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When lightning bolts start killing your units before either side has taken their first turn, you know you're in for a tough day

Common sense would suggest that you can't go far wrong with a turn-based tactical RPG. Your toughest decision would be whether to have a square or hex grid and the rest would be game design by numbers, wouldn't it? That can't be the case, as I've played a couple of rotters this year in the shape of Legio and Disciples III: Renaissance. King's Bounty: Armoured Princess and its Crossworlds expansion are better than both of them so Katauri Interactive must know something that their competing developers don't.

I fell off the King's Bounty train after The Legend and missed out on its well-received sequel, Armoured Princess. Handily there are now three different bundle packs available to cater to newcomers to the series and casual fans who have missed out on parts of the King's Bounty oeuvre. For this review I was working with the King's Bounty: Crossworlds Game Of The Year Edition, which isn't quick to divulge information on who exactly issued the award but does contain a truckload of game. I was able to see what I'd missed in the original Armoured Princess campaign, play the three new(ish) campaigns from the expansion, and spend some time pressing buttons of indeterminate function in the new editor.

As Danny pointed out in his review, Armoured Princess is insane. That's probably the most interesting and appealing part of the game too! There's a tendency for games to take their swords and sorcery fantasy plots very seriously, to the point of holding on to their grim, medieval roots so tightly that they create a world you just don't want to spend any time in for fear of catching the bubonic plague. The world of Armoured Princess is cheerfully coloured and the writing is cheerfully knowing. It's clear that the developers, or at least the localisers, were more interested in making you smile than immersing you in the conflicts and struggles of the land.

Armoured Princess has you trotting around a chain of islands, taking quests and gathering an army to take into turn-based battles with monsters, pirates, and remarkably tactic-savvy animals. You acquire loot, gain experience, learn spells, and read reams of background lore - to put it bluntly, an RPG happens. There's nothing new about the King's Bounty formula but it does what it does well and with a respectable level of polish.

What's refreshing about the Crossworlds add-on is that the developers have had a go at tweaking the formula in at least two of the three campaigns. "Defender of the Crown" is an epilogue to the Armoured Princess campaign and continues the story of a royal lass who wears just enough metal to cover up her PEGI 12 violators - Princess Amelie to her mates. After spoilering the spoiler and spoiler spoiler spoiler in Armoured Princess she must pass a gruelling test before she can be named Defender of the Crown. I'd argue that she's probably overqualified at this point but they had different standards for heroics in the pseudo-medieval times.

The twist in D of the C is the arrangement of the battlefields. You'll have to think strategically to nullify the advantages the terrain gives your opponents, and that's why Defender of the Crown handed me my arse again and again. It's a short series of battles rather than a sprawling campaign but XP and cash gain are ramped up to give you ample opportunity to level up and try out the new skills on offer. It's certainly end-game stuff for people who've put countless hours into the King's Bounty series and want to test their skill.

Champion of the Arena is my favourite part of the Crossworlds expansion. Instead of Amelie the Armoured Princess you play as Arthur, the Considerably More Armoured Mercenary Guy, and you've been hoodwinked into fighting a series of enormous boss monsters in a gladiatorial arena. The larger scale of the units you fight against has given the artists an opportunity to add more detail and these monsters are certainly among the best looking creatures in the game. Between battles you can work with a variety of guilds with different units and equipment for sale and a range of side-quests but the place to be is the arena, where you'll fight a giant tortoise, a giant spider, a giant gremlin with a castle turret on its back... you know, the usual.

The final part of the Crossworlds expansion is Orcs on the March, a retelling of the original Armoured Princess story with some additional creatures, items, spells, skills, and bits and pieces added to the game world. It's essentially Armoured Princess version 1.5 and, if you're coming to the game for the first time, this is the version of Armoured Princess that you'll want to play through. Mechanically it's no different to the latest patched version of Armoured Princess, it just has a bunch of extra stuff in it and if there's anything RPG fans love, it's more quests, more lore, and more things to stab dudes with.

I came to the Crossworlds package having not played Armoured Princess at all, so there was a real wealth of new content here for me. It has to be said that if you are up to date on your King's Bounty games then really the only brand new things in the expansion are the Defender of the Crown and Champion of the Arena campaigns, both of which will be over well within single figures of hours if you're a competent player. As such, a lot of players have belittlingly referred to Crossworlds as DLC rather than a full expansion and questioned the price; around £15 on its own or £25 bundled with Armoured Princess, which is required to run the expansion's campaigns.

If you already own Armoured Princess then the question you have to ask yourself is what kind of value do you put on another few hours of the game you already have? For the rest of us, the combined Armoured Princess and Crossworlds GOTY bundle is worth the investment if you particularly enjoy turn-based RPGs. If you don't then this isn't likely to be the game that turns you on to the genre, nor is it going to offer you an especially new experience within the genre; just a slightly more appealingly presented one.

 

The obligatory arachnophobe's nightmare level