King's Bounty: Armored Princess - Staff Review  

Sadistic Strategy
by Anna Marie "Paws" Neufeld

40-60 Hours
+ Attention to detail
+ Fixes many problems from The Legend
- Overcompensates for problems from TL
- Depressingly difficult
- Easy isn't anywhere close to "easy"
- Flight makes movement trivial
Click here for scoring definitions 

   A number of years have passed since Bill Gilbert closed the portal to the Underworld. Baal has broken loose and is threatening the Kingdom once more. Now it's up to King Mark's daughter Amalie, a gift from the gods who trained under the vaunted hero, to skip through time and space to retrieve Bill and protect her Kingdom before the final bastion is overtaken by the denizens of Hell. Suit up in King's Bounty: Armored Princess, grab a newly hatched baby dragon, and set off for adventure with a companionable steed and wooden boat. No, make that a fast boat -- there are pirates around! This review is intended to address the game both as an original stand alone title as well as a sequel to the previously released King's Bounty: The Legend. Thus while comparisons are a necessity, they should not overwhelm the reader who has not played either title.

   Players may choose one of three classes for Amalie at the start of the game: Warrior, Paladin, or Mage. Warriors rely on their might talents, which focuses on raising stats, rage, and beefing up the princess' forces. The mage eschews troops in order to focus on the mgic tree, mana, and summoned creatures. The paladin strikes a balance between the two and ends up being the superior class for it, focusing on improving leadership and morale in the mind tree while equally addressing rage and mana. Any time the princess levels, she will acquire additional runes which may be used to purchase talents in each of the trees; they may also be found in the world, as treasure during combat or as a reward for a challenging or long quest. Classes will receive more runes for its specific tree than for those native to the other classes, although diversification is encouraged. Regardless of class, the lady relies on her Leadership, which dictates the number of troops she may recruit, to help her acquire the eight gems of the prophecy. Different types of troops may require more or less leadership -- lowly peasants only require a tiny amount of leadership per unit, while majestic Dragons require considerably more prowess to command in battle.

   Within the first ten minutes of game play, Amalie will be gifted with the choice of a dozen baby dragons -- rumoured to one day grow up and become guardians of the world! They're just little tykes for now and raring to go into battle with the spunky princess. Each colour begins with a stat enhancement (such as extra mana or attack), the combat ability Crushing Blow and one other. Which the player chooses is entirely up to them, as the starting abilities are available to all the different baby dragons. For those that played The Legend, this replaces the much-touted Chest of Rage, keeping the most useful and popular abilities while tossing out the superfluous ones. The dragon also has some new and interesting abilities, such as being able to dig up chests and monuments on the battlefield. The dragonling's abilities require Rage, which is gained by exchanging blows during combat. Each ability has a varying Rage cost, and requires one or more turns of Rest for the little guy, snuggled up with his snail pillow.

He's wearing a dress! An intellectual Squire

   Mounting up on her trusty steed, she takes off to explore the world; each gem she acquires aids her further, with one in particular granting her mount wings. New Wander magics offer Amalie a variety of temporary stat boosts or can summoning stacks of mythical creatures. Watch the mini-map for yellow stars, for these mark the treasures lying in wait around the world. Red marks indicate an enemy, which are liable to charge at the fair maiden. Unlike The Legend her steed is afraid of enclosed spaces, and thus she traverses caves, castles, and tower interiors on foot. Also supporting Amalie during her trials is her Squire. There are a variety of men which Amalie may choose from scattered around the world; she may only have one Squire, and each has a specific requirement to fulfil before she may recruit them. These men do not accompany the lady into combat but wear their own equipment in addition to Amalie's, which provide a variety of boosts.

   Combat is simple to learn, but enemies get smarter as the game continues, so it's important to grasp more than the basics. The hero herself stands back overseeing troops, casting spells, and directing her dragon. Every turn of combat, each individual stack of troops will get the chance to perform one or more actions; what they can do depends upon what sort of creature they are. Some troops can move only two spaces, while others can move as many as eight. The hero's troops each have special abilities, such as a flaming arrow for archers (doing extra damage to anyone weak to fire) or a resurrection spell courtesy of Inquisitors and Paladins. Some abilities are usable only once per combat, while others are available again after a few turns. Combat is complete when one side is decimated or has retreated, although the enemy never retreats.

   The graphics are a mix of 2D portraits intermixed in a 3D world and battle maps; fans of the previous King's Bounty game will be delighted to note a number of the models have been cleaned up and embellished. The bestiary has been expanded upon with some animals receiving new colour swap models as well as an entirely new race of Lizardmen. The sound in the game is essentially identical to The Legend and sounds crisp. However the overabundance of animal noises continue, particularly annoying with the new Lizardmen's guttural hoots and snarls. The music sets a good mood in an unobtrusive fashion, but it seems that in the end, it is very forgettable. Like many aspects of Armored Princess the good and the bad intermix together and the player must simply take it as it is.

   Once again the difficulty is a considerable issue for the game. A new rune trading dwarf is available, so Warriors stuck with dozens of Rage runes can now swap them into Magic or Mind and thus players are better capable of balancing their characters -- however, this is the only easing of prior frustrations the player will see. While Easy is still considerably easier than Normal and Hard, the game overall is frustratingly difficult. In addition, the Mage class (previously "the" class to play in The Legend due to a great balance of and abilities) is now the underdog class, as magic scales very poorly in relation to enemy troop size. This problem is compounded by the fact that it is incredibly easy for the player to back inadvertently into a corner where they can no longer move forward as they either cannot defeat the enemies, or that the final boss looms and no other enemies are available to fight. Unfortunately, this is simply the product of a game with finite opponents; the irksome part is there is no good way to gauge if or when the player will become trapped like this. Due to the much higher difficulty, players can expect to spend at least fifty hours with the game on the easiest difficulty alone, with a much higher playtime expected on the higher settings.

   The interface follows the same easy layout that The Legend began; nothing has changed, which is great for new players but may feel like the "same old" to returning players. Amelie's stats, spells, talents, equipment, and runes are all easily accessible at a glance. While several notable talents remain the same, there's been one or two subtle swaps that individualize the trees and entice players to invest in all three though, of course, not equally. The localization is okay, but unlike its predecessor suffers from several spelling and grammatical errors which don't detract from the overall package, but stick out like sore thumbs when each is spotted.

ZAP Combat: bzzZAP!

   How the player feels about the originality of Armored Princess will rely heavily on whether they have played The Legend. By itself, the title is original and feels like a breath of fresh air. Conversely, because the game is so much like its predecessor, those who have played the first game will find the small extra touches nice but the overall package unoriginal as it simply doesn't stand out from the previous series entry. The story is nice but again, feels akin to the former game. However, the pacing is great compared to Bill's story, as the world Amalie visits is broken up into islands. Each of these have their own little theme and accompanying story that plays out through quests and various NPCs, which keeps the experience fresh and entertaining throughout The overarching story holds together well though it ends in an oddly abrupt fashion.

   Armored Princess cleans up and expands considerably on The Legend but manages to stumble over itself with a punishing difficulty curve and a few errors of its own that manage to pull the game down more than the improvements buoy it. It should come as no surprise that cheat codes to bolster Amalie are available on the game's main page, which may be the key to completing the game, even if it may not be entirely moral. While the difficulty should not scare away fans of the genre and anyone looking for a challenge, in the end it may be more suitable for someone new to the series. Someone preferring a more sedate pace may be best advised to check out the previous entry in the series.

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