house anything from sprites to elves to dwarves to tartar wolf raiders, all of which are eager to join you in mass slaughter – provided you have the coin. Each unit comes with its own set of stats, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Sprites, for example, are quite weak but have great movement range which makes them good for rushing enemy archers, while dwarves are slow meatshields with a 40% chance to resist magic attacks – perfect for defending your front line. Being a game about numbers and attrition rather than a power-leveled party of heroes, most units have relatively low HP and opponents’ attacks will usually take out handfuls of units at a time. As units’ numbers drop, their damage output drops too, meaning it’s often worthwhile to whittle down full strength units than pick off stragglers who are only going to do 2 damage per attack anyway.
The originals are great games and the gameplay still holds up today. This notwithstanding, Royal Bounty HD‘s biggest criticism is that it doesn’t really try to do anything new with the formula. For the most part, the game is almost a perfect amalgamation of Bounty and Heroes 2, with the same gameplay formula, same or mostly equivalent unit types, and same types of objects and buildings scattered around the map. The horse stables are there to grant your hero extended movement for a week, while the observation tower reveals a large area of the map around it – even with almost identical flavour text as the original games. That said, if like me you still love the gameplay of the originals the fusing of King’s Bounty and Heroes 2 into a single campaign isn’t a bad thing at all, and also gives the game the opportunity to create a stronger sense of progression. While in the Heroes series you’ll often start pumping out heroes and hordes of archers relatively quickly – here you’ll start out as a lone hero escaping from slavers, picking up rag tag groups of peasants and goblins from wherever you can, and completing quests as you build your reputation to gain an audience with the king. Only eventually moving up from this meagre beginning to managing your own castles while conscripting hordes of Griffins and Knights for your very own team of heroes.
Royal Bounty HD does at least take a few teetering steps towards distinction from the original Bounty/Heroes 2 mould by throwing a couple of variations into the mix. The world is presented in an isometric setting, compared to its forefather’s top-down-centric viewpoint, which allows the world to feel a bit more expansive (opinions on Heroes of Might and Magic 4 notwithstanding). There are also at least a couple variations to how some buildings work. The observation tower, for example, in addition to revealing a chunk of map also grants a +1 movement bonus for all heroes (although it’s not clear how long it lasts for). Units are all highly derivative, but at least there is a lot of them to choose from, and although most of the same tier units aren’t practically speaking that much different from one another, it’s nice to be able to choose whether you want your hero to be known as that weird guy who roams the land calling himself king of sprites or a feral wildman that has a pack of wolves following him around.
There is a main story and it isn’t the stuff of legend, but at least you will bump into a few NPCs who provide various dialogue and quests to add a bit of narrative and flavour to your genocide, such as meeting a hunter early on who will join your army and initiate a quest to recover a powerful royal unicorn unit. These quests add a bit of roleplaying flavour – if token – as in that particular example you can later decide whether to keep the unicorn – which pretty much tanks an entire battlefield at this point – or hand it back into the farm in order to gain the ‘estates’ perk, which like in Heroes 2, grants your hero the extremely valuable ability to generate gold every day. Small interactions and choices like these are not game changing but at least it’s a nice touch.
There are some technical problems with Royal Bounty. The interface, while pretty tidy in design, is too obtuse: it’s hard to get information and you can’t really find out what all the stats and things in the game actually do. There is a status screen for each unit which can be revealed by double clicking on the unit profile on the main map, or right clicking on a unit in combat, which reveals its status like health, speed, and special attributes such as the dwarves’ magic resistance. However, the game never tells you how about this it and sometimes getting the windows to actually pop up is fiddly at best. The UI is not always friendly either, making no attempt to signal where the end of your movement range is. This is a pain in the ass later when enemy heroes are also moving around the map after your turn ends, causing the need for careful judgement of where you end your turn. Without being able to gauge this, you can easily walk over the edge and doom yourself to an open attack.
The game could probably do with some balance improvements too. Early in-game you are given some powerful ranged units as a bit of a headstart. That in itself is fine, except that your ability to complete the first part of the game is practically dependent on these units. There are no ranged units for quite a while – so losing these units can make or break the early game. The AI is not quite as sharp as a piece of lego on the ground that you stepped on at night, and sometimes does a few odd things such as targeting your expendable peasants and goblins while your Elves and Marksmen are free to decimate the opponent’s ranks. Enemies can and will still destroy you if you get too cocky, but it’s more through brute numbers than tactics.
Most of these problems all feed into the biggest pitfall of Royal Bounty HD, which is that it practically relies on the expectation you’ve played the original King’s Bounty or Heroes of Might and Magic games already and are already familiar everything. Early on, for example, it’s not really clear whether a bunch of slavering orcs are stronger than bunch of poncey elves, and there’s also no way to gauge how many enemies will be hiding behind an encounter. If you’re familiar with the original games, it won’t be too difficult to recall the old tricks and traps and get around all this – but newcomers may feel frustrated by Royal Bounty’s HD lack of instruction and guidance.
Problems aside, luckily, Royal Bounty HD isn’t asking for a huge price tag – at only around five bucks it’s a decent serving of proven – if unoriginal – army building action. For the classic gameplay, faithful recreation of a decently wide variety of units, and what is looking to be a relatively lengthy main campaign, it’s pretty much worth it for anyone craving the old fashioned gamplay of yore. As long as you don’t. Those unfamilar with the original games, or looking for something that advances upon the core gameplay might want to save their dollars for King’s Bounty: The Legend, which is only a bit more – around $5-10 – and much more polished. Aside from much more advanced 3D visuals, The Legend does a lot more to update the RPG elements and character development, with tighter exploration/level design (but as far as I recall doesn’t have the HOMM2 castle-building parts). On the other hand, that’s a lot more involved game that demands a lot more time and attention to get through, whereas Royal Bounty HD is much more retro, making it faster to pick up, quicker to play and much more friendly to short gaming sessions.
Posted on November 18, 2015, in Strategy and tagged $5-10, 1 Player, fantasy, Heroes of Might and Magic, iOS, IOSOFTWARE (developer), King's Bounty, RPG elements, Tactical, Turn-based, Windows. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.