Review: King Arthur II – The Role-Playing Wargame (PC)

King Arthur II – The Role-Playing Wargame is the latest installment of the King Arthur franchise from Neocore Games. The game takes place in a familiar albeit alternate world of King Arthur and the events that surround him and the mystical realm of Camelot.

The world is plunged into darkness because of an unrelenting force known as the Fomorians. The King is gravely wounded and unable to rule his people, the knights have disbanded, and the kingdom is in disarray. It’s time for his son, William, to stand and fight in his place. This is where your journey starts.

King Arthur II – The Role-playing Wargame
Systems: PC (Reviewed)
System Specs: Intel i7 950, Corsair Dominator 6 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI with Nvidia Surround Enabled, Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard and Logitech G19 Keyboard.
Developer: Neocore Games
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release January 27, 2012
MSRP: $39.99

The game can begin one of two ways: The first is with the prologue, which was given free to those who preordered the game (now it’s a DLC for $9.99). Unfortunately, completing this prologue doesn’t do much more than setup some back story to other NPCs that you’re going to interact with during the main campaign, and it gives you the additional storage slots for your extra units that you gained during the prologue. The second is starting the main campaign cold turkey. The only problem with this is the lack of the storage space for your extra units, so you must decide if the extra $9.99 and four hours is worth
your time and money.

The game begins with you taking the role of William Pendragon, where you learn that your father, Arthur, has been gravely wounded and is in need of some powerful healing magic. The land is also in turmoil: a demonic infection spreading across the land known as the Fomorians. They’re going unchecked across Britannia because the Knights of the Round Table have disbanded since Arthur’s illness, so you must take up the quest to heal your father and the land, navigate diplomatic matters, and bring peace back to the known world.

This is all presented to you through a slideshow, and right off the bat, you begin to make a decision that will affect you for the rest of the game. This is where you choose your class: Sage, Warlord, or a Champion of the Realm. When you’ve made your choice of class, you begin your epic five-chapter quest and begin with an issue in Sherwood Forest.

For those unfamiliar with war games like this, you have two primary interfaces, the first of which is the world map that you see after the events described above. It takes place through turns also known as turn-based strategy (TBS). This is where you move you armies across the board. The best example would be Risk, where you have one piece representing the strength of your army; but instead of just rolling to see who will win a fight, you can choose to enter battle. The second is where you do battle on unique maps and you fight in real time, better known as real-time strategy (RTS). There’s an option called auto-battle for you to choose, but that’s just like rolling dice, and there are times when you have to do battle in RTS mode.

This first battle will teach you most of the basics in the game, and at anytime, you can go to the glossary and review what you’ve learned. The game does a reasonably well at giving you multiple options during the role-playing portions and giving you things to do diplomatically, but where it falls short and becomes less dynamic is that you have to do things in the main story to gain diplomatic relations with other countries.

This is where the game starts to show its limited design. The lands that you possess can have their buildings cleansed of the Fomorian infestation, build them up for specific boosts for certain unit types, and give bonuses to your hero units. The biggest downside is that, with each season in similar games, you gain funds through taxes. This gameplay mechanic is strangely missing and makes it extremely difficult to generate funds. The only way to gain funds is by completing story or diplomatic missions and by combat. The flaw in this is that your units will die frequently and easily, so you’ll be spending that money you just earned, if not more, to resupply your troops. This makes advancement through the game very difficult in this regard because you can’t pay for diplomatic missions, nor can you buy those upgrades to those buildings to give you a greater edge.

Gold isn’t the only reward you earn after completing a battle or diplomatic mission. You’ll also be given an Artifact or crafting item(s). These Artifacts can only be given to heroes, and they could be a part of a set that can be even more powerful when combined. They could be rare or fabled items as well. The bonuses that are on these items are based on the chapter you’re in. I made the mistake of believing it was my heroes’ levels, but I was wrong until I reached Chapter 5 and got some fantastic gear and had not moved up in level. The crafting items give you a chance to make very powerful items with certain recipes learned through the game, or they can be random if you chance it. These items are also sold at the trading house, but because your resources are limited, you might not be able to purchase a piece because you had to upgrade that trading post and crafting tower to make use of these items.

The battles feature both swordplay and magic. With every battle that you’re involved in and many role-playing scenarios (like puzzle solving), your hero and regular units will gain experience to advance them to the next level. This will give them a few new skill points for magic, a random choice for a base stat, or gain an extra skill point with each new level. The basic units have their own base stats that can be improved along with their own separate levels. For instance, when you gain military might, your units automatically upgrade to a more powerful unit. They have more than one unit type, you can change their unit type at a cost, and they all have bonus skills unique to each unit type.

There are also many magical creatures that you can take control of as well. I didn’t get to play around with these unit types because of cost. However, when I did go head to head with these units, they felt pretty weak. When I went up against them in one battle, I took them down pretty easily. I had a varied unit base, so I hammered him with five groups of archers before he hit my heavy soldiers, but I still thought it would’ve been more difficult to take them down.

