Review

King Arthur: Fallen Champions Review (PC)

King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame surprised people with it’s delicate blend of fantasy role-playing and grand-strategy a-la Total War, reaping a healthy crop of reviews from the rich word-sown fields of games journalists. Hence I went into the review of this standalone title (which apparently bridges the gap between the first game and the upcoming sequel) with high hopes. I left the game feeling confused and disappointed, thinking that Fallen Champions is a more fitting title than the developers realise.

Like the first King Arthur, Fallen Champions consists of two play styles. However, the sprawling strategic campaign of the original is nowhere to be seen in Fallen Champions. In its stead is a text based RPG telling the tale of three heroes on three separate miniature quests. The Arthurian Knight Sir Lionel is searching his lost love, who has been kidnapped by a warlock and the evil Red Knight. Lady Corrigan of the Sidhe is looking for a way back to her mystical homeland of Tir na nÓg, and the Shaman Drest from the North is driven south by prophecies of his own rise to power.

I TOLD you to put away that umbrella!

Each character has three missions to complete before the three stories intertwine, culminating in a huge final battle. It’s an interesting premise, but one which is shoddily executed and riddled with tedium.

Let’s start with the text adventure. This is where the meat of each character’s tale is told, and comprises the lead-up to each mission. The choices you make during the text adventure affect the units, abilities and items you will have available at your disposal for each mission. Unfortunately most of these choices are banal and insipid. Sometimes the game will force you to choose between two unit types such as between a warlock and a knight, or between some healing clerics and damage dealing pagans. Yet more often than not there’s a right choice and a wrong choice, and the choices are about as subtle as a building falling down.

For example, in the run-up to Sir Lionel’s first mission he encounters a giant. The options he’s given are “Kill the Giant” and “Force the Giant to Surrender (and become one of your units hint hint nudge nudge)”. Worse, even if you’re daft enough to try to kill him, the game doesn’t let you, forcing you down the path of the “right” choice instead of allowing you to make your mistake and forcing you to deal with it.

Additionally the text-adventure comes bundled with the horror that is text based mazes – four choices of directions which lead to another four choices of directions which lead to a dead-end, frustrated backtracking and an abused keyboard. There’s nothing specifically wrong with Fallen Champions’ text-based mazes, but that doesn’t stop text-based mazes being an irritating gaming anachronism that was abandoned as soon as PCs could viably render a scene in eight bits. Frankly Neocore Games should have left them to rot in the PC gaming compost heap of bad ideas, alongside interactive movies and Daikatana.

Finally, the stories simply aren’t particularly interesting. The choices you make don’t have any lasting effect beyond the nearest mission, and because the emphasis is on making these choices, little room is made for character development beyond “This is your name and this is your basic motivation. Now, to battle!”

Having said all that, I think I would have preferred to stick with the text adventure rather than head toward the battlefield. This is because the missions are some of the most arduous, frustrating and monotonous gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

This mission is just too hideous to make jokes about

To start with, the battlegrounds are huge. Now you might be thinking “what’s wrong with that?” Well, note the use of the word battlegrounds rather than battles. Enemies on these gargantuan maps are scattered about like brain cells in a football team, resulting in hours of trudging around the map interspersed with a few minutes of battling here and there. And I really do mean hours, some of these missions can take two hours to complete, and that’s with using the time acceleration buttons.

But long missions are fine, right, because if you get bored you can save and come back later? Fat chance. During battles you cannot save your progress, at all. Now in games like those of the Total War series this is fine, because if you lose you can regroup and fight another battle, a different battle. Losing is just another spice in the Tikka Masala of grand strategy, and can even help you in certain situations, like sending an army to stall an enemy while you recruit a much larger force. But because Fallen Champions is a linear sequence of extremely long missions, losing is like spilling Tikka Masala all over your cream coloured carpet after spending all afternoon making the damned thing.

What really doesn’t help is that the opening missions are absolutely terrible. Of the three, Sir Lionel’s is the least awful. It’s a fairly straightforward quest to capture the Red Knight’s keep, using your giant to destroy the castle’s walls. Its biggest weaknesses are those I’ve already pointed out, plus a few immersion-breaking bugs such as the walls falling down before the giant hits them.

