If you've not yet played any of the now four 21st century King's Bounty games, you've missed a real treat. While bearing the name of an old 80s strategy-roleplaying classic (and precursor of the more renowned Heroes of Might & Magic series), these new ones are lavish, humour-packed affairs as well as being monstrously compulsive and offering meaty turn-based battles with vast armies and ridiculous magic.
While the three previous games - with the first, King's Bounty: The Legend, remaining the best of the bunch - were set in a fairly traditional fantasy world, new one Warriors of the North moves things up North and to a more Scandinavian-based set of myths and magic. This means drunk Vikings, longboat pursuits, Norse gods, vengeful valkyries and a whole lot more snow, though frankly this stuff is just set-dressing rather than changing what's become a highly familiar formula.
If you have played one of the earlier games, Warriors of the North offers no surprises. It looks the same, but it's testament to the series' robust engine and semi-cartoonish art style that it still looks perfectly contemporary even four years on. The disappointment is that it plays the same as the last three games too. There are new units and spells and the now-traditional tens of thousands of words of good-humoured babbling, but outside of learning what new abilities do, it's same as it ever was.
To wit, real-time roaming across a large overland, taking on quests, collecting loot and picking fights with wandering monsters. Upon doing the latter, the game switches to turn-based, hex-based combat between two armies of assorted knights, bandits, orcs, zombies, demons, dragons, bears, elves or whatever else you've recruited to your force in your travels.
While lost units can be replaced if you have enough gold and if the various shops stock enough of them, key to surviving King's Bounty games is minimising losses as you take down your enemies. Let your troops dwindle too much too often and you'll find you're a) easy prey to the next foe you encounter and b) increasingly unable to replenish your squad.
Careful deployment of protection spells, loot with army-wide benefits, levelling up the beardy Norse hero who leads them and special uber-attacks will help to do this - and getting a handle on that requires paying relatively close attention to quite a few stats. Fortunately, this isn't presented drily, and the pursuit of bigger, better numbers (not to mention bigger, better beasts and brutes for your army) has the satisfying compulsion of a decent RPG or MMO.
Unfortunately, unsympathetic map and quest design in Warriors of the North means a lot of tedious backtracking and grinding through fights with samey enemies. It lacks the verve of The Legend, yet is even more of a straight retread of it than the already somewhat perfunctory second and third games were. The Viking gags quickly give way to rote go here, do that tasks in homogenous locations, so it winds up being a matter of playing until you get bored, rather than because there's a pull to finish it.
If you're new to the series it's not a bad starting point as it's eased the wildly spiking difficulty of the first game and is a lot less fascinated with its own lore than the second and third. Really though, as you can pick up The Legend for a song, it's a better place to head even despite its occasional unfairness.
The King's Bounty faithful, meanwhile, will feel like they're treading water while, some four years on, they still wait for a true follow-up rather than another repeat. At least Warriors of the North gives you a flying horse to ride almost straight away, though.