Review: Hero of the Kingdom II

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I talk a lot about the different ways developers handle their sequels, but ultimately a new installment is always expected to be an improvement in some way. On rare occasions you have games so good that more of the same is acceptable, but in general you want a sequel to be longer, deeper, explore new directions, or refine the existing formula. Honestly the original Hero of the Kingdom is one of those games that I would have been fine just having more of, considering how sublimely chill it was. And I definitely got that here, but with some pleasant surprises that help it surpass the original.

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Yours is a tale of tragedy, you and your sister being the only survivors of a terrible fire that claimed your homestead. With luck you find your way to a tiny coastal village and into the home of a kindly old man, who raises you as best he can. But your idyllic days of picking berries and collecting shells ends when the vicious pirate Black Rose attacks, sacking the village and kidnapping your dear sister. You’ll stop at nothing to get her back, and your journey will take you across the entire kingdom and the high seas to contend with beasts, pirates, spirits, and worse.

I’m sure this sounds suitably epic, but if you played the first Hero of the Kingdom you know just what you’re getting here. Your adventure plays out across lovingly-rendered static maps, with hotspots for you to click on to talk, trade, and quest. Most of those quests will be menial tasks for folks, from clearing fields to milling grain to fixing wagons. Each task requires the right mix of items collected or bought, tools, potions, companions, and stamina. You’ll be trading and hunting for the goods needed to complete your chores, all the way to the climactic battles at the end of your odyssey.

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Just as before this is an incredibly relaxed process, thanks to the absence of time constraints or failure states. The only challenge is sussing out where to trade your goods to get what you need, and where to find the best deals. The first big deviation from the original game is how this is more of a consideration, because the world is much more open than before. HotK I saw you questing through discrete sections of the world at a time, solving the problems of one village or camp before moving on. HotK II on the other hand opens up over half the world almost immediately, allowing you to explore coasts and cities and caves all at once as you piece things together. It’s a very different pacing and one that’s very welcome, giving the game a more epic and open-ended feel.

That was hardly the only difference, much to my delight. Hero of the Kingdom II also has a much greater emphasis on the “hero” part, pitting you against far more snakes and spiders and zombies in your quest. Whereas the first game ultimately felt more like a trading sim, this one has entire side quests about clearing sewers of the undead, taking down necromancers, hunting giant crocodiles, and so on. The pirate theme also does a lot for the game, highlighting quests to explore the oceans and battle scurvy ne’er-do-wells. There’s even a section in the middle where you’re essentially stranded on an island and must make do without the prodigious supplies you’ve surely squirreled away up to that point.

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There are yet more improvements, such as new disciplines like lockpicking and a longer overall runtime at 4+ hours. Really though, the important part is that Hero of the Kingdom II captures all the magic of the first in an expanded, improved package. The quests are more interesting, the world feels bigger, there’s more to do, and it all looks and sounds just as good as before. There’s seriously nothing I can knock this one for, as it does everything you could ever expect of it. If you liked the first Hero of the Kingdom, this is an absolute must-buy for an even better way to leisurely adventure.

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