Britannia is in peril. The wise and just King Arthur lies dying, the land sickens with its ruler and the Holy Grail has been shattered. What remains of the once proud nation is in ruins with monstrous forces determined to decimate all that survives. What hope remains rests on the shoulders of Arthur’s son, William, who must find a way to heal both the land and his father, whilst battling back the demonic hordes that threaten their existence.
It’s all grand fantasy fare and comes as little surprise given this is a sequel to Neocore’s King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame. Just like its predecessor, this sequel is a mix of the grand strategy style seen in titles like the Total War series and a story-driven RPG-lite. As you embark on your endeavours to save the realm, you will slowly build a massive army, complete quests, level up your character and ultimately fight some fairly epic battles.
There is little doubt that the strength of this sequel, as with the first game, lies in its setting. This fantasy rendition of Britannia is dark, engaging and quite beautiful. Those bored by the historical settings found in other wargames of this scale will find a lot to love about King Arthur’s world. This is a dark fantasy with pagan gods and monstrous beings that presents a compelling take on Arthurian legend.
Likewise, the game’s most compelling gameplay aspects are a result of the story-based adventuring you embark upon. Just as with the previous game, questing is primarily handled by a series of text descriptions that act not unlike a choose-your-own-adventure book. While this sounds somewhat dull, in practice it is an enjoyable means of interacting with the overall fiction.
What decisions are made during these sequences can impact your game experience in a number of ways. Improved relations with the game’s various factions, gold, units and more are all possible outcomes dependant on what choices you make during quests. A morality system is in place that is also influenced by your decisions and not just in terms of how good or evil you are. The game also tracks whether you are more aligned with pagan Gods or Christianity. The ultimate impact of your position on these two scales is unfortunately limited to a handful of unique spells, but it remains a curious side aspect to the gameplay regardless.
The campaign map is not just limited to the role of quest vendor. As you would expect from games of this ilk, this is also where you manoeuvre your forces and find your various strongholds and rival armies. Unfortunately, this aspect of the game feels somewhat diminished from the last one, with most of the macroeconomic aspects of the title paired back. Now, most of your management of this aspect of the game comes from securing special sites which provide certain advantages. Don’t expect the complexity of something like Shogun 2.
However, it is when steel rings against steel that King Arthur II starts to come unstuck. The first King Arthur suffered heavily from countless issues with enemy AI and overpowered units, and the same issues make a return here. Archers, once more, feel ridiculously overpowered, capable of decimating significant troop numbers before they even come within melee range. Too often battles degenerate into dull encounters where two armies line up some distance apart and pepper each other with arrows.
There is still some strategy to be found. The game allows for tactics such as ambushes from wooded areas and combat concepts such as attacking downhill do confer advantages. Yet, even with these inclusions, the enemy AI is not really bright enough to make their utilisation necessary. Ctrl + A and a right click on the enemy forces is usually enough to see most battles through to their conclusion, with only limited intervention required.
It’s a real shame, since the battles do look spectacular. With a beefy enough rig, the game can be quite stunning visually. Character design is excellent and during the late-game battles, when the skies are full of flying monstrosities, the fantasy setting really comes into its own. Throw in some pretty particle and lighting effects from the numerous spells capable of being cast, and you have a fantasy Total War as directed by Peter Jackson.
But this is not enough to sustain the game. With so much of the content focused on combat, if the battlefield strategy is inconsequential and unit imbalance easily exploited you’re left with a large chunk of the game bereft of interest. It’s an upsetting result, given how much potential the central idea of a roleplaying wargame has. The first time around, the novelty of the concept was enough for us to recommend giving this game a look-in. For a sequel though, we’re not quite so ready to entertain the excuse that this is a new idea in progress. King Arthur II should have fixed the issues in the past game, but instead seems to tread the same ground.
If you missed the first game, there is some value to be found here. Even though its effects are not as wide ranging as we’d hoped the whole questing/RPG aspects of the game still maintain their appeal and mark the franchise out as a unique experience. For those who have already experienced the curiosity that was the first game, however, you’ll likely find yourself disappointed by just how little has changed since then.
Originally published in PCPP#202, April 2012.