Before I get into this review, I have to admit that my experience with RTS games on the PC is limited, very limited. In fact, the closest I have ever got to playing one is Civilization V and Tropico; both of which aren’t really RTS games at all. But maybe it is good to approach this type of game with fresh, uneducated eyes.
King Arthur 2 is a very deep RTS game, but with aspects of ’choose your own adventure’ gameplay mixed in. There are two campaigns to King Arthur 2; the prologue and then the main quest. Both are incredible long, so you can expect to get your money’s worth out of the title.
In the prologue you play as Septimus Sulla, a Roman General who is left for dead on the battlefield after being betrayed by another family. Luckily, as Septimus is lying almost dead on the floor, he experiences a vision. In this vision, the former Roman Emperor Hadrian talks to him and tells him that he must arise and go forward to unite the Roman Empire against the enemies to the north. This story is the set up for the main game and, at first, doesn’t appear to be connected.
The main campaign sees King Arthur mortally wounded in battle. It is down to his son, William, to take his place. There is a plague spreading across Britannia, with all clues pointing towards it being started by the Furorians. The Furorians are a race of dark beings lead by the Witch Queen, their only goal to overthrow mankind as rulers of the land. William must travel the land to solve the mystery, while at the same time looking for a cure for his father’s injuries.
The first thing you notice when you start the game is how long you have to sit there before getting into the action. Both campaigns have a very long intro (20 mins +) that requires your interaction. You see, the game isn’t just about heading to the battlefield; many of the game’s quests require more talking than fighting. In these sections, the game leads you through a scenario, as make choices about how to deal with the situation. These sections have an effect on your character and how other NPC’s view and react to you. Your choices also dictate your standing with other families in the land, which will prove useful in future quests. In some circumstances, you will also be rewarded with gold or artifacts, or on occasion, have gold removed in order to pay for something. Although an interesting addition to an RTS, these sections crop up quite frequently and can sometimes feel like a chore.
Another thing that stands out right from the start is the fact at almost all of the script in narrated, which is quite an achievement for a text heavy game. The problem is that one man, who doesn’t quite have the gravitas of someone like Patrick Stewart, does all of it. He puts on all the voices of all the different characters, and you get a sense that he is really trying; but in the end some of it just falls flat and ends up being hilarious, but not in a good way. There are also inconsistencies between what is being read and what is being displayed on screen. I can only assume that small parts of the script were changed after recording and they didn’t bother to get the guy back in to re-record.
Navigating around the hub world is made pretty simple; new quests are highlighted on the map, and all you have to do is right click twice on the marker and off you go. The time is broken up into seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Spring thru Autumn is when you can go questing and fighting. In Winter it is too cold to fight, so that time is spent levelling yourself, your armies and your castles. As you complete quests, both you and your army earn experience points and Lore points. These can then be used to upgrade your army and your strongholds.
There is also the matter of politics to contend with. Some of the decisions you make will affect how other groups and families conduct business with you. You will need to carefully plan out your relationships, as it will strongly affect how your game progresses. If you go against someone in one quest, it may come back to bite you on the ass if you need their help in the future. The game takes everything you do into consideration, and it’s important to take time when deciding who to ally with.
Some of the choices you make also change your morality standing; do something good and your morality moves up, but if you want to play it mean, then you become a tyrant. Either way, the further you swing your morality toward the extremes, the more varied your battle bonuses. There is no right or wrong way to play it, just do what you want to; it is a game after all.
When it comes to the battlefield, things probably don’t differ much from other RTS games. Before the battle starts, you must place your army around the battlefield. There are many different types of soldier, from Archers to Horsemen, and strategically placing all of the units will work to your advantage. Once that has been complete, you simply press a button and the battle gets underway. You can speed up the conflict if you just want to get right in to it, or pace the battle out so you can keep full control of your units. Being set in mythical times, there are also magic attacks to consider.
Both you and your enemy will have the ability to cast spells during the fight; they start out basic and low powered, but as you level up and unlock new magic, the more fun they become. The only real issue I had with the battles is the camera. It seems locked at an odd perspective and means that navigating the map becomes frustrating. It also means that zooming into a specific part of the battle becomes almost impossible. That aside, as my first real RTS it seemed enjoyable and easy to pick up.
As an RTS, I was worried that I would get lost in all of the complex mechanics, but King Arthur 2 breaks you in incredibly gently. To start with, there are four levels of difficulty, with the lowest allowing you to focus on the story aspect of the game and makes the battles easy to get to grips with. You even have the option of skipping the battles altogether, with the game picking a winner based upon stats. There is also a huge library of tutorial videos and these will show you how to deal with everything in the game. The game prompts you about them whenever you do something for the first time, but are always just a few clicks away if you ever need them again. Although I don’t think I will ever become an RTS master, King Arthur 2 introduced me to the genre in a gentle fashion, allowing me to take it at my own pace.
There are a few issues with the game that did bug me slightly though. The game does seem to take an age to load anything. When you start and end a battle the game needs to load, and this can take between 30 seconds and a minute. There are also a few glitches during the battles that will deform the landscape and cause screen tearing; not something you would expect from this type of game. But these are small niggles and don’t really detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the game. On the plus side, the music is fantastic and lends an element of grandeur to the proceedings, invoking the mythical and historic subject matter.
King Arthur 2 surprised me with its approach to the RTS genre by adding such an in-depth story mechanic. Although this may become a bit boring for some players, it certainly adds to the story. I’m not sure if it is for everyone, but fans of the previous game, and of the genre in general, will find this an enjoyable romp, with plenty to keep them occupied for many, many hours.
Review copy provided by publisher.