King Arthur II Review
King Arthur himself lies at death’s door, laid low by a mysterious, magical disease. Demonic beings known as the Formori have invaded England, spreading chaos and confusion in their wake. In these troubled times, William Pendragon, young son of the king, must ride out and unite his father’s shattered country.
Game: King Arthur II
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Necore Games
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Released: January 26th, 2012
If there’s anything that King Arthur II gets right, it’s the game‘s idiosyncratic fantasy setting. Hungarian developers Neocore Games blend Arthurian legend with real history and high fantasy to create a believable, complex world, full of scheming lords and powerful faeries. It is’s a cynical, dystopian fiction — don’t expect that greedy abbot to have the peasantry’s best interest at heart — and the way the game presents religious conflict (between pagan druids and Christian priests) and political infighting (between ambitious knights) is creative, nuanced, and adult.
England’s vulnerable provinces are sumptuously rendered on the game’s colorful campaign map, which bristles with tiny trees, miniature castles, and creepy Formori spikes. Bathed in a somber, autumnal light, the map even helps to set the game’s uncertain mood.
Unfortunately, looking good is map’s entire purpose. In contrast to the first King Arthur game, which allowed players to carefully manage their many provinces, King Arthur II provides little in the way of grand strategy. Players will spend their time ushering William Pendragon and his army through a largely linear series of quests. There’s no option to split your army — for much of the early game, players are confined to a single unit stack — and intimidating Formori adversaries spend turn after turn stomping around in place, waiting for the game to deploy them in the service of the plot. I lost track of the number of times I spotted a juicy looking castle, right in the path of my army, only to be told that it “could not be occupied at this time” for no apparent reason.
Questing in King Arthur II is a curious affair, a return to the days of text-based adventure. When your army arrives at a quest marker, the game advances the plot via paragraphs of exposition and the efforts of a goofily overworked narrator. By choosing between an array of different responses, players will follow a branching path through the story, accruing bonuses and penalties, depending on the wisdom of their choices. In some cases, there are even simple puzzles, mazes, and detective stories to complete.
It’s a surprisingly fun system, but it exposes the essential problem with King Arthur II: for a game that’s billed as a “Role-playing Wargame,” the developers are clearly more comfortable and effective when they stick to role-playing. This is immediately apparent the first time the game whisks you out of a text-based interlude and deposits you on the battlefield.
The prospect of Total War-style combat with fantastical unit types is an appealing one — look at the popularity of the “Third Age: Total War” mod for Medieval II: Total War. All that obvious potential, however, is ruined by Neocore’s execution.
An uncooperative camera is the real-time strategy mode’s initial mistake, making it hard to effectively position or even see your units — they’re often blocked by the game’s oversized UI, or by the game’s profusion of trees, which ensure that much of your time fighting will be spent watching red and blue outlines duke it out under dense foliage. Total War veterans will miss familiar features, like the ability to tweak rank and file numbers using a simple click-and-drag. Useless, voice-acted alerts quickly become rage-inducing. “Your men are going to die,” the game repeats over and over, until you’re ready to shout back and point out that a. this is a battle and b. in battle, people generally die.
More seriously, the game fails to account for the basics of the tactical wargaming it intends to deliver. Flanking provides no discernible advantage, there’s no fatigue meter (units will run and fight tirelessly, forever), and cavalry never seem able to properly charge. Moreover, the crucial concept of unit morale is totally missing. Entire battalions of soldiers will fight to the last man, even as their comrades die in droves around them. Instead of cagey, strategic battles won via clever tactics and careful maneuver, King Arthur II delivers boring, insipid wars of attrition.
A cursory look at the game’s forums suggests that the voice-acting and morale problems will be eliminated in some future patch, which can’t come a moment too soon. In general, King Arthur II is riddled with bugs, not unlike another recent medieval warfare game, Firefly Studios’ disappointing Stronghold 3. Purchasers should expect to contend with frequent crashes to desktop, low frame-rates, and at least one quest that gets stuck in an infinite loop, allowing no progression.
Though the game will no doubt improve with time, gamers would be wise to avoid King Arthur II. Despite some bright spots, this “Role-playing Wargame” delivers on only half of its promise — the less important half.
- Cool setting
- Attractive, evocative graphics
- Quirky, old-school RPG questing
- Deceptively linear gameplay
- Limited strategic options
- Broken, unsatisfying combat
- Frequent bugs
Final Score: 40/100