Every once in awhile, a title comes along that tries to do a mash-up of genres to either try to entice players from the other genre to try it, or to do something a little more innovative with the mechanics to bring a fresh feel to the game. What they’ve done with King Arthur II is brought you your usual fare for real-time strategy combat with a lot of role-playing and political set-up for future battles when you’re not running rampant over an opponent on the battlefield. It’s an interesting blend, with lots of options for either the Strategy-minded player or the RPG player who likes to dabble in political intrigue, but isn’t very good with real-time combat. Does this all mesh well though? Let’s take a look.
The game tends to blend the fantastical with a bit of grounding in reality, and since realistic has come to mean dark and gritty, we get the Arthurian legend smattered with all sorts of dark nasty bits. The Prologue, or the $10 expansion, deals with Septimus Sulla, a Roman noble trying to help establish New Rome in Brittania, using whatever means necessary. The main focus of the game, though, is on King Arthur’s son, William Pendragon. King Arthur has been maimed with an un-healing wound, the Holy Grail shattered, the Knights of the Round Table broken and scattered. It’s now up to Arthur’s son to put the pieces of the kingdom back together, but did we mention that other-worldly creatures are pouring in from another realm? No worries.
From the beginning you get to decide how to steer things, either siding with nobles, ruling with an iron fist, ignoring it and hoping it resolves it on its own, and so on. There are so many options that lead up to battle that sometimes it’s actually hard to decide which one to take. Any way you slice it, though, it’s a unique way to tackle the back-end of what propels a battle or engagement forward and gives each of those a bigger meaning to them.
Visually, I have to say this is kind of a mixed bag. It has some great visuals, but there are some framerate issues with all those visuals turned on. My gaming rig is no slouch and can handle lots of games and programs with the settings cranked, and I am running this with DirectX 11. When you’re not moving the camera much you don’t notice it, and on the big maps overlooking the area it looks fantastic, with a few drops here and there. When you get into combat though, you tend to notice it a bit more. You can turn off a few things to help with that, and that affects the wow factor a bit, but overall it was a solid experience. Units on the field were easy to tell apart, the flag marker a decent enough way to tell which unit was selected, and the glowing pillar was a good marker for your main hero unit. The change in seasons as you end your turn is interesting to watch as well with everything cranked up to 11. A lot of the role-playing scenes rely on still images to get their point across, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s a stark contrast to the high-end graphics you see all over the rest of the game.
One of the things I really liked in this was the voice overs and the music in the game. Combat sounds are all in there but feel kind of generic, and the same goes for spells, but the actual narration and voice-overs outside of this are actually pretty well done and really help set not only the tone, but the feel of the game and the drive to keep playing. This was actually something I really liked and was admittedly dreading, because usually this area is kind of glossed over in a lot of the RTSs I play, and while this isn’t perfect, it wasn’t skimped on here.
Controls in this game are fairly simple, but sometimes not all that responsive. You use the mouse for just about everything, like selecting units, answering menu options and selecting dialogue, telling your units where to go and what to do, and so on. The only problem is that while the controls are simple, outside of combat, and sometimes inside of combat areas, they aren’t very responsive. Say you want to take your army up to the wall, and you have them selected and click on the area near the wall, it will instead select the nearby army for your inspection instead of moving yours. I’ve had the game do this to me on more than one occasion, and often repeatedly before it actually did move the army, so really this ends up being entirely too frustrating and distracting.
Gameplay wise, there’s an interesting mix of role-playing elements mixed into the war-gaming real time strategy part of the game. During down time, you spend turns building up your armies and outposts, deciding what to build and where, as some options lock out others, and not every outpost has what the previous one had to outfit with. You also gain experience and gold to spend on upgrades and more troops, and then customizing your Heroes or your army to be stronger. The aspect of the role-playing that I really enjoyed was the political part of the game, where you’re given options to either try to sway someone to your side, lend aid, or attack them subtly to come in to “Ëœhelp’ them, weakening them and painting you as their savior. It adds a subtle texture to the game that I absolutely love, and if you play it right, you can even get experience and sway without even sending your army out to fight, saving you from excessive wear and tear on your men and increasing your standing the way the Romans used to, with back-end Senate in-fighting the in-your-back variety. The battles themselves look particularly epic, once you march your troops across the usually large battlefields to finally engage one another that is. It can take a good minute of marching sometimes to get armies to actually be able to fight one another, which I guess can be good for setting up strategy, but less if you just want to have the fight and move on. From what I’ve read around the web, this is similar to how Total War works, but I really don’t have any experience with that game.
