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King's Bounty: Crossworlds
Platform: PC
Publisher: 1C
Developer: Katauri Interactive
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: DVD-ROM, Download
Released: US 09/17/10
Europe 09/17/10



Scorecard
Graphics: 65%
Sound: 65%
Gameplay: 59%
Control: 86%
Story: 55%
Overall: 59%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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New content, but you'd never be able to tell by looking at this.
 
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One of the new campaigns.
 
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Achieving an early alliance with the undead guild is easier than you think.
 
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One of the most interesting additions to Armored Princess. Yawnstretch.
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Bob Richardson
King's Bounty: Crossworlds
09/19/10
Bob Richardson

What qualifies as an expansion and what qualifies as a sequel? King's Bounty: Armored Princess (AP) certainly felt like an expansion of King's Bounty: The Legend; much like Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne was an expansion of WCIII: Reign of Chaos. Units gained and lost abilities, and the story was expanded upon using the same world while adding entirely new characters to the mythos. Sequel or expansion, Armored Princess fit this bill entirely, offering a wealth of new content and much-needed polish. However, I'd even hesitate to call King's Bounty: Crossworlds an expansion.

Gameplay

Crossworlds includes Armored Princess with a hint of new content, two new campaigns that feel more like brief sidequests, and allegedly a game editor we did not receive in our advanced copy. The two new campaigns have roughly the same feel, one introducing a new hero, Arthur, and the other shamelessly reusing Amelie from AP. While all three campaigns have slightly different goals and playstyles, the core gameplay is the same. In fact, the game suffers greatly with oversimplified game design. So, the two new campaigns really aren't the same as AP in terms of quality.

What makes the King's Bounty series so satisfying is the exploration and the necessity to customize a team according to what foes lie ahead. This may have been the developers' intent when designing trapped battlefields and a gauntlet of rehashed bosses, but smashing one unit into the other until one side falls down yielded the best, and easiest, results. All details aside, the two new "campaigns" are really that simple.

The details, however, are why you're reading. So, what does 1C have in store for the customer? In Arthur's campaign, the player battles his way through a series of bosses in a tournament-style arena. The only way to do this is through diplomacy with the neighborhood guilds. Of course, not all of the guilds will offer Arthur their services with a simple "Hello." Should Arthur defeat a few bosses, they'll consider offering their services, but don't be fooled by this new system of obtaining stronger units. The game is just the same. For those reading who have played AP or even The Legend, this may come as no surprise. In order to access some of the stronger camps, you can't just stroll up to the shop. More often than not, the player must be strong enough to defeat the enemies pacing back and forth or standing still. This is just like defeating a couple bosses in Arthur's campaign. Sure, he can walk up to all of the guilds as he pleases, but they won't so much as sell him a level one helmet if he hasn't proven his strength. This is the same game, just that it can now be won in two or three hours, and the world is less immersive.

Amelie's new campaign is much the same. She must return to Teana and protect a kingdom in one final trial. I guess. A horde of progressively stronger enemies trot or amble toward the castle, and the only way to defeat them is to shop at the progressively advanced shops along the way. This is the usual RPG ploy we've all become accustomed to, except it's blatantly obvious in this campaign.

Each battle has traps that make the tussle slightly less convenient for Amelie to succeed. However, once you discover one of the many exploitable tactics the campaign becomes more of a "How long until I'm done with this?" affair. To answer that oh-so pertinent question: two or three hours.

As for the Armored Princess additions, yes there are new units throughout the journey and new quests here and there, as well as a unique method of upgrading units, but the game itself is the same. The new "adrenaline" system for the orcs is nothing special. Essentially the orcs have no abilities until they deliver or receive a few blows. Delayed abilities that the player has to earn each and every battle, that's right. The concept is interesting, and certainly suits the "adrenaline" theme, but who wants to use a unit that has to earn its abilities during every skirmish? I'll stick to elves, dwarves, and dragons, thank you. Not all together, of course.

So, there it is. The new content adds up to maybe six hours of grind-tastic gameplay, chock full of meh. I understand that 1C may be trying to spice things up using different approaches to the same game design, but to pretend this "expansion" offers a novel approach to gameplay, or even an added experience, is just plain dishonest.

