King Arthur Review (PC)

King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame is the latest project by little-known developer NeocoreGames - although judging by the quality on offer, their star may well be in the ascendency. As an ambitious mixture of RTS and RPG, its flaws are far outweighed by a detailed graphical engine, addictive campaign, and flair in design that promises much for future projects. For the moment however, Arthur will do nicely.

The main campaign centres around an overhead map of Britain, on which the player is expected to navigate through a quest for justice and dominance. Units and armies are nicely rendered on top of the occasionally gaudy but atmospheric rolling green hills, key strategic points well illustrated and highlighted, and the risk-style plotting soon requires a detailed plan as to the order in which to go after counties and sections of land.

It all looks a bit pretty.
Archers are vital.

Turn-based manoeuvres are the order of the day, and expect plenty of decisions to be made over the splitting of your forces, navigation of terrain, defence of key locations and offensive movement. You can eventually tax your populace to gain substantial war funds, recruit armies from local towns, and pick up missions for each of your specialist characters. Units retain experience and the spoils of war, so balancing a strong offence against building up your weaker defence is critical to success.

At every juncture, rival factions are constantly in flux and vying for the same territory, with ample opportunities for temporary or more permanent alliances to be shaped and manipulated at will. At its core, the meta-game lies somewhere in-between the likes of Civ 4 and the more straight-forward strategising of Total War, but those are hardly bad precedents to set for yourself when making a game of this ilk. In truth, it falls a little short of both approaches, but is certainly interesting enough to sustain a lengthy playthrough.

But lore and fantasy may well be primary attraction for some of you, and in that respect Neocore rarely disappoints. Traditional questing and the balance of power advances the storyline along predetermined but incredibly numerous paths, with minimal signposting as to exactly what your actions are achieving. In that respect, Arthur is a much more hardcore role-playing experience than most focussed RPG titles, and outside of a cursory overview of narrative event interaction, you’re pretty much left to your own devices to turn your legend into the character you want him to be.

Weather and elemental attacks play a vital role.
The supernatural is commonplace.

Actually undertaking each quest and the associated adventuring is a strange fit at times however, and mostly involves reams of text and basic narrative interaction. However, there is a certain charm to this approach, and provided you’re able to take off the big-budget RPG goggles, King Arthur exhibits a similar draw to the likes of Puzzle Quest – albeit with far more depth.

To keep the analogy rolling, in place of the puzzling comes a series of pitched RTS battles adopting a basic rock-paper-scissors approach to balance. Unit types are traditional for the most part, featuring Archers, Axemen, Cavalry and others, along with ‘hero’ characters and – slightly oddly – spell casting and supernatural elements. Formations can be set, control points captured for additional buffs, terrain advantages exploited, and the well-detailed environments torn apart with ranged or melee combat.

As for the more outlandish aspects, each of your knights has the ability to conjure up his very own volley of battlefield magic, with effects that vary in scope from defensive buffs to one-shot offensive spells that help decimate your opponents. These mechanics – although somewhat at odds with the rest of the design - serve to balance what would otherwise be outrageously outnumbered encounters, swinging the tide of battle in your favour when timed well. Visually, they also serve as the icing on an already pretty cake.

Visuals are eerie and spectacular.
Moody rock music not included.

For the most part though, King Arthur’s combat engine treads a well-worn path, but that isn’t to say that tradition is bad in this instance; and yet again the parallels with Total War reap major benefits in the form of familiarity in both control and tactical advantage. Whilst the combat isn’t nearly as deep as its illustrious muse for the most part, King Arthur’s RTS meat is satisfying unto itself, despite several annoyances with units losing formation too easily and the distinct inability of ranged volleys to distinguish between friend or foe.

But perhaps above all, the consistency in design and reverence for the subject matter is King Arthur’s greatest strength. Too often war games of this persuasion end up as dry, hardcore affairs that only the slimmest of niche audiences can appreciate. Neocore, although biting off a little more than it can chew, has provided an experience that positively oozes with atmosphere and challenge, yet all the while catering to those that spend twelve hours a day devising battlefield plans - and the other twelve reading the Art of War.

It might not be perfect, but it’s certainly worth a look.

Top Game moment:
Defeating one of the many tough battles.

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By Kres (SI Elite) on Dec 12, 2009
Hmm interesting looking game. Anybody tried it?
By Kiam99 (SI Veteran Member) on Dec 14, 2009
Kiam99 maybe I should give it a try :)
By fredyzg (SI Core) on Dec 15, 2009
Sounds very good!
By Juzek10 (I just got here) on Dec 29, 2009
Only sounds good , its worth your attention for at the latest 5-8 hours.
By hankmurphy (I just got here) on Dec 30, 2009
just bought on steam for 20 dollars. hope its ok, the review and screens make me think of george r r martin... so i had to buy
By humorguy (SI Newbie) on Jan 20, 2010
I have this game and it rocks! You want a strategy/RPG game you can get your teeth into, in both the strategy and roleplaying! Get on You Tube and watch the videos and the reviews.... Then you'll see! Bet you never knew about or bought Space rangers 2 either? That means there could be TWO genius games you have missed out on!