by Derk Bil
reviewed on PC
What’s in a name
Rarely does the name of a game accurately describe what to expect when playing it. Like its predecessor, King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame delivers exactly what its title suggests, offering a wonderful blend of epic battles and satisfying role-playing elements. And when I say role-playing, I don’t just mean a bunch of statistics and skills that can be attributed to a character. No, there is a very substantial amount of actual role-play campaigning to be done, in the most classical sense possible. It even features a narrator taking on the role of dungeon master that tells you the story as you progress through the game.
Then there is the Arthurian legend by which the game is fueled, giving this game a high-fantasy twist which can be related to by everyone growing up with the fairytales about Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Lore – and I’m using the term quite liberally as the story of King Arthur II is not a recantation of the original legends – has not been limited to old English tales of chivalry and deceit. Even Beowulf and Grendel will make a cameo appearance.
For a game titled after the fabled King Arthur, there is a surprisingly skimpy amount of ‘Arthur’ present. He features prominently in the game’s back story, balancing on the edge of death after having suffered a wound inflicted by foul magic. Magicians and scholars applying the strongest magic and medicine have failed to restore Arthur to his former self. His poor shape has also taken its toll on his kingdom, scattering the Knights of the Round Table and leaving a once thriving land in pieces.
Meanwhile Britain is besieged from all sides. The Pict are being a major pain in the north, the Seelie and Unseelie stir up trouble in the west and the Fomorians wreak havoc in the East. And then there is the Roman commander Septimus Sulla, an ambitious man possessed by the wicked spirit of Emperor Hadrian and in command of a horde of undying ghost-infested warriors that are ravaging the countryside. If you only ever had Disney teach you the Arthurian saga and do not recognize Septimus Sulla, his appearance may be a little hard to swallow. Don’t fret, you didn’t miss a thing. Sulla is a fictional character playing a vital role in the game’s equally fictional story that starts off with a prologue campaign that serves to explain just who Sulla is and how he became the schizo you will get to know later on.
During the main campaign, you will be playing as Arthur’s son, William Pendragon, and since you’ll be spending so much time cruising through the British countryside and dealing out your own brand of justice, you get to decide what kind of a hero he is to be. You can play as one of three classes: a Sage and wield powerful magic, a Warlord and have the ability to buff the stats of your army or as a Champion and join your infantry as a heavy melee unit. No matter which one you pick, you will have some magic abilities to use during battles and strengthen your army with heroes from all three classes as they join your cause.
A tale of three heroes
King Arthur II is bigger than its predecessor, spanning the entire British mainland rather than just the southern half of it. To keep travel manageable, your armies have a slightly increased range over what they had in the original game and Stone circles placed in some of Britain’s provinces allow you to teleport between them instantaneously, giving you quick access to any part of your kingdom. Injured troops can heal in the same turn that they have done battle, further increasing the speed at which you can move around.
The army that you start out with is small, untrained and only adequate for the early part of the game. It certainly won’t all last until the end of the game and the kings of many of the surrounding provinces field armies too strong to fight. It is an interesting mechanic to keep you from straying too far from your initial location until you have finished some of the storyline quests. Winning battles will slowly fill a ‘unit level gauge’ which at various points unlocks stronger units while automatically upgrading your existing ones at the same time. And if each upgrade means a stronger army, it also means your neighbors will need to start fearing you.
Contrary to its predecessor, you are not in control of the amount of armies that you field. Many a hero will join up but only two others will be allowed to lead armies in your name. These two are part of the storyline and will lead armies into battles and follow quest plotlines that have been laid out for them specifically. With every army led by a character vital to the story, you can’t afford to lose any battles as that would be a one-way trip to the ‘game over’ screen. It feels a little restrictive and is perhaps the only change that I’d rather see reversed.
Magic is more satisfying than ever, campaign map is stunning.
Only three army commanders allowed, no income from provinces, a bit short.