Story

The added story to Amelie's original campaign as well as the new campaigns, is sparse – and that's being nice. This strikes me more like intern work than what I've come to expect from 1C. I don't mean to be insulting, but I think 1C might. To shovel this kind of lazy writing at fans of the series ndash; especially after receiving acclaimed criticism with AP – makes me wonder what their business strategy is.

Arthur's campaign has a somewhat enticing premise. In order to return to his world, he must battle a series of monsters and win the Championship. A familiar face shows up, who fans of the series have come to know and love (or hate). He forces Arthur's hand and comes across as both friend and foe. Kudos to the developers here. However, this is where intrigue ends, and mundanity begins. Each guild has its motivations for helping aspiring warriors, all of which can be explored through linearity and a couple left clicks. As usual, the undead are misunderstood, the demons are power hungry, and the bounty hunters are – well, bounty hunters. The announcer's a colorful character, but his feigned enthusiasm can grate on the nerves. For some reason, I'm reminded of Arc the Lad.

Amelie's campaign is devoid of almost any plot whatsoever. She wants to earn the greatest title available to a warrior – Defender of the Crown of Darion. Creative, I know. So, with a few words from the king, she's shooed away to defend said crown. Traipsing down a conveniently paved path on a rather linear island, she mows down baddie after baddie. No more, no less. When she thwarts the last remaining evil-doer, she receives some uninspired praise, and then the typical "Victory!" screen appears. Wasn't that time well spent?

As for Armored Princess's extra content, not much was done – or at least I didn't recognize many differences. Does this speak to 1C's impeccable writing style, being able to mimic the same curves the quill struck on the page during its last iteration? Or does it point out just how forgettable the story was in AP? I enjoyed AP's easy-going merchants and hyperbolic, greedy would-be kings when I first played it, but this time I couldn't bear reading window after window of the same old problems. Perhaps the lack of innovative additions in gameplay made me impatient, or maybe 1C could have pushed for a little change. Either way, veterans of AP won't find the extra content motivating in terms of gameplay or writing.

Graphics, Sound, and Control

True to the label of "expansion," Crossworlds does not offer much in the way of graphics and sound. The control is still what fans have come to know, which is great since few hitches, if any, could be found in AP. However, some new artwork or sprites would have been appreciated on the graphical front. Instead, we get recolored robbers and orcs. Really? No unique "witch hunter" sprite? How about a vampire hunter that's parodied Simon Belmont? Yeah, the new units are appreciated, but when designers literally recolor the same old figure the entire experience is cheapened a little. I paid how much for this?

The sounds are the same, which is just as sad. Music hasn't been one of 1C's strong suits in the King's Bounty franchise, but to offer an expansion with no new tracks at all is shameful. They haven't even attempted to remix anything. But again, this is an expansion, and if consumers are okay with the same old tunes, then fantastic. After all, story and gameplay are the real defining factors of a great game, right?

Bowing Out

A few factors will determine whether or not this is a sound purchase. If folks haven't purchased Armored Princess this might be a good buy, but even then, this copy is riddled with typos, graphical glitches, and hidden Russian text here and there. For those who have played and/or own Armored Princess, I can't recommend this game at all. The two extra campaigns are horrifically shallow and lazily put together. Anyone with even an elementary sense of strategy could plow through these on the Hard difficulty setting. Another big factor that had to be left out of this review is the game editor, which could be a huge draw for some fans. Unfortunately, we couldn't comment on the strength and flexibility of the game editor due to its omission from our copy.

Reviewers oftentimes have difficulty succinctly putting how they feel about a game into one word. This is the easiest instance for me: disappointing. When I had heard about Crossworlds after sleuthing about on 1C's website, I couldn't wait for September. Now that I've played the game, I'm horrified. Was Armored Princess luck? I'd like not to think so, but if Crossworlds is any indication of the kind of work we can expect from future installments, I'll be dusting my Sega Genesis off for another go at nostalgia.



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© 2010 1C, Katauri Interactive. All rights reserved.


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