“King Arthur II – The Role-Playing Wargame” (KA2) is a sequel to “King Arthur – The Role-Playing Wargame (KA1)”. It may seem odd for a wargame to have a sequel - no one expects “Hearts of Iron 2” to have a different storyline than “Hearts of Iron” (hint: the Axis fights the Allies) – they just expect better graphics and more gameplay options.
KA2 (like KA1) aims to be a different type of wargame (a role-playing wargame, to be precise) and so aims to tell a story that the gamer can take part in. In KA1 the gamer played as Arthur, conquering Britannia and gathering companions for the Round Table. There were various enemies to be defeated on the battlefield, text-based adventures to test Arthur's moral mettle, and artifacts and experience to boost your power.
Sadly, your victory in KA1 does not last. Arthur is wounded during an assassination and has to flee to the Sidhe forest of Bedegraine. His kingdom falls apart into squabbling fiefdoms and his son must rally the land together before it becomes complete chaos. Sadly, his son is you and not Mordred. You can act like Mordred, however, given the moral choices presented in the game, so that's a nice option.
Not much has changed from the first game in turns of mechanics. There is still a reliance on a three-fold structure: RTS in the Total War vein; text-based adventures; and some role-playing mechanics. We will look at each in turn.
The real-time strategy elements are pretty straightforward RTS standards. There is a campaign map on which most of Britannia is shown, divided into provinces. Each province has an owner who profits from it and can recruit troops there. Inside of each province is some number of towns which can provide bonuses to certain units built there depending on type and locations in which to build buildings to gain even more bonuses. From time to time special locations will pop up in provinces – these are place where adventures can be had.
Armies march to and fro on the campaign map, but fight on a tactical map. The geography of the tactical map is drawn from the campaign map. For example, if you start a fight in a swampy area of the campaign map you should expect the tactical map to be swampy. Tactical combat is similar to most RTSs in this time period – archers, melee and cavalry – with the addition of magic spells and special locations. The special (“victory”) locations grant the army that occupies them a bonus; for example, a location might grant the army that occupies it faster healing or better melee damage. Both campaign and tactical maps look very good and add to the enjoyment of the game.
There is also a diplomacy system, something missing from KA1. While not the most sophisticated system at this point it looks promising and will add some depth to what was otherwise simply fight-or-die.
The text-based adventures are the most unusual of the triad. Basically, the gamer can steer his army to a special location marked on the map and a box filled with text will pop up. The gamer then reads the text, then chooses one of the alternatives presented below. Based on that choice, more text may appear which can be read and another choice made. This continues on until the mini-scenario described in the text is played out, at which point the gamer is told how their choices affected the game. For example, a box might pop up saying “You are hungry. Both Guinevere and Morgause bring you a sandwich.” Your choices are: “Eat Guinevere's sandwich.” and “Eat Morgause's sandwich”. The result then, depending on your choice, would be “+5 Guinevere, -5 Morgause, +1 Rightful” or “+5 Morgause, -5 Guinevere, +1 Old Faith”.
The connections between the text, the choices and the outcomes are generally fairly clear, although there are a reasonable number of twists and turns to keep things interesting. The idea behind the adventures is to give the gamer a richer way to interact with the other characters and Britannia itself than can be found in the RTS portions.
The role-playing elements divide up into three categories: the Morality Chart, experience, and artifacts.
The Morality Chart is like the morality meter a lot of different games have, except that it has two axes: Rightful – Tyrant and Old Faith – Christian. The decisions the gamer makes during the text adventures and elsewhere will determine their placement on this chart. Occupying different locations on the chart can unlock various spells and units for use in the game. For example, leaning toward the Old Faith provides access to more magically-oriented troops from Faerie while moving toward Christianity unlocks access to knights and other heavy combat units.
Every unit in the game can gain experience, mostly through combat. As a unit gains experience its attributes can be improved by the gamer. More complicated units (e.g., heroes) have more and different attributes, such as the ability to cast spells.
Artifacts (magic items) are another tool to strengthen your character(s). They provide bonuses to attributes or special abilities. Artifacts are often gained through combat, or can be built at great cost. Put them together with the experience system and it can feel like your heroes are little role-playing units in a WoW campaign.
So far, so good. The preview copy does indeed look very good, feels solid for a preview, and looks to have lots of interesting features for fans of several different genres to dig into. It should be out very soon now, so we will see if it can live up to this promising start.