Pet dragons, scantily clad princesses and intricate hex-based battles between robots and mages? Katauri Interactive is piling on the crazy again for its sequel to last year's King's Bounty: The Legend.
King's Bounty: The Legend came out of nowhere last year and managed to overcome my apprehensions toward turn-based strategy-RPG battles and shoddy localizations from Russian to become one of my favorite PC games of 2008 (even if I could never beat it). I'm not sure how they managed to get the follow-up going so damn quickly for a slightly obscure title like this, but why complain? King's Bounty: Armored Princess is looking stellar, though it does come with a handful of disclaimers.
First disclaimer: the title of this game is misleading. For one, the eponymous "armored princess" is anything but. Princess Amelie, who enters the treacherous world of Teana in search of her mentor Bill Gilbert, has more hair on her head than armor on her body. This isn't necessarily a complaint. Moreover, the title doesn't exactly make clear the nature of the game. Is this an expansion pack or a sequel?
Publisher 1C Company is calling it a sequel, and considering what passes for part twos nowadays, I'd be willing to give it to them. Gameplay-wise, Armored Princess is essentially the same beast as The Legend. The biggest differences are that the over-world is entirely new (and looks a bit better than The Legend's) and the combat and character building systems have been beefed up (more skills, raised level cap).
In combat, Amelie takes a back seat and lets her recruited troops do battle on hex-based fields. She can use skills she's acquired from the skill trees that give the game some of its RPG flavor, but it's the mages/priests, holy knights and, uh, robots with harpoons that do the real (turn-based) fighting. That's essentially how things went in The Legend, but in Armored Princess you're also aided by a pet dragon that looks exactly like Stitch from Lilo & Stitch.
The dragon, which will develop skills as Amelie gains experience, can be called on during any turn in battle. It has some pretty nasty abilities for being such a cute little creature, like a dive attack that does area of effect damage or an egg that spawns more troops. I'm not sure if the dragon functions as a replacement for the Spirits of Rage from the first game, but it's a worthy ally nevertheless. Just like in The Legend, your units are expendable and will die (though you can always buy more) if they take enough hits. The dragon, however, sits on the sidelines and grows as you grow. It's always there, adding a whole other set of options in battle that you can always rely on, and making fights a bit more manageable than they were in the first game.
Not that they're easy. Consider that your second disclaimer: The Legend was hard, and Armored Princess is still no cakewalk, Stitch dragon or no. If you're used to two-minute quickie battles in other RPGs, you'll have to slow your roll: every single battle I fought took at least ten minutes and I had to retreat from a good number of them.
The open-ended over-world seemed especially busy, even more crowded with treasure chests, questgiving NPCs and enemies than the first game, so I was constantly getting into battles before I could finish licking my wounds. When they were against evenly matched opponents, making use of the dragon and the full spellbook I had to cast buffs and defensive barriers usually won the day, but against anything beyond my level, I was helpless. I did notice that Amelie does get a pegasus eventually, which should make exploration a lot easier than it was in the first game.
Battles do make the core of the King's Bounty experience, so I suppose the gauntlet I went through was indicative of the general Armored Princess experience, but I do wish I'd gotten more time to talk to some of the NPCs, whose dialogue provided some of the same bizarre and twisted humor that gave The Legend its unique voice.
All in all it seems like a worthy successor to Armored Princess - prettier, more accessible but still unapologetically challenging. Look for King's Bounty: Armored Princess on PC later this year. Pray that Disney doesn't sue 1C before they can publish the game.