Review: King Arthur II : The Role-Playing Wargame
Are you a strategy fan? Do you like the Total War style, real-time combat, but far enjoy more mythical, fantasy settings? Well then you may have already heard of King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame, debuting in 2009 from Paradox Interactive and Neocore games. The game blended elements of strategy/wargames and borrowed a bit from the Total War style of battle mechanics. It was lauded by many and fairly well received. Now, as of January 27th, the much anticipated sequel, King Arthur II, has arrived. Is it found fitting of a seat at the Round Table, or shall it be cast into the depths for the Lady of the Lake?
Our story begins where most of the Arthurian legends have come to a close. Arthur was successful in uniting Britannia, vanquishing all opposing forces and bringing peace to the lands. Fast forward a few years, Arthur is now gravely ill with an unknown affliction. Merlin is nowhere to be found and the lands are being overtaken by monsters-the Fomorians, vile and vicious creature devoid of souls or mercy. Neighboring armies and factions are now capitalizing on a divided Britannia and looking to muscle in for their share of the pie before it is devoured. You step into the shoes of Arthur’s son, William Pendragon, during the darkest time Britannia has known. Revolution and war are on your heels and you are on a hopeless quest to find Merlin and a cure for your father, while somehow attempting to turn the tide against the Formorian menace and unite Britannia once again. At the onset of the game you are given the opportunity to choose a few important details about what type of leader and warrior young William will be, how kind or ruthless a leader he will become and what types of armies he will lead. After that, much like young William Pendragon, you are thrown to the wolves.
Now that you’ve been brought up to speed, the gameplay is a fantastic hodgepodge of Heroes of Might and Magic, blended with the combat system of the Total War franchise. Now I say that because players of those games will notice similarities, but King Arthur II is actually nothing like either of those franchises, it manages to carve a pretty rich niche for itself. Most of the gameplay takes place on the map overview, where you control your armies and take on quests to save your kingdom and vanquish it’s enemies. Quests will appear as scrolls on your minimap and not all will lead you to a strategic battle. Quite the opposite, the majority of these quests, I’d say as many as 75%, will lead to a story driven sequence where you have multiple choices as to how to approach each situation and how you might resolve it. In essence, a narrator reads aloud the situation you are found in and you pick solutions or responses to each of the branching paths in the quest. The result may be that you kill certain characters and gain points akin to making your character a dictator, or you may take on compassion and mercy, and align yourself with other like-minded factions. The story is fantastic and has a rich, “choose your own adventure” book style feel to it. Your decisions and questing will play into the diplomacy and morality of your character, aligning you with certain factions. To the diplomacy end, there will be trade and alliance options for you to take on, should your moral compass be attuned to the faction you wish to team up with. Every now and again, diplomacy will fail and your conflicts must be played out on the battlefield, eliciting many comparisons to the Total War franchise. You have a deployment phase, where you may arrange your troops within a given section of the battlefield, and from there on out, it’s a real-time fight to the last man or Fomorian standing. The battlefield strategies rely on using the correct unit types to counter the opposing forces, as well as using the magic abilities of your hero units and specialized spell granting locales on the map, to outwit and overcome your opponents. Terrain, placement and elevation can be the difference between life or death on the battlefield; it usually boils down to a blend of flanking, bottle-necking and dealing magical damage on the attacking armies to be able to seize a victory. Artifacts and heroes gained on the larger map screen will play a large part in how effective your armies are. Be careful not to let many soldiers perish on the battlefield, units will gain experience and level up as they progress with you, and are more easily healed from battle than they are replaced after being lost in one. All of these elements provide a great amount of depth and role-playing as to how you want your leaders to rule and how you want to tailor the armies they lead into battle.
I have to admit, I had a rough time going learning the mechanics and features of the game. It was a bit of a steep climb to familiarize myself with the game, and part of that was because I did expect it to fit more easily into the molds of a Heroes of Might and Magic title or a Total War franchise title. That said, when I was able to break those preconceived notions and enjoy King Arthur II for what it is-a deep, story driven tactical RPG-I found a fantastic experience was waiting for me. The story segments are unlike anything I’ve seen in the genre, the narrator and the voice acting is great, and the fashion in which the story plays out just makes a fantastic way to leave your own fingerprint on Britannia, rather than funnel down the path a game designer had intended for you. There are many open paths and directions to take your heroes and armies, many open decisions to be made; some multiply your quest log, some choices will inevitably close off paths to you, but that all plays to the richness and detail of the story of King Arthur II. There is definitely enough to draw you back for a second or third playthrough, just to see how some of the other storylines could have played out. If that isn’t enough, there is a skirmish mode where you can customize your army and your enemies’ army, just for fun or as a proving ground for new strategies. There is not a multiplayer component to the game, however, I found more than enough to keep me busy within the single-player campaign. The opponent AI did enough to keep me on my toes that I didn’t feel like I was missing out by not playing against a human opponent. The game does a fairly good job of allowing you to acclimate yourself to the battles and then flipping the odds with new unit types or stronger enemies, forcing you to rethink your strategies and change up the components of your attacking forces. King Arthur II is a welcome change to the strategy genre, both in storytelling and in tactical, real-time combat. It certainly falls in line with the Arthurian legends from which it is derived, Neocore has crafted a wonderful, vibrant story to add to the Arthurian lore!