King Arthur II: The Role-Playing WargamePlatforms: PC
King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame is a follow-up to 2009’s break-out hit from developer Neocore Games and publisher Paradox Interactive and picks up the story where we left it after 2011's bridging chapter entitled King Arthur: Fallen Champions. Successfully managing to meld a variety of genres into one (notably real-time strategy and grand strategy all sprinkled with role-playing elements) the game was likened to Total War obviously, but showed its own quality and has built a significant fan base which is relishing the prospect of more Arthurian action.
This sequel does indeed continue to follow the adventures of Arthur Pendragon (in the most part) as he looks to continue to rule and look after Britannia now he has ownership of the Holy Grail. Unfortunately the evil Witch Queen has turned up and stabbed the old man in the gut (he alas bears no resemblance to the chap in Disney’s The Sword In The Stone), leaving him to die whilst she looks to institute chaos all over. The aim of the game is to fix things. Save Britannia once more - all of it; reunite the Knights of the Round Table and restore Camelot to its rightful place in the world.
This is the bulk of the game, however the levels made available to play for this preview focused on a Roman soldier named Septimus Sulla. It happens that he’s been beaten to a pulp in his attempts to restore glory to Eboracum, a glorious Roman city. Same as King Arthur then? Only in the space between life and death, and thanks to ownership of a special wreath, Sulla is visited by the spirit of the great Emperor Hadrian who promises his assistance in Sulla’s adventure. Starting with allowing him to fix one of the things which went wrong on the way to this point in time. After making this choice the prologue itself begins.
King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame is uniquely positioned to provide a varied and flexible gameplay experience all on its own. Immediately presented with the world map, familiar to anyone who’s played the original, or any similar strategy game such as Total War or Civilisation, the mechanics of the game were presented in succession in order to teach the player how to play. The map is navigated using a turn-based structure where one turn equates to one season. Each season looks significantly different to the other so as not to confuse, but also to show-off a little - this game won’t tax your system too much but it does present itself very well. It’s not The Witcher 2 then, but it fits in well amongst its peers visually. Turns are spent manoeuvring your troops, taking them from objective to objective depending on what you want or need to achieve to meet your ultimate goal. Typically one bigger objective is completed by meeting multiple smaller goals. Winter is the exception. No movement is allowed. This is the time to upgrade your units and heroes and get ready for the year ahead. Early on this was an irritation as it was easy to forget you'd be stuck where you were, but once incorporated into your thinking it can be used cleverly to gain advantage versus the game - or at least maintain the status quo.
In working towards the goals laid out by the game there were two types of event which happened within but separate of the turn based map action. One was the real time battles. The meat and potatoes of the game if you will, and the area where it will come under the most scrutiny given Total War’s standing in the same arena. It doesn’t suffer by comparison based on the limited experience presented by this set of levels. Flexibility of tactics is immense. Your troops will be split into a variety of units - infantry, archers, cavalry etc. and of course you have the ability to modify the abilities of the overall army dependent on the leader you assign (their traits being taken on by the whole team) as well as the option to attack using magic. It really brings a whole new aspect to the game and ensures the role-playing fans amongst you will have plenty of entertainment picking the right leader and learning and applying the right skills for your chosen way of playing. The battles themselves work on a rock, paper, scissors mechanic so over time you can learn what will and won’t (or may) work in a given situation, but of course there is an ever present need to take into account the terrain and so on rather than just rushing in like fools. If however your skill level at real time battles is as low as it is here, there is an option to skip the battle and have it play out automatically. The outcome of this varied greatly early on dependent on the chosen overall difficulty level but once the troops are built up in strength and numbers it will be an effective way to speed things up a bit if it’s the rest of the game you want to focus on.
The other aspect to play which was also the most entertaining was the ‘choose your own adventure’ type engagements. At various points on the turn based map, as opposed to entering into battle, you may be required to complete a quest with various forks wherein the right choices can lead to success, the wrong ones failure, and a myriad of positions in-between. Maybe it was because it’s a throwback to youth, or maybe it’s just a really compelling part of the game, but this elevated the game to another level in the short time spent with it. Just having the variety ensures the game will overall last longer in the minds of all players whether it becomes your favourite part or not.
During the limited time spent with King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame - in a set of levels being made available for free to those who pre-order via Steam as detailed here - the whole package never wavered in its entertainment. It was a continuous learning experience with a massive amount of things to do but all structured in such a way that you can devour every detail and really dive in deep to understand and perfect everything - as a grand strategy game should allow - or just play it in a much more superficial way if desired and still get a load out of it. There’s every reason to suspect this will continue into and throughout the full game when it arrives too. With a bigger and (expected) better story than this prologue, one involving King Arthur himself, if strategy gaming is your thing, then so is this. The Digital Fix will review the full game soon.