King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame – Review

Title   King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame
Developer  Neocore Games
Publisher  Paradox Interactive
Platform  PC
Genre  RTS/Strategy/management
Release Date  11th June, 2010

Few games have properly beaten me. It’s rare that I will play something that I can’t get to the end of, beat that last boss and save the day. Sadly, King Arthur is one of those games.  I am defeated.  King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame is exactly what it says on the tin. Developers Neocore Games have somehow blended together the combat systems of games like Shogun Total War 2 with elements typically found in role-playing games such as Titan Quest. The question is, have they managed to pull off this mix well and is the rich Arthurian universe enough to carry it if they don’t?

The game is set in the Britannia, in the time of Arthur and his knights. You, as Arthur, have pulled the sword from the stone and unleashed all kinds of crazy magic on the land. Giants and Wargs are leaving the woods in the north and the lands in the south are divided and ruled by kings and tyrants.  As you would imagine, Arthur – the true king – needs to start claiming his lands and that’s where you come in. Arthur’s brother Sir Kay is the first knight who will join your cause, but throughout the game famous characters are introduced; Sir Lancelot and Merlin will be controllable, with the capability to lead your armies into battle. The story is played out as a series of books, with each book being a series of quests or mission objectives that the player has to complete to progress. They range from conquering a town to deciding which brother to side with as they battle to the death. Many of the quests have an effect on your moral standing but, ultimately, leading to King Arthur battling back the monsters and ruling over all of Britannia.

Most of your time will be spent in the campaign overview map. Here you can see the lands of Britannia, its cities, villages and also those pesky enemy armies. This is where most of the management happens; armies can stand on villages and recruit more units or move to quest icons that will allow the knights to go on adventures, often unlocking new loot or units, or even just progressing the overall story. As I mentioned previously, if you have played a game like Total War you will be familiar with how much of this screen works. Where King Arthur differs is in a couple of minor areas. During the winter season your troops can’t move, but instead level up and gain skills. Your taxes will be collected and you will be able to upgrade your troops, increasing the damage done by archers, or your infantry’s defenses etc. You will also be able to construct buildings in your stronghold, which grant bonuses to your army or your gold income.

King Arthur takes this a step further allowing the player to customise their knights across a couple of different classes, such as Warlord, Champion or Sage. Some knights will be more inclined to use magic to defeat their enemies, where some may like to get into the thick of it with sword and shield. The game allows the player to add to the knights stats and grant them access to active or passive abilities in combat. Some knights will have the ability to summon fog to blind archers or cast fireballs, while melee knights, in the warlord or champion class, get access to abilities that increase morale or melee damage. This usually means your knights will be some of the most powerful units you can field in a battle and losing them can cause serious issues.

In a typical battle, you will deploy your forces on the battlefield and, in most cases, attempt to capture points in order to gain bonuses and improve the army morale. For example, if you capture a village your units will be healed over time if they stay close, or take over a crystal tower to launch a spell at near by enemy units, impaling them on giant crystal spikes that launch out of the ground. This is a neat feature and adds an extra dimension to battles, but I did find myself forgetting about them altogether and focusing on rushing the other guys. Most of the combat is based around the morale system; if you break the enemy morale, there’s a very good chance you will win the battle without having to crush your foes and see them driven before you. Using the strategic point system and focusing your attacks on enemy generals is usually enough to rout an enemy army.

Unfortunately though, compared to older games, the battle system – a huge chunk of the game – is nothing new and, sadly, a little clunky. I’ve noticed a number of bugs in my time playing the game, such as units coming together to attack an enemy only to get stuck in the attack animation long after that enemy unit is dead. Units can be tricky to select, the camera system a little unruly and when you have multiple units in a large scale melee, selecting individual troops is either buggy or just too difficult with everyone looking identical.

Visually the game is somewhat sub-standard. Don’t get me wrong, the campaign map and many of the battlefield terrains look great, but where I felt let down was on the character models which, to me, seemed poorly animated and textured. It appeared to me that each unit had one texture, so that every man in a group looked identical; every character animation made him look as if he was floating just a little, while in combat everyone becomes so mashed together you can’t make anything out.

Despite all of this, where the game’s real hook lies is in its story and role-playing elements. The Arthurian legend is well presented; quests are well written and have multiple endings that can affect your moral standing which, in turn, affects the units that will become available to you. The role playing elements of the game are cleverly done and quests are delivered in a text based adventure format, which really does work in this kind of game. The player even has to keep his knights loyal through marriages and the distribution of fiefs (lands) to keep them from defecting and becoming rebels.  Strangely though, you won’t be role-playing as King Arthur. Sure, the player commands the knights and orders who goes where and what is built at Camelot, but you won’t be messing with his stats or equipping his gear.

  • Arthurian legend not often seen in many games
  • Interesting text based quests
  • Wide variety of units
  • Poor textures for unit models
  • Buggy combat system
  • Very high difficulty curve
  • Nothing really new in the game that hasn’t been done better in other games

As I said at the start of this review, King Arthur beat me. Try as I might, I could only get to around the third book and was then wiped out. Maybe the game is too hard, maybe I just suck. Ok I probably just suck, but where turn based games like Total War can get away with you spending days and 100s of turns only to then get crushed, an RPG with an interesting story, can’t. I want to know what happens; I want to get to the end of the story. I’m just not willing to play it over and over from fifty turns back and having to deal with the buggy combat system just to find out.

Sadly to me the game looks and feels too much like a poor Total War mod. Sure the RPG elements are interesting, the text based quests are fun, maintaining your round table and building Camelot is great, but it’s attached to a combat system full of poorly animated characters and buggy combat mechanics. It just doesn’t work for me. I hope the sequel is better and if this years E3 videos are anything to go by it really should be.

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  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    I like the fact that the game is steeped in Arthurian legend as it isn’t often something we see in games, surprisingly. However, given your experience with the genre, if you can’t beat it, I’m sure as hell certain that I won’t be able to! While this sort of wargame isn’t really my thing, I do love the setting and mythology. Why haven’t more games grabbed this?

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Lorna made a good point there actually. I haven’t seen that many games focus on King Arthur or any of the mythology surrounding that time and, considering how popular it has always been for movies, it’s surprising. I remember seeing the follow up at E3 and being somewhat overwhelmed by it all because of the controlling entire battalions rather than individual units, and it’s just something I’ve never done before. I remember playing Battle For Middle Earth way back when it first came out, and I didn’t like commanding groups over individuals. I suppose I like the micro-management aspect of games like the C&C series.

    I’m liking the construction and fiscal aspect of it though, as I’ve always enjoyed games where everything needs to evolve in order to progress. I’ve never come across a game where your troops are inoperable during the winter, or any other season for that matter, so that’s an interesting approach.

    Thing is… it has dragons. I like dragons. I like Arthurian legend, and I love tactical gameplay. I think it’s one of those games I’m going to have to just suck it and see, and maybe it’ll pay off. I’m now yearning for a full blown “regular” RPG where you play as Arthur and go around banging maidens and slaying dragons. Wish I was a game developer – I’d be all over that bugger.

  3. Edward Edward says:

    There’s an interesting premise hidden within the game, and the setting of it will do wonders for a lot of us, but I’m geting increasingly less enthusiastic abiout RTS games, especially if they’re that difficult. =[

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