With all the role-playing options, the game does lend itself to playing it over again, if for nothing more than to go a different route as you play it through, either by taking everything by force, going the more peaceful route, or sneaking by hiring mercenaries to do your dirty work for you. Of course, you’ll be fighting the controls outside of combat, but the role-playing aspects generally don’t have many issues when it comes to that. I do think the game is going to start out unusually tough for people who didn’t pre-order and don’t pick up the prologue, which is sold separately. I did get a copy of that with my review copy of the game, and playing as Septimus Sulla before you play through after Arthur’s maiming is actually brilliantly done. It’s being considered an expansion, and as a standalone is one of the better ones I’ve played. I’d almost say I had more fun playing as Septimus and wreaking havoc in that way than I did with the game proper. The game itself does offer quite a bit, especially for the price, but there are a few bonuses that carry over form the prologue that will make things easier. For those who aren’t very good at real-time strategy, and I am among them as I prefer the older turn based model, there are several modes to choose from and they do scale quite well. Even with my limited skills Casual seems almost too easy, but for those who want to focus more on the role-playing part of the game, this is definitely the setting for you as combat will be over very quickly.
This being my first experience with the series, never having played the first game or any of its expansions, the concept of throwing all these options, the war game, the RTS and the RPG together in one mostly cohesive game, is fairly new to me. From what I’ve seen, other than some tweaks to the game here and there and the story itself, it doesn’t bring much more new to the table than the previous game in the series. I will say the RPG aspect of the game brought me back to it more than anything else, and I found myself wanting to play more when I had those opportunities in front of me than battle after battle. The battles do look nice, but I like an overview as opposed to being right down in it, so I feel a little more detached from those than I do the role-playing part of things.
The production values on this game look insanely high and the price is right, but I think this game might fall into a bit of a niche, and on top of that it’s a divided niche. While I think there might be demand in that area, most people are going to take a look at it and move on, if only because it’s a strategy or war game coupled with RPG elements, which both have some interesting connotations to people who don’t play them or have any experience with them. Visual performance issues and unresponsive controls aside, I didn’t have many issues with the game as far as playing it on my PC. It does seem to be fairly hefty in size, and you may have to dial things back a bit to get it to all work right in combat depending on your system, but my experience with it was that it was stable. I just couldn’t get over the controls not quite working the way they were described as working when you first start out. Even when I was doing what the game wanted it wasn’t quite right, so not only was this confusing, but it also left me very frustrated. The only other thing that might kill this for a lot of RTS fans is that there is no multiplayer to speak of. RPG fans will probably be okay with this, but a lot of the drive behind the RTS genre is being able to LAN up or pop on the net with a buddy and take an army out to wipe the floor with your friend, then drag their still burning corpse around your castle walls in a chariot. Personally I didn’t care about that, but it’s one thing to keep in mind, as this is all about the single player experience, and depending on how you play it, can be a lot of fun.
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
King Arthur II The Role-Playing War Game offers an interesting mix of role-playing and real time strategy genre coupled with some very impressive, if sometimes buggy, graphics. If you can get around the somewhat lackluster controls, the game is pretty solid and offers an interesting take on the Arthurian legend, picking up where they left off with the first game. The Dead Legions expansion that came with the pre-order is almost a must buy for the game itself, as it sets you up much nicer in the game proper. While not a bad outing, it didn’t really satisfy my strategy game or role-playing game itch, but it did provide quite a number of hours of fun. If you’re into war games and the Arthurian legend though, I’d say this is a must have.