If you take one part text adventure, one part turn-based strategy, and one part real-time strategy, you have the components of King Arthur 2: The Role-Playing Wargame (KA2). You can immerse yourself in the rich storytelling and quests scattered throughout the campaign map, or command your soldiers in epic battles against enemy armies and fantastic monsters. The lack of depth in the strategy element for a game of this size and scope will leave players unsatisfied.
The story picks up where the first King Arthur game left off. All is not well in the world of Camelot. You do not play as King Arthur, as he is known as the ‘maimed king’ in this tale, and it is up to you to reunite the realm through your choice of diplomacy, force, or a combination of both. Most of the game takes place on an overworld map of England. You control your hero and move him around the map, engaging in quests and battles, all while managing your kingdom. The role playing aspect of KA2 sets it apart from other strategy games, as the time spent preparing for battle is more rewarding than fighting the battles themselves.
The fully narrated quests in King Arthur 2 are engaging choose your own adventure stories.
Most of the quests come in the form of a Dungeons and Dragons choose your own adventure. Every line of text was well written and narrated perfectly which made each quest interesting. Although engaging, most of the quests were nothing more than a series of multiple choice questions that resulted in pre-determined outcomes that affected your diplomatic standing with other factions on the map. Your decisions would settle a kingdom problem here, establish alliance there, or some lead to inevitable battles. Each choice would bring a different reward or consequence and give you some context as to why it happened. While on one quest I talked smack to a neighboring province, but since I managed to drive out an invading army of Picts (see: Barbarians) they forgot the conversation even happened. I enjoyed doing many of the ‘quests’ but no amount of diplomacy, subterfuge, and espionage could shake the feeling that these decisions were not having a huge impact on my game.
Where where the game started to fall apart for me was in the RTS battles. I’m all for using good ideas and paying homage to other games, but KA2 blatantly ripped off and bastardized the the Total War battle system. Like any other real time strategy game, you begin each battle with opposing armies on either side the map, but no amount of planning or strategizing could save my frustration. I have played my fair share of RTS, and would like to think of myself as some sort of new age Napoleon, but as soon as I hit ‘Start Battle’, everything in the game went to hell. Between the terrible AI and the punishing difficulty of KA2, I felt like no choice I made was a smart one and my best option was to always charge at full speed towards the enemy. What added to my frustration was including spells in the combat. As I marched my units across the battlefield like the diligent commander I am, my troops were reduced to shambles as lightning bolts, fireballs, and clouds of pestilence rained down from the sky. Every battle came down to who brought the bigger stick to the fight. No amount of outsmarting or outmaneuvering had any impact on the outcome. The bigger, badder army always won. Creating a unique strategy experience is one thing, but when a strategy game requires no tactics it leaves something to be desired. Thankfully you have the option to simulate the battle, and I eventually opted for this after many frustrating battles that tested my sanity.
The battle system takes a page out of the Total War series.
The visuals of the map, units, and ambient creatures sucked me right into the world and helped keep me interested when the game started to drag. Throughout my 20 hours in the campaign not once did I ever feel that the visuals were lacking, but I couldn’t help but feel that the game tried to do too much. The campaign is not challenging or strategic, and you simply follow the linear path of quests and battles. The kingdom management is interesting but strange, as the AI would march a weak army to random locations with no hope of defeating any of my characters. The battles are frustrating, mostly because a more difficult enemy does not mean they are smarter but simply tougher...and forget about tactics, because the bigger army is always sure to win. King Arthur 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor as it streamlines many of the real time strategy features and simplifies much of the kingdom management. It makes the game more accessible for new players, but takes away from the strategy and depth that many veterans of the genre will be accustomed to. The linear campaign and battle system made for a disappointing experience, but the storytelling and and questing were some of the redeeming qualities. The role playing is an interesting way to shake things up in a strategy game, and this game could have been awesome, but it came out undercooked with too many ingredients. King Arthur 2 is a great way to dive into the mythos and lore, but the flaws make it stumble far too often to have any sort of payoff.