Review – King Arthur II: The Roleplaying Wargame
This game was reviewed on the PC.
The 2009 release of King Arthur: the Role-Playing Wargame took many gamers by surprise. The seamless integration of real-time battles, turn-based strategy and RPG elements created a wonderfully refreshing experience.
By allowing the player to focus more on traditional RPG character development than on battlefield tactics, Neocore games was able to create an experience that deviated widely from traditional, open-ended strategy games. Storytelling was an intrinsic part of the gameplay, giving you a powerful tool to use not only on the battlefield as your heroes became more powerful, but also helping to shape the story behind the battles and politics.
King Arthur II didn’t set out to change any of that. Instead, the developers at Neocore looked to find even more ways to work in the role-playing aspects of the game into the larger-scale strategy. The end result lets the traditional Total War-style gameplay quickly fade into the background, as new features, a brand-new storyline, and new powers and attributes come into play – all of which have a serious impact as the campaign progresses.
Most notably, King Arthur II is able to drive the game away from the traditional mythos of King Arthur. The original game can hardly be counted as King Arthur literature, despite following closely to the legend behind the hero-king. The game made some decisions for the player already. For example, it’s doubtful that too many players would initially set out to make Arthur an evil, power-hungry monarch, since his character resonates so powerfully as a benevolent king.
However, in KAII, Arthur is magically wounded and his grasp on his kingdom is rapidly fading. This severe departure from the mythos could easily have come at the cost of the previous title’s fantastically immersive atmosphere. Happily, that’s not the case.
The music, which plays subtly in the background during most of your time on the strategy map, is softly evocative and doesn’t interfere with quest narration. Get into a battle, however, and you’re instantly hit with an array of pipes, fiddles, harps, and drums beating out a frantic-but-gorgeous atmosphere for your troop movements and powers. I cannot understate how tied to the experience the music is. Turn it off and the battles seem bland, like you’re just watching the battle progress by following the footprints instead of seeing the units in battle.
All the music in the world still can’t save Arthur himself. Wounded at the end of the first game, the king is now kept alive and ruling only due to some magical stopgap healing. In order to fully heal and to restore his kingdom – and his subjects’ faith in his rule – Arthur and his knights have to embark on quests to find magical artifacts to aid him either by helping lift the magical curse put upon him or to gruesomely dispatch his opponents. Crafting items is an integral part of the game and underscores the dual focus of the game: the kingdom maintenance and expansion, as well as the character and story development.
Unfortunately, the kinks of a hybrid strategy RPG still aren’t totally ironed out. The quest system is a little wonky, sometimes presenting you with multiple approaches and other times shoehorning you into a single immutable approach. Major plot points often have solidly-scripted quests, predetermined to work out either in a battle or diplomatic confrontation. More often, though, it’s an illogical end to a quest in which you’ve invested a lot of time to avoid a fight.
There are also moments in which provoking a fight proves impossible, or by destroying an army you happen upon obliterates the opportunity for a quest further on down the road. In short, it’s not perfect, and the apparent sandbox-style of the campaign map might trick you into trying to get around some of the more difficult story aspects.
The battles themselves, whether you wanted to fight them or not, are also a bit of a problem. There’s a distinct lack of responsiveness to the controls – a second-or-two delay from hitting a command to it being executed that feels odd. While in a perfect world, a movement command will feel crisp and firm, the slight delay means you’re never sure which orders have been implemented or not.
Sometimes the mouse icon will flash … but your troops won’t move. Sometimes they will move even if you haven’t clicked anything at all. It leads to a lot of second-guessing and is easily one of the most frustrating aspects of the whole experience. Depending on the timing, this can prove disastrous, as the game is not very forgiving. Couple the slight delay with a framerate taking a huge nosedive when anything over 1,000 troops are present on the battlefield, and some of the more critical battles can prove to be a nightmare.
There’s a tendency to compare King Arthur II to a Total War title, but I find this to be a little unfair. Total War is a much more traditional strategy game, never seriously attempting to tell a story. When it does, it requires a huge overhaul in the way the game is played that betrays the roots of the game itself. While not entirely unsuccessful, it’s clearly not what the game was built to do. King Arthur II, on the other hand, relies just as heavily on its narrative as it does on the combat and strategy.
Overall, King Arthur II is an intriguing and unique game which successfully marries a story-driven RPG narrative to a sandbox-style strategy core. There are some bumps along the way, but considering the genre was popularized, if not created outright, by King Arthur II’s immediate predecessor, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
I expect to see this genre become more and more diverse and approachable as long as games like King Arthur II can deliver a positive and engaging experience.
King Arthur II: The Roleplaying Wargame earns a powerful 4.25 magical artifacts out of 5.
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