Armoured Princess is insane; a feat in itself considering this is the follow up to 2008's utterly mad strategic RPG Kings Bounty: The Legend. Now, the demons from the original are back and in this expansion you follow Princess Amelie as she travels through a portal to the alternate world of Teana in an effort to protect her homeland, which thanks to her ditzy actions has been frozen in time. Convenient really because this mad as a hatter tactical RPG is quest based and there are plenty of those here to keep you occupied for hours upon hours.
Like almost every fantasy RPG that's ever been created, your first task is to choose Amelie's class, either Warrior, Paladin or Mage. This will ultimately have influence on your battle tactics as you play through the main story. What this choice of classes won't do however is actually cover Amelie in that much armour. An armoured bikini may look sexy, but it hardly screams practicality on the battlefield. Unless bone idle enemy troops really just ignore all that exposed flesh are just going for the breasts in some perverted idea of a military strategy, but that seems unlikely. Anyway, I digress...
No matter what class you choose the quest based story plays out in the same way. You'll wander around, talk to people, accept quests, equip magical items and kill things. You'll take quests from a variety of RPG clichés including Kings, Warlords, Pirates, Barbarians and Dwarves, but if you're about to close this page while muttering ‘Not another bloody RPG' fear not because Armoured Princess doesn't take itself seriously at all. The text-based dialogue is genuinely witty (if occasionally poorly translated) and you'll want to talk to everyone in order take on as many quests as possible during your progress through the brightly coloured, cartoony Islands of Teana. Why? Because you'll need all the gold and experience you can find in order replenish your troops who generally have the life expectancy of anonymous henchmen in a James Bond film.
Yes, the strategic hex-based battles from Kings Bounty return and boy, are they tough. This expansion assumes that you've mastered The Legend and really piles on the pressure from the outset. Armoured Princess makes the steep learning curve of another RPG, Divinity II: Ego Draconis, look flatter than a pancake...which has been driven over by a steamroller. Multiple times. But this is an RPG after all and RPG enthusiasts know that gaining levels is more addictive than drugs and more pleasurable than sex. You'll play Armoured Princess for hours at a time just to reach the Holy Grail that is the level up screen.
As you roam about the world on horseback you'll run into enemies but these aren't random encounters, you can see them on the map. Hover your cursor above the enemy and Armoured Princess will tell you the strength of the unit which can range from very weak to Invincible. However, once you're off the first Island you won't find many easy foes and you'll need to gain levels through pitting your wits against higher level opponents. These battles aren't impossible but even with a lot of planning, strategy and patience you'll still lose large numbers of troops. This doesn't matter that much, because troop numbers can always be replenished through buying more with gold before you take on more quests and enter more battles.
So what do these battles involve? Well, you control an army consisting of up to five different types of troop. The number of troops you can command is determined by your leadership stat which rises as you level up, complete missions and find bonuses. You could choose to field an entire army made up of hundreds of weak units like peasants and skeletons or you could choose to field small numbers of elite units like Vampires or Mages. However, it's most likely you'll go for a mix of the two and lead armies containing various units stolen straight out of Dungeons & Dragons.
No matter how many troops you command, your units are represented on the battlefield through single characters who you'll order about a small hexagonal grid. These battles are strategic turn based affairs and you'll definitely need your thinking cap on in order to succeed. There are various magic spells at your disposal in to even the odds but you're still likely to lose large percentages of your army in every battle, despite the help of your special little dragon friend. Yep, that's right. Amelie owns a Dragon who also levels up and learns skills. Your brightly coloured little pal will save your bacon on numerous occasions as you make your way back and forth across Teana in order to complete quests. Winning a tough battle really is a satisfying feeling...even if your ‘victorious army ‘is reduced to a couple of useless peasants with pitchforks when the conflict is over.
Armoured Princess isn't without its flaws. The graphics are nice and bright but they're now starting to look a little basic, but given the cartoonish nature of the series isn't a massive problem. The battle sounds...or lack of them is also a slight downer but you'll no doubt be too deep in thought thinking about your next tactical decision to notice. The camera can occasionally be a problem while exploring as scenery can obscure an army of invincible enemies which will attack your army before you've even noticed them. You also can't overlook the fact that Armoured Princess is bloody hard! It's an expansion pack after all but even on its easiest setting it provides a stiff challenge. If Napoleon Bonaparte himself was alive today and had access to a computer, he'd no doubt be tested by this one. Of course, some experts may not see a huge challenge as a bad thing.
Armoured Princess carries on with what Kings Bounty did before it in providing an addictive quest-based tactical RPG which is a pleasure to play. Sure, it doesn't really add much apart from a few new units and a new campaign to the original but if you enjoyed The Legend and want more of the same -and a new challenge - then you should definitely check this out. Armoured Princess is an enjoyable, addictive romp which will provide hours of fun, though if you're new to the series, and want to skip the original, you should really play it on Easy. Don't worry no one will judge you...much.