The game’s pace is well-balanced all up until Chapter 3. This is when you gain a new ally who controls your second group of heroes and units. For you to stand a reasonable chance, you have to upgrade your hero and basic units, both in experience and gear for the former. This is where not gaining gold from your provinces really hurts, again. This is by far the most unbalanced chapter of the whole game; it took me ten hours to complete it when it took me twelve for the first two chapters combined. I had to wait for a Fomorian group I could stomp to earn extra cash, and this grind took up most of my time.

The interface is reasonably solid for the most part, but it suffers when you get to the Artifact screen. The way I made it work is clicking on the hero who had the item, then I clicked on the next group without clicking on anyone in it so I kept the hero’s inventory up. Then I moved the piece to the hero that would most benefit from it. This is awkward and not well thought out at all. These items can also be sold or broken down to give your heroes extra experience, provided you upgraded the relic tower to be able to do that.

The game’s graphics are well done and runs reasonably well with almost all of the graphics features enabled on my Nvidia Surround at 5760×1080. This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t have its fair share of graphical glitches, though. The game randomly crashed on me in the first few chapters in both the TBS and RTS sections. In the later chapters, I started to see texture tearing in the RTS sections; and on the TBS world map, I would see buildings and units quickly flicker in and out. This is why I think the crashes are related to the graphics and not something else. The Windows Aero feature is disabled while playing the game, and if you’re running a 64-bit operating system, the game will take advantage of it.

The music is nicely done, but it’s very short—if I had to guess, maybe two or three hours’ worth. After the fifteenth hour, I decided I’d heard enough, so I turned on Pandora and told it to play Celtic music. The male storyteller for the majority of the slideshow panels does impressions of women, raspy voices, and everything in between. This would’ve been a better experience if there was more actors involved because that guy got annoying in the first chapter. The combat and selection sounds are very generic; in other words all unit types make the same noises and statements. It would’ve been nice to have more varied sounds with 64-bit systems since they have more RAM to use.

The game will let you save whenever you want on the TBS, but you can’t save at all during an RTS battle. The fact that this feature is absent from so many war games is something that still eludes me. The game crashed when I was on the verge of winning an RTS battle that I’d spent several hours prepping for in the third chapter, and that was very frustrating to say the least. The game also takes a long time to load when you first launch the game, but it’s very quick to save and load after that first time. This is better than other games in the genre by far. It was also nice to see that I could sort my save files by either Name or Date. It’s a small thing but much appreciated.

Speaking of appreciation, in my Preview of King Arthur II, I had mentioned that the game had many problems with Surround/Eyefinity resolutions. I’m happy to report that those issues have been resolved in the retail release. The only problem I have with the interface is that the buttons for Diplomatic, Glossary, and other menus are on the far left, and the pop-up window is on the far right. This wouldn’t be a problem if I had hot keys for these menus, but there aren’t any, so it takes extra time to get things done with these larger resolutions. This can be fixed by having hot keys or a modular User Interface (UI), but I think the hotkeys are the easier fix.

The biggest problem that is evident from beginning to end is that the AI has an unfair advantage in the spell department. They have at least three or four times the range that you do, so if your magical shield isn’t up to snuff, you’ll be pummeled very quickly. This is part of the reason why Chapter 3 took as long as it did for me. The other problem with the AI is that it can be stupid. I was in an RTS battle and some units would come down a hill, then go back up and let me hit them with spells and arrows.

The folks over at Neocore Games have not been idle, either, as they’ve released several patches since the game’s release. I applaud that they are on top of it, but what’s troubling is that they had to put out several patches to fix many problems, and yet there are still critical bugs that haven’t been resolved. The final one I ran into was at the end of the game, nearly forty-four hours later: the endgame slideshow played through without any voice or captions to tell me what happened after my final battle. I have to wonder how much had to have been wrong for them to miss this. This seems critical to me, and I am not one for not trying again. I restarted my machine and went back a few turns on the TBS map to see if I could get the info, but it just would not show up.

There’s something missing that’s disturbing to me, and it’s multiplayer. No multiplayer means I have no plan to go back and play this game again. The replay value is thus limited for many who purchased this game, and this isn’t going to win any points with the Total War crowd, either. They live on multiplayer to keep them going after the main story is complete. There’s a skirmish mode called Scenario in-game, but since the opponents are all level 1, why would anyone want to play this? I don’t have any intentions to play it and I doubt others will, either.

In the end, unfortunately, King Arthur II is not a going to fulfill your love for a mash up of role-playing games and Total War. The game has a very interesting story, units and the artifact/crafting system if you’re willing to take the time to explore it. The problem is that this game needs to fix many of its bugs and work out the balance for rewards and AI before I can recommend this to anyone. When they do fix these things, I’ll whole heartedly recommend this game. Hardcore Total War players will never be happy because there isn’t as much as depth to this game, though, and I agree.

PROS
* Interesting story
* Role-playing elements
* Graphics
* Bugs are being worked on
* Varied unit types and creatures

CONS
* Game subject to crashing
* Music and sound get boring after a while
* Numerous bugs
* Difficulty scale inconsistent
* Resources are very limited
* No multiplayer
* Inventory management is poorly implemented

FINAL SCORE: D+

Disclosure: The writer was given a code of the game to review through Steam. At the time of press, the writer had completed 100% of the game’s material on Normal difficulty. Game versions were 1.1.04 to 1.1.05 during the review process.

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About Brandon Mietzner