Corrigan’s initial quest is to rescue a warlock from a large army camp. Yet there are only a few units in your possession, so you must sneak around the back of the army and rescue the warlock before you engage the enemy. As with many things in Fallen Champions , this is a neat idea, but it’s ruined by the fact that the patrols which dot the map zip off at an absurd speed if they spot you, and bring the entire army crashing down on your puny band of warriors. Even after I’d rescued the wizard, for some reason I was unable to use any of his special abilities, or my own for that matter. I can only assume this was another bug.

As for Drest, he has to defeat a force camped around a stone circle using an army of ghosts. That’s right, ghosts. I would stop there, but you also have to collect your spectral squads from piles of bones dotted all over the map while nipping between areas that protect you from the dawn. Yeah, the sun burns all your ghosts to death. I had to play this level for three hours. I would say I felt like a ghost afterward, but at least a ghost has been liberated of the feeling of its life slowly sapping away.

Thankfully, after those risible first missions the game improves somewhat, not enough to save it, but enough so that I actually began to enjoy it a bit. The armies on both sides become larger and more concentrated, which results in more interesting battles. Sir Lionel’s third mission was probably my favourite, with the chivalrous knight pitched against a substantial enemy force in control of two huge lightning towers that rip through your army’s ranks as you rush forward to capture them. And when you do…well, let’s just say revenge is a dish best served with ten thousand volts of electricity.

The text-adventure bits are mostly harmless, but they make a poor replacement for the grand campaign of the original game

Ultimately though I found myself sat in front of my computer, scratching my unkempt beard and trying to answer the question: who is the game for? Newcomers to the series are likely to be put off by the long, gruelling battles and those wholly unpleasant first missions. Veteran King Arthur players on the other hand will probably find it overly simplistic and lacking in depth compared to the grand scale of the original game.

If you’re so into King Arthur that you’ve sanded the corners off your dinner table and you feel an overwhelming sense of Divine Right whenever you pull a kitchen knife from your knife block, you may be able to extract some enjoyment from the latter parts of Fallen Champions, in between your regular therapy sessions anyway. For the rest of you, I’d strongly advise you to wait for the sequel.

Top Game Moment: Completing a mission, just because it takes so long to do so.

Comments

By Thibby (SI Core Veteran) on Aug 30, 2011
Thibby
Dissapointing :(
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Aug 31, 2011
SirRoderick
Wow, that's unexpectedly bad!

Mind you, I never really liked the game. Always felt like clunky Total War with magic to me.
By AussieMarkMelb (SI Newbie) on Aug 31, 2011
AussieMarkMelb
thanks for sharing
By ilikeham (SI Newbie) on Aug 31, 2011
ilikeham
I don't think I need to rant this one.
By fishster (SI Newbie) on Aug 31, 2011
fishster
Sad, I was looking forward to this one.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Aug 31, 2011
SirRoderick
Thanks for sharing?

It's a gaming site, this is what it does.
By necomm (SI Newbie) on Aug 31, 2011
necomm
Disapointed
By Boston12 (SI Newbie) on Aug 31, 2011
Boston12
It sounded fun in the beginning, not so much now.
By louy (SI Newbie) on Sep 02, 2011
louy
Sounds dull
By jesar (SI Newbie) on Sep 03, 2011
jesar
jugue las anteriores entregas, hasta la exp de los druidas, le falta mucho a la campaƱa, no se le acerca a un medieval total war, pero sumaba la parte de los heroes y habilidades...ahora ver lo q piensan hacer para esta entrega no me convence, desilucion...bien dicho
By Antar (I just got here) on Sep 19, 2011
Antar
Was afraid it will take all my free time as it was with previous King Arthur games, but luckily the game is real crap and was removed from PC after 30 minutes of gameplay. Its like the authors didn't know what to serve: soup, spaghetti or pizza, so they mixed all together, now try to eat it.