Envision a game that has epic, fast paced, micro-managed, tactical combat with a historical context, and an immersive story with impactful choice. A game that tries to do all these things and gets it right, is a game that almost anyone would play. There are a few that come to mind right away for most gamers, namely the Total War series, which contains many of those elements. The latest offering from Neocore Games and publisher Paradox Interactive, King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame, tries to live up to that billing, but does it succeed?
King Arthur II is a tactical combat game, mixed with elements of a fantasy RPG. It seems to me that is a lot to chew on in one game unless the elements are executed so flawlessly that you don’t realize you are doing all those things at once. Isn’t that the goal after all? Deep immersion? A discussion about KAII can be distilled pretty easily into an analysis of two of the game’s key features: combat and story. Let’s go over them, shall we?
"It’s not great, in fact there are many elements I wouldn’t even classify as good, but there aren’t any massive, game destroying, deficiencies either."
You don’t have to have a whole lot of imagination to conjure up the combat style of King Arthur II. If I painted you a picture of this title’s combat as a very poorly executed version of Total War, with magic, then you would have a solid idea of what’s in play here. It doesn’t seem fair to just leave it at that though, so I’ll go into a little more detail. Just as in the Total War series, KAII let’s you manage the squads of your armed forces and move them to engage and flank opposing units. You control a number of different types of units: cavalry, infantry, archers, etc… In addition, you also control “heroes”, which are very powerful and have special magical abilities. Those powerful abilities range from anywhere from poisoning to lightning bolts, and can be performed at range. The objective here is total annihilation. This means that typically, while playing, I simply found myself rushing my infantry at the hero group and winning a war of attrition, as opposed to a more tactical fight which allowed my units to be slowly whittled away by the opposition’s magic users. The pace though does not in any way feel like you are rushing headlong into the inferno, as this tactic should feel. While rushing your units towards the enemy, it feels like it takes forever just to get them there. Your army is also a nightmare to control. While I am sure the intent of this combat system was to be engaging and exciting, since its base elements have worked in other games, KAII instead feels like a poor man’s version of those other games.
The graphics and sound are likely what you will find to be the strongest features of the title. I am not a fan of most medieval style overlays (ie the fonts and UI decorations) in games like this, as somehow I find they mostly miss the mark (See Dawn of Fantasy as another example). The UI here is no exception. That being said, the quality of the graphics overall is high, about at par with what you would expect for a game developed in 2011/12. There is a moment just prior to battle when the game does a flyby of the entire field of play – which I think from a gameplay perspective was a pretty decent idea. Yet the flyby is weakly executed, stuttering on my high end desktop. It makes the whole experience feel just a little off. Maybe just another example of how King Arthur II is good, but not great, just there. The sound and music are well executed. Narration is likely the single best executed feature of the game. The voice casting was perfect and the text is well read. We’ve seen recent examples of amazing narration changing the entire feel of the game (Bastion obviously) and I think the narration in King Arthur II makes this game significantly stronger.
Neocore made an honest effort to wrap this game in a decision-based story. The choices you make impact your morality scale. This might be KAII’s strongest aspect, as the scale is a decent departure from the traditional good versus evil. Your decisions and how far towards one side you align yourself will provide you with a number of bonuses. I like that they put a little thought into this as opposed to simply mailing it in with the classic good call versus bad call. The story, while a moderately interesting mash-up between a classic Arthurian style legend and a demon invasion, is slow and plodding. The choice system, which I just said was a step above the usual, is still extremely tedious. While the narrator’s voice is fantastic for this type of game, the time is takes to move from one decision to another and finally get to the point where you are actually playing again, seems like ages.
Even though it’s a game you want to like, King Arthur II is frustrating. Every one of the individual elements has the potential to be great. The combat could be more visceral, more engaging and tactical, and it definitely needs to be faster paced. The story, while well written and narrated, was implemented and woven into the game poorly. It could have moved you through the game with intrigue and that “one more turn” feeling, except for the fact that the turns seems to take far too long to get to. It was also released in a fairly buggy state, which is always a frustrating experience for any gamer. Admittedly, since release the game has been improved slightly with patches to rid itself of bugs and improve mechanics, but nevertheless, the game is still a little sluggish on my high end PC.
I’ll admit to being on the fence in terms of advising you to purchase this title. It’s not great, in fact there are many elements I wouldn’t even classify as good, but there aren’t any massive, game destroying, deficiencies either. There is little to keep you playing this once you beat it either; the game has no multiplayer or co-op features. I will simply suggest caveat emptor, buyer beware. If you struggle dealing with a game’s shortcomings and typically pick apart the mechanics of a title, don’t pick this one up. If you don’t care and are looking for some mindless swordsmanship, pick it up when it comes on sale on Steam would be my advice.
Release date : 2012-01-27
Publisher : Paradox Interactive
Developer : NEOCORE Games
Gameplay : Strategy
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