by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Into the light
With only short while to go before its release, Neocore filled my stocking with a steam code to download a preview copy of King Arthur II. It was the first of several surprises that they had in store, some of which I’ll gladly spoil, others you will have to wait for the review for, but they are all good.
King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame is one of those games that if you have played it, you will probably have stumbled upon it accidentally. The game took ages to get noticed by the press and when it did, some reviewers did not understand the gem they were reviewing. Fortunately, word of mouth and fantastic support from publisher Paradox have pulled the game from the unknown and into the light and King Arthur II is set to conquer all the lands, swiftly and decisively.
Neocore’s second surprise hit me the moment I started up the game. King Arthur II’s campaign starts with a prologue. That in itself is not too surprising, but the fact that you are playing as a Roman commander is. With a storyline that describes King Arthur’s illness with his realm in ruin, you would expect to dive in head-first playing one of his knights and being tasked to find a cure and put the realm back together. Instead, you play a betrayed Septus, brought back from the dead and out to restore his family lands and to take control over New Rome, the Roman occupied territories in Britain. Refreshing and unexpected, the prologue serves to get you acquainted with the game, its changes as compared to the previous versions and to show you a glimpse of the underlying storyline.
Running up that hill
After an introductory – and for the series iconic – ‘text adventure’, you will find yourself looking at King Arthur’s new campaign map, probably with your jaw flat on the floor. Features steep and foreboding looking mountains, lush, rolling hills and deep blue rivers that just make you want to grab a rod and fish for trout, the new map looks gorgeous. There is an incredible amount of geographical depth and detail and wherever you look, it is filled with all kinds of fantastical looking locations waiting to be discovered. Having seen the campaign map before, I was still left unprepared for just how rich and how much more organic it looks compared to King Arthur’s already great looking map.
In battle, some of the terrain’s surrounding features are brought along onto the combat map. If two armies clash in a hilly region, this is correctly reflected during combat and attacking an enemy army in or near a castle means you’ll be breaching its walls before you can get to some or all of its units. The castle is a little further away? You will probably be able to see its contours in the background of the battle map. Like before, the battle maps are carefully designed to offer a variety of strategic challenges and as such are not randomly generated. There is an element of re-use, though it will take you a while to start recognizing the maps. Light and weather conditions will be throwing your ‘sense of recognition’ off guard the first few times.
It’s a kind of magic
Should you be fighting a walled-up enemy, you can, of course, order your archers to attack units inside a castle’s wall. This works well, especially if the enemy isn’t seeking protection from the wall itself by standing close to it. Unit perks are back and an upgraded archer unit firing double arrows means a deadly barrage that is capable of taking out even the most armored targets hiding behind walls.
Yet the Septus is no slouch when it comes to magic and is able to do some real harm to whatever unit is on the receiving end of his lightning, fireball or other destructive spell. Chances are, though, that your first spells will fizzle. Not because you don’t know how to cast, but because you will have to break through your opponent’s magic shield before being able to do so successfully. The magic shield is a new feature in King Arthur II and it serves to absorb spells cast by enemy mages. Each cast spell lowers the barrier further until you cast a spell that has a higher penetration rating than the remaining barrier can withstand, causing it to break through and do the intended damage. The barrier is ‘global’, meaning it works automatically and anywhere on the map. It is not affected by distance or location but it is affected by how you develop your hero characters and by the magical items they have equipped. One item may for instance increase your spell casting ability while another gradually eats away at your foe’s shield. While it is true that the latter is useful only for a short period – until you have broken through your enemy’s shield – the enemy might occupy a special location on the battlefield that increases its shield over time.
Perhaps as a result of the addition of the magic barrier, magic itself feels more impactful than it did in King Arthur. A level three fireball can wipe out an entire unit of archers and even a level one lightning strike is strong enough to cause enough damage and ruckus to make it worth your while. I’m not sure how the new magic system will pan out, but it would seem that the existence of the barrier actually increases the importance of magic. Absorbing incoming spells keeps your units in the field for much longer while hurling destructive magic at the enemy takes them out quicker than before, making magic a solid investment for any commander.
Beauty is only skin deep
King Arthur II is an absolutely beautiful game, both inside and out. It builds upon the already strong concepts of its predecessor, adding depth, fun and playability at every corner and bringing a significant upgrade to its graphics. Looking at the amount of polish seen in the preview build, it might as well have been a release candidate and perhaps it was. And while I have spent quite some time with King Arthur II already, I just know it has more surprises in store, which to me is the hallmark of a great game.