“Man, this boss fight would be so much easier if my hero had just brought about a thousand heavily armed men with him.” We’ve all thought it. (Right? Alright, maybe just me then.) Chances are you’ve also longed for a way to make all those pesky archers over there just…die. Well, in King Arthur 2, you can! But that’s just scratching the surface.
King Arthur 2 delivers deep gameplay in an extensive single player campaign set in Arthurian Britania. The plot picks up after the well-known story ends, with disaster striking the idyllic land. The player takes the role of Prince Willam Pendragon, Arthur’s son, as he attempts to heal his wounded father and reunite his people.
As with the first in the series, the game hybridizes real-time strategy with RPG elements. Decisions throughout the game influence how other factions react to the player, while customization and progression of the heroes affects their performance on the battlefield. Player decisions also affect William Pendragon’s morality and faith, and as the player progresses toward Tyrant or Rightful, and Old Faith and Christian, new spells, abilities and units are unlocked.
Unit types in King Arthur 2 generally fall into a category: light infantry, heavy infantry, cavalry, spearmen, and archers. Broadly speaking, these units all perform their expected roles. However, to this standard formula is added the RPG heroes, magic, monsters, and flying units. Magic creates whole new strategies, and often forces the player to modify their tried and true medieval combat strategies. (Massed archers behind your spearmen is a very poor choice against a magic-heavy army with the fireball spell, it turns out.)
The numerous non-standard units available have abilities which create new tactical options. Shape-shifting heavy infantry? Now you can get those heavy-hitting troops in behind their pesky archers to block their retreat, or quickly reinforce Victory Locations on the map. Or hunt down enemy casters to stop the flow of @#$% FIREBALLS.
And then there’s the artifact crafting system and the Grail shards, each of which expands the the options available for customizing your hero’s abilities. It’s possible to bypass the crafting and largely ignore the Grail shards, but to do so would be missing out on a lot of the fun.
Neocore has removed many strategic and managerial elements present in the original game, which may upset some people. Armies no longer have any upkeep at all, there is no provincial revenue, your number of armies is limited (to one during the first 2 chapters, you get a second in the 3rd, and in my case that’s 20 hours into the game), and the scope of the morality rewards has been cut back, among other things. Complaints and dissatisfaction from provinces are handled as part of the RPG adventure quests, which does add a nice amount of flavour. The limitation to a single army can be initially frustrating, as your lands do get invaded (and taken over) by enemy forces, and you need to run Prince William up and down the island to fight them all off. Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on what you’re hoping for from this game,) the only downside to losing lands is that the unit bonuses they provide aren’t in effect until you recapture them.
Some players may be surprised by the fact that there is no morale stat. Units never break and run, despite the fact that they are being pulverized by giants or massacred by a heavy cavalry charge. In its place is something called “Will to Fight”, which measures the combination a unit’s stamina and their morale. As it drops, the unit’s combat effectiveness declines, but even at 0 that lone light swordsman, the last of his 120 man unit, will still charge those giants. But he won’t be happy about it. This, of course, means that in each battle, you kill EVERYONE on the opposing side. No one ever surrenders. EVER.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that the “Auto-battle” option doesn’t assume that your chosen tactic would have been to have all your soldiers take off their armour and lay face-down in the dirt. An army of experienced units devastates a weaker force, as it should, with few losses. Don’t like the battles? That’s fine! Not playing them doesn’t leave you at a massive disadvantage.
RPG quests have the same Choose Your Own Adventure format as the original game, though I found that the options and outcomes were much more logical than in the original, where I distinctly recall some very frustrating non sequiturs. Each adventure quest is narrated in a husky drama voice. (Picture a British person telling children a ghost story around a campfire, with that dramatic half-whisper. Now add slightly altered voices for the male characters, and squeaky voices for the women and children.)
I understand that the developers were attempting a literary theme with the narration and the plot separated into chapters, but from my experience the voice acting took away from the immersion and atmosphere far more than it added. (Morgana Le Fay, described as the most beautiful and seductive woman in all the land, sounds like a member of the Monty Python cast.) Fortunately, they can be turned off. And then it feels much more like a book again.
King Arthur 2 has a mandatory tutorial section, and the initial chapters are somewhat restrictive in terms of the actions available to the player. It does a good job of introducing players new to the King Arthur games and to this kind of RTS, but the slow pace, and the fact that it can’t be skipped, definitely risks boring more seasoned players.
Sadly, the game is held back by numerous bugs: quest text sometimes doesn’t match up to the choices, narration doesn’t match the text, units will suddenly teleport during battles, cavalry will often just stop responding to commands and just sit there, enemy mages will spam spells at ranges which should be impossible, units will not pursue enemies they have been told to attack, the same character will have multiple voice treatments, and more! None of these elements are game-stoppingly bad, even taken together, but they can be very annoying. That said, the game is being patched regularly, so hopefully most of these issues will be resolved in the near future. Still, no one likes paying for a defective product.
As it stands right now, King Arthur 2 is a solid game that’s a bit rough around the edges. Lots of promise and fun, held back by some irritating bugs. That said, the game has been patched 5 times since release a few weeks ago, so effort is being made to correct the problems.