As one of my most pleasant gaming surprises in the last few years, the return of the King's Bounty series a little while back seemingly came out of nowhere and managed to find a permanent place on my hard drive, an honor few titles receive from me. Continuing in that strong tradition, King's Bounty: Crossworlds, the latest expansion into the incredibly entertaining quasi-turn-based fantasy strategy series, offers up heaps of additional adventuring goodness.
For those new to the series, King's Bounty is a turn-based fantasy title that spawned the venerable Heroes of Might and Magic series, which in turn was a spiritual precursor to the updated King's Bounty: The Legend, which was then expanded by King's Bounty: Armored Princess
. In each of the King's Bounty titles, players roam about a fantasy world, gathering up armies composed of stacks of various and sundry fantasy creatures. Turn-based battles take place on a hex-based field, where players order the unit stacks to eradicate the enemy. In additional to simply attacking, each unit type has special characteristics and abilities at its disposal, and finding the right mix of units is much of the game's challenge. Combining army building with the collection of spells and items for the player's hero, and there are scores of hours to be lost in the quirky fantasy mix.
King's Bounty: Crossworlds introduces two new shorter campaigns to the King's Bounty lineup, in addition to seriously sprucing up the previous standalone expansion, King's Bounty: Armored Princess. First up is "Champion of the Arena", in which a new hero, Arthur, is tasked with battling through a series of "superboss"-style fights to ultimately win the Champion's Belt. Given seriously limited funding, players must build their armies by purchasing units from a series of Guilds, each of which specializes in a particular race or group of unit types. Players gaining membership to some of the guilds will soon find themselves excluded from those guilds of opposing alignment--meaning players need to take care in their decisions on which army types to pursue. Membership in some guilds also requires success in the arena, limiting the more powerful units until later in the game. Combining these limiting factors with a randomly-generated mix of available units, there is a great deal of replayability in these short campaigns. And just because the campaigns are short doesn't mean players won't gain access to the higher-level abilities--Arthur gains a ridiculous amount of experience (and money) for each battle win, launching him through the levels. The shorter campaign is perfect for those wanting a good King's Bounty challenge without needing all the hours for the full run.
The other short campaign, "Defender of the Crown", features the heroine of Armored Princess, Amelie. Following the events in Armored Princess, Amelie must now complete a series of challenges to earn the titular award. This time around, Amelie faces a series of enemy heroes and their armies, again facing a limited selection of available units and funds. Many of the Defender of the Crown battles take place in some truly unique battlefields, such as one littered with random teleporters or another which begins with the enemy firmly entrenched behind walls. Again, each victory awards Amelie with an accelerated experience award, propelling her through the levels and making for a quick and satisfying (and very replayable) run.
Finally, "Orcs on the March" offers a decent-sized expansion to the Armored Princess campaign. Adding a bunch of new quests, a few new areas to explore, and scads of new items and spells, Orcs on the March was a great way to return for a few more go-arounds of Armored Princess. In addition to the immediate threat of Baal, Amelie now faces the orcish hero Red Scrounger, who hopes to awaken an ancient Power. And, as all fantasy fans know, awakening ancient Powers is generally a very, very Bad Thing. The new quests and locales, including the Military Acadamy and a mysterious magical tower, add quite a bit of content to the campaign. Since the focus is on an Orcish threat, many new Orc units are introduced as well. These units are an interesting mix, and each comes with a new "adrenaline" ability. Adrenaline is sort of like Rage for Orcs--as it builds up on the battlefield, each unit unlocks new abilities. With the addition of a few new adrenaline-altering spells and items, fielding an Orc army can be quite enjoyable. And the makeovers weren't limited only to the Orcs--many of the old familiar units received additional skills, abilities, and tweaks. To many to mention right here, the additional skills make the units different enough that a rethinking of army building strategies (and probably several more replays) are in order.
Finally, something many players were looking for: a full campaign editor. Given my complete lack of creative talent, this is something I won't have a lot of use for myself, but I can certainly reap the benefits after the much-more-talented fans get a turn at the campaign design wheel.
All in all, King's Bounty: Crossworlds is a welcome addition to this very enjoyable series. Crossworlds is available in three versions--as an expansion to Armored Princess, as a standalone bundled with the previous title, or as a platinum edition complete with the original King's Bounty: The Legend, perfect for those wanting to dive headfirst into this thoroughly entertaining fantasy series.