King Arthur II – Preview
When it comes to PC strategy, Paradox have a hefty stable of titles focussed on various eras in history, but at this year’s E3, we veered more into the realms of the fantastical with a preview showing of King Arthur 2 – an RPG strategy war-game along the lines of Total War and Lionheart. At the end of the first game, King Arthur has united the war-torn provinces and peace reigns throughout Britannia. However, the story is only just beginning and dark clouds are now gathering as a magical catastrophe engulfs the realm and an evil witch queen not only destroys the Holy Grail, but attempts to assassinate Arthur.
Although she fails to kill him, the legendary king is badly injured and left suffering from a magical wound that will never heal. Of course, the land and the king are one, and with Arthur wounded, the land feels his pain and begins to change. With the help of the evil witch queen, demons from the dawn of creation, who were banished long ago, make their return and begin to invade, leading to bloody conflict. Your goal is to heal yourself, and thus the realm, and defeat the demon invaders, along with the queen.
King Arthur II will be powered by a new engine and is far larger than its predecessor, with a campaign map twice as big as that of the original game. The first thing that struck me was how detailed and beautiful the actual HUD was. With this type of title, there is always a great deal of essential screen furniture in order for the player to have full control of their armies at their fingertips, however, it is all beautifully themed and decorative while clearly presenting the information you’d expect. Graphically it packs a punch, from the beautiful cinematics, to the detailed terrain textures of the vast battlefields. It occurred to me that, given the detail and the fact that you can have between three and four thousands units in battle at one time, it would suggest that you’ll need a pretty robust system to run it effectively and in way that will do the hard work of the developers, Neocore Games, real justice.
In a great touch, battles are effected by weather conditions and are fought in real time across vast swathes of Britannia, from forests, to open plains. Terrain can be used to the player’s advantage, garnering useful global bonuses and, as such, units are best matched to the right areas. Heavy infantry are fine out in the open, but if you try and use them in forested areas, they won’t fare as well as their lighter counterparts, getting bogged down and losing you any tactical advantage that you may have had. In a tasty addition, the ground is no longer the lone theatre of war, as King Arthur II sees demonic flying units make a sweeping entrance. With the battle now being fought on two levels, you will also have access to aerial units such as dragons, although archers and magical attacks are also effective against flying foes.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a fantasy game without magic and the player has access to a range of spells, with more being unlocked as they progress. In a feature which brought to mind C&C: Generals’ Super-Weapons, the player will have access to a number of incredibly powerful spells, which, left unchecked, can deliver severe damage to your army. These spells take time to power and cast, meaning that you have to get to the enemy and interrupt them somehow, before hell is unleashed. More spells and bonuses, along with units, gold, artefacts, and heroes, can be unlocked with progress thanks to the game’s morality system. As is fast becoming the norm, player choice is key to how the gameplay progresses, and decisions will influence your morality, earning you points. You can be a tyrant king, or kind and righteous, following either the old ways or the new religion of Christianity, and how you play will earn morality points and expand the ‘morality chart’ into new areas, unlocking bonuses and extras as you go.
While this sort of game can seem daunting to newcomers, there is an extensive tutorial in an attempt to make it accessible to those who have only ever looked nervously on at sprawling, seemingly complex battles, screens full of units, and complex HUDs. Of course, a big draw is that being more mythological than historical, the developers have had more room to move with the narrative, so King Arthur 2 is a very story based game. The background story unfolds as you play and has been penned by professional fantasy writers, which will hopefully give it a richer feel.
Overall, what we saw was good; the visuals were impressive and the background story was solid. This is pure RPG war-gaming in a wonderful looking setting, blending mythology and fantasy to, seemingly, great effect. The vast number of on-screen units should hopefully satisfy the most rabid of armchair generals, and the tweaks and introductions that Neocore have introduced, along with the new engine and story, will hopefully ensure that fans of the first title will once again look forward to defending and mending Britannia and her legendary king on the bloody battlefields.
King Arthur II is charging towards a Q4 release, but if you’re keen to gain greater insight or read more about the development process, then the King Arthur development blog is the ideal place to head.
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