|Dev: Neocore Games|
|Pub: Paradox Interactive|
|Release: January 27, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Partial Nudity, Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
The idea behind the King Arthur franchise is to take everything that nerdy old school PC gamers like, throw it in a blender, and add some modern production values. The latest entry, King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame, just about pulls it off. The game is solid in many ways—and some aspects are downright fantastic—but an overall lack of polish and fine-tuning makes the experience feel flat.
The first game in the series, released in 2009, told the basic story of Arthurian legend, complete with Excalibur and the Holy Grail. Even then, the developers weren't completely faithful to the established story, but in this sequel, they branch out on a path entirely their own. As you begin King Arthur II, the king is ill, the kingdom is being overrun by refugees, and there are murmurs of strange supernatural happenings. Soon enough, you find yourself struggling in a world dominated by various factions. The Holy Grail has been destroyed, and evil forces are taking hold.
As you begin your journey, what's most impressive is how the developers combined real-time strategy with other game elements—without ending up with yet another Total War clone.
Each turn you take represents one of the four seasons. In the spring, summer, and fall, you're free to move about the world map—which is twice as big as the map from the previous game—and take on missions. These missions can result in anything from diplomatic wrangling to huge battles, but they typically start by offering players a treat that's rare in modern games: a text-based story. The game's narrator reads the adventure to you—his tone of voice indicates that it's bedtime and you're five years old, unfortunately—and you're asked to make decisions. Do you trust the shady character who asks you to parlay with him unarmed, or insist on bringing your sword? Do you take a path through the woods, or take a small group and sneak through the dense trees undetected? The way you approach each situation affects not only the mission you're playing, but also the overall storyline and your position in a morality system (you can be Christian or pagan, as well as a friendly or oppressive ruler). In some cases, playing a text mission deftly can help you avoid a battle entirely.
Other times, of course, battle will be inevitable. Especially on lower difficulties, you can often get away with using the auto-battle feature, but otherwise, you'll need to deploy and control numerous units as they fight to the death. The battle system here isn't particularly innovative—in this area, and this area alone, King Arthur II brings to mind the words "Total War ripoff"—but it does depart from the original King Arthur in numerous ways. For instance, there are flying units that are immune to many attacks, you'll face huge bosses, and you can periodically cast spells to hobble enemy units. You'll also fight to control parts of the map that give you stat bonuses. But other than that, it's fairly basic: Place your guys on the map and then have them attack the enemy in a way that makes sense given the territory, your advantages and disadvantages relative to the enemy and your play style.
Every four turns, winter comes around. This means that you can no longer move about the world map, but the game doesn't freeze entirely. Instead, this is a time for you to progress through King Arthur II's various skill trees. Each individual unit gains experience in battle, and these points can be spent on various upgrades, including HP and damage. (This means that you'll want to think twice before sending units into suicide missions, of course.) You can also research numerous technologies and improve the various towns you've captured.
So, what's the problem? For starters, it's worth noting that the King Arthur franchise itself is designed for a very limited audience. The reason no one makes text adventures any more is that most people find them boring, and text is such a big part of this game that if you don't like it, you might as well stay away. Similarly, the winter turns can put you to sleep, as they require you to pore over each aspect of your kingdom and click various improvements. If you saw previews of this game and immediately thought "King Arthur + fantasy RTS = action-packed awesomeness!!"—well, think again.
But even accepting the basic premise of the franchise, I found King Arthur II to lack polish in various ways, and as a result it felt flat. Here's just one small example: From the very first screens, you'll notice that the text doesn't always match the narration coming out of your speakers. It's just a word here or there, and it's probably just the result of a voice actor taking a few liberties with his assignment. But you have to ask yourself: Given all the effort that the developers put into King Arthur II, was it too much for them to ask one employee to listen through the voice acting and re-type any text that didn't match?