King's Bounty: Legions, like many social networking games, has by and large had little relevant exposure to the "hardcore" gaming community. It should come as no surprise that many of us who have grown up alongside the videogame industry can be quick to write off the FarmVilles and Mafia Wars of the social gaming scene as shallow or lacking in gameplay. After all, having watched the games industry fleetingly grow and develop it self through the years from such humble beginnings as Castle Wolfenstein and the entire Harvest Moon series to what it is today on Facebook, it's no wonder that FarmVille and friends, to some, may seem like a giant step backwards.
After a fairly extensive hands-on with King's Bounty: Legions I will say, as a gamer of the old school, King's Bounty has kicked it up a notch for Facebook as a gaming platform. Fans of the King's Bounty Series will still be treated to the same edge of your seat turn-based strategy they so adore. As one of the few Facebook games with an emphasis on real established gameplay, KBL just may bring something to the table for more than just the casual gamer.
King's Bounty: Legions (PC)
Developer: Nival and KaranX Productions
To be released: Summer 2011
In a recent meeting with the people behind King's Bounty: Legions, I was treated to the first hour or so of gameplay. Being fully aware of the game's presence on Facebook, I was slightly skeptical of how it was claiming to be a legitimately challenging strategy game which would garner lasting appeal for the mainstream gaming community.
In order to properly train fresh knights and commanders for service to the king of the realm, KBL begins new recruits with an informative tutorial which will help to familiarize both veterans of the King's Bounty Series and new comers alike. Those already accustomed to strategy games such as Heros of Might and Magic will immediately breathe a sigh of relief as their eyes browse over the hexagonal game board which we all hold so dearly. Initially KBL feels as fit as a glove, perfect in every way. Battles are frequent and often decided through equal parts cunning and brute strength -- the strategically inept need not apply here. Once the initial tutorial ends though, players might find their world strangely alien for a short time.
The people at Nival have clearly put the conglomerated efforts of their top men to good use as KBL does a fantastic job of masking it's roots as a Facebook game. Conversely, the stamina bar remains garishly displayed atop the UI as an ignominious reminder of the limitations which yet remain. Gone are the sprites so coveted by Zynga, the omnipotent paramount of social gaming. KBL has replaced them with fully rendered 3D environments and vivaciously animated characters and units which were only made possible through Unity, the browser friendly engine. Having had experience developing mobile applications on the Unity engine, I can say KBL is simply a hop, skip and a jump away from appearing on a mobile platform near you.
Featuring over 30 units for you to apathetically order to a premature death, KBL provides an impressive army building experience which, once fully understood, contains more depth than meets the eye. Soldiers are broken down into classes and categorized in several ways which will allow the more astute of captain's to craft an army tailored to meet individual threats. Each unit in a player's army belongs to one of five classes; these classes possess inherent strengths and weaknesses when engaging units of another class. This allows players with superior situational awareness and knowledge of the inner workings of the game to better direct their units, resulting in greater success.
As if that were not enough, each unit type's potential strength is heavily taken into consideration when restricting the units one can use in their army. The weakest unit type available, mortals, are plentiful and may be used with little discretion where the more awe-inspiring immortals and legendary soldiers can only be used in limited numbers.
Resourceful commanders will have access to much more than the keen blades of their legion should they choose to utilize the full array of their arsenal. Magic, available in the form of scrolls which are outfitted prior to battle, will play an integral role in a player's ability to win the day when the killing fields are particularly gruesome. Ranging from simple healing spells to AOE slowing effects and everything in between, the power attributed to magic scrolls can be the ultimate bane or burden of any foe if used to its full potential. Most units on the field of battle also possess secondary, and in some cases, tertiary abilities which may be tapped to terrifying effect.
Those returning to the King's Bounty series have yet to experience the challenge of a human opponent, KBL seeks to change that. As the story goes, KBL was designed as an interoffice conflict resolution program where, like the gladiatorial days, human resources disputes and sexual harassment claims would simply be resolved on the field of battle. That would be a much cooler story were it true, though KBL was conceived and designed out of the desire for PVP in the King's Bounty series. Players killing other players also happen to be Nival's solution to the limitations of the stamina bar in KBL. Costing no stamina to initiate PvP, you can thrash your mother's army and call her a noob regardless of the status of your stamina bar. In fact, so heavily encouraged is PvP that taking part in it, win or lose, will see your stamina bar refilled.
KBL plays host to an intriguing single-player campaign which features dozens of quest and some rather quirky characters to meet along the way. The campaign map allows players to travel between cities and towns called nodes. Quests, shops and battles of all sorts can be found in these nodes with the assortment of specific items and units available unique to the node you occupy. As the player progresses through the single-player story, they will gain access to greater numbers of troops as well as various rare magical scrolls. In the event you lack the time to play, the option to send your soldiers on patrol exists as well. Initiating a patrol will send your soldiers off to fight your battles for you, luckily you keep the spoils while your men risk life and limb for the most meager of salary.
KBL valiantly tries to hide its membership in the realm of social gaming by reducing the emphasis put on social hallmarks such as the ultimate buzz kill that is the stamina bar and dry combat scenarios which ultimately have more in common with a slot machine than even antiquated gameplay experiences such as Pong. Having explained how KBL is the new maverick of social gaming, here is how this apple fails to fall far from the tree: micro-transactions. Micro-transactions have become the pariah of the gaming community of late. Antipodally, thousands of gamers gobble up multiple 15 dollar DLC over a games lifespan which would have been included in a fully fleshed out expansion pack for the same price not but ten years ago. Through clever maneuvering KBL has managed to design a system of micro-transactions which minimally affects a player's effectiveness on the battlefield.
Facebook credits may be purchased and applied to the standard fare items such as stamina potions and experience increasing items. Gold and units may also be purchased though they are almost unreasonably expensive and the units received are random. Consequently, the most economical and effective items available are those which advance a players ability to make strategic decisions. Such items take the form of licenses that vary in effect but generally allow the player to view useful information about an opposing armies health and the units it is comprised of.
King's Bounty: Legions looks as if it will provide the most relevant experience to the mainstream gaming community on Facebook to date. Lacking the aspect of oversimplification which plagues other entries in the social gaming arena, KBL seems to be a true contender for all of our idle time at the office and the home.