“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.
Sadly, your victory in KA1 did 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 William Pendragon (you) must rally the land before it falls to the Fomorians, a demonic race from Ireland. Sadly, you are 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 KA1 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, except not that good, really. There is a campaign map on which most of Britannia is shown, divided into provinces. Inside of each province is some number of towns which can house buildings that provide bonuses to certain units built there, except the bonus is never very significant (+5% to HP, so what?).
Armies march to and fro on the campaign map, but fight on a tactical map. 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 controls them a bonus; for example, a location might grant the army that controls it faster healing or better melee damage. Both campaign and tactical maps look very good and add to the enjoyment of the game.
The text-based adventures are the most unusual of the triad. Basically, the gamer can steer his army to various special location marked on the map and a box filled with text will pop up. The gamer 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.
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 forged by combining several artifacts into one more powerful item.
Of the three mechanics, the adventures dominate the game from beginning to end. The strategic map is primarily something your army marches over to get to adventures, and RTS battles are change-of-pace elements that result from choices made in adventures. This is sort of like an adventure game that you bring an army along for.
When looking at the individual pieces, KA2 looks like a solid game. Unfortunately, things don't hang well together. The big problem the game has is that the adventure part keeps getting in the way of the war part. As a king, to start the game I would like to consolidate my holdings by either conquering or allying with neighboring provinces until I have a strong position. That is not an option – the story demands that things be done in a certain order and if your desired conquest is not in the storyline yet, then too bad for you. The strategic map is largely demoted to being something you march over from text adventure to text adventure. It really feels like doing anything other than clicking on dialogue options is beside the point.
Sure, there are battles, and they look really good, like most everything in the game does. However, they degenerate into giant blobs of sword-swinging units almost immediately. As a “bonus”, even if one wanted to use the auto-battle option and concentrate on the story, the game forces you to manually fight the most important battles.
A special mention should be made of the camera. In keeping with KA1, the camera can never get more than about 30 feet off the ground. This is merely annoying on the strategic map (as nothing important happens there anyway), but is disastrous on the tactical map. Given the low-hanging camera and the wonky camera controls it is impossible to get a good perspective on the action.
The game is not all bad – it looks gorgeous, and there are times when the combination of story and combat can carry one along like a good tale. It's just that these times are widely separated between episodes of railroading and unimportant decisions.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Oddly enough, King Arthur II is stuck in the same dilemma full-motion video games were: it is hard to both tell a story and give the player meaningful choices to make. In the end, the strategic and tactical elements feel like a sideshow to the railroad that is the main quest. There is fun and creativity in here, but interspersed with long stretches of tedium and frustration.
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