Last week’s Gamescom didn’t deter several high profile games from launching within the same window. We check out King’s Bounty II, Golf Club: Wasteland and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous.
King’s Bounty II review (PS4)
1C’s King Bounty II is a title we didn’t just preview once, but twice. It’s out on PCs and consoles now though, and despite a release date that happened to overlap with Gamescom we wanted to see how it had turned out. To find out, we played the game on a PlayStation 4 Pro.
As we noted in our previews, the unique thing about King’s Bounty II is its blend of a story-driven epic RPG with turn-based tactical battles. This results in a game that, in its open world, looks a bit like The Witcher 3, but changes form when you encounter enemies. And while these turn-based fantasy battles are somewhat common in PC games, they’re relatively rare on consoles outside of the JRPG realm.
Your hero classes for King’s Bounty II include a warrior, a mage and a paladin – though the choice isn’t as impactful as it is elsewhere because you act more like a commander than as a fighter in battle. It makes upgrading your loadout with new weapons feel odd, even though they apparently provide buffs to your troops. Another strange design decision is the fact that moving around the world is a relatively slow process. While it’s not uncommon for PC titles (and MMOs) to be a bit slower paced, this could be a source of frustration if you’re coming at this one from an action RPG point of view – something we imagine is more often the case on console systems. You’ll get faster when you gain a horse, but movement never quite feels nimble.
The controls have been well implemented for the console versions, although the game could do with better/more tutorials to avoid a bit of trial and error. It’ll take a bit of getting used to, but once you get comfortable with the turn-based battles this is clearly the highlight of the game. Besides clever placement of your troops (making use of cover and other tactical advantages) you also have access to magic and abilities that get better or worse depending on how you’ve built your army. There’s a lot going on in terms of mechanics, and I enjoyed my battles to the point where I wish they were part of a standalone game in the King’s Bounty universe.
Instead, you’ll encounter battles at regular intervals during the game’s story campaign through its main quests and side objectives. While interesting, however, it didn’t grab me like RPGs such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect have previously done – or The Witcher 3, for that matter. Some of that’s the writing, some of it the voice over work, and although the story itself is perfectly fine it misses some of the polish we’ve seen in some of the great titles of the past decade. You can spend your skill tree points on a variety of different areas, and it’s probably telling that I mostly invested in things that affected my chances in battle rather than my ability to forge the story.
The pacing of the campaign and the quality of its narrative make King’s Bounty II feel a bit like an older title than it is, but its tactical battles make up for a lot of that as there are few games to compare it to – although if you enjoy isometric RPGs you’ll find that the new Pathfinder is a superior title and that’s coming to consoles next year as well. If you need a 3D RPG fix with a high quality layer of tactical turn-based combat, however, then King’s Bounty II has you sorted.
Golf Club: Wasteland review (PS4)
Remember The Golf Club by HB Studios? The series that turned into PGA 2K21? They’re some of the most realistic golf games out there and have been entertaining golf fans for years now. Well, Golf Club: Wasteland has absolutely nothing to do with those games, despite a similarity in name – but it’s a casual kind of physics/puzzle game with a lot of audiovisual charm.
In Golf Club: Wasteland, Earth has become a barren wasteland where people can no longer live – something that’s entirely our own fault, of course. Mankind now lives on Mars, but Earth is a (spoiled) retreat for the super rich – who can now head there to play golf – because that’s what they do. It’s a narrative setup that’s now just a backdrop, as the game features a story mode that tells you about life on Earth as it ended, how mankind now lives on Mars and how survivors views current and past events.
The core of the experience, however, is to get a ball into a little hole, in 2D puzzle/physics gameplay not too unlike that in the Midnight games – but delivered with far more narrative and audiovisual flair here. Story mode is a relaxed affair, but once you complete the campaign (which is only a few hours long) you can also replay levels to try and beat the best/par scores in a challenge mode.
A lot of thought went into creating a thoughtful story that resonates with the player, which is a nice change in a genre that’s usually all about gameplay and can mostly be found on mobile platforms. Golf Club: Wasteland elevates itself above those games with its narrative and its atmospheric presentation, while retaining a budget price point. Well recommended.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous review (PC)
It’s coming to consoles in 2022, but Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous was just released on PC. After an earlier preview, we’ve now been able to hands on with the full game – and it was worth the wait, as Owlcat has taken the formula of the original Pathfinder and refined it into one of the best isometric RPG games out there.
As so many games that came after it, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous was inspired by the likes of Baldur’s Gate – but where the upcoming Baldur’s Gate looks more like a Divinity game now that it’s with Larian, Owlcat has stuck with the isometric perspective that immediately evokes nostalgia towards some of the classics in the genre.
At the start of the game you find yourself in the city of Kenabres, but a nearby rift has welcomed an army of demons into the world, and their leader Deskari subsequently banishes you to an underground labyrinth. Here, you’re eventually imbued with immense power and the destiny to go back and cleanse the world of demons. Your power ties into your ‘mythic path’, which not only gives you skills that are unique to your choice but which also translates into different narrative paths you’ll take. Pathfinder was always strong with its narrative and the sequel doesn’t break with this tradition.
While a new story, Wrath of the Righteous is firmly rooted in the first Pathfinder game, and those who played it will instantly feel at home. You can manage a party with up to six characters through the story campaign, and the turn-based combat that was introduced with the console launch is also part of the sequel. New to these mechanics is a bigger focus on armies and large scale battles, in which you can use powerful generals to help turn the tide. It might be a bit rough around the edges at times, but it’s a great way of showing the player they’re part of a bigger conflict when you’d normally just focus on a single protagonist and his party of adventurers.
But while Wrath of the Righteous is grand in scale, it’s also a more directed and structured experience than Kingmaker was – a game that could feel like a sandbox experience at times, with so many different stories to start and explore. The sequel keeps tighter control of its narrative, which is a move to more ‘mainstream’ RPGs that some will lament but many will love. It’s now easier to become immersed in the story, and when you do it’s hard to let go.
Be prepared to have that immersion broken if you pick this one up close to launch though, because Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous had more than a handful of bugs when we played it. Some of the visual variety, plenty of the gameplay-breaking variety. We were always able to fix things by reloading a saved game, but obviously no one should have to do that and this game will improve dramatically once these things are fixed. Seeing as how it’s already excellent, that’s saying something. This one is a brilliant RPG, but needed a few more weeks in the oven.