by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
What's in a name
When an unknown game developer announces a new game and labels it King Arthur, few people pay attention. When that same game is subtitled The Role-Playing Wargame however, many look up and wonder what the hell they are on about. It certainly stirred my interest even if I wasn't sure I was dealing with some cheesy marketing joke or something more profound. Having spent a couple of days with Neocore's Real-Time Strategy game I can wholeheartedly vouch for the latter. King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame should be on any strategists radar, if not their wish-list. Why? Because it is a refreshing new take on the familiar Total War formula.
As the title suggests, King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame is set during the time of the legendary King Arthur. The game starts when Arthur pulls Excalibur out of the rock to prove his right to claim the throne of England. With Excalibur in hand, Arthur starts a long campaign of conquest that not only involves large scale combat but also adds a fair amount of adventuring to the mix. Did I say adventuring? I sure did.
When you first enter the game, you are presented with a map of England and a budding army flying your colours and commanded by Sir Kay. If you are looking for Arthur himself, you will not find him as he is you and you are too busy pulling the strings. Instead, you are represented by your twelve Knights of the Round Table, each of which capable of magical feats and leading armies. Sir Kay is only your first knight but soon others will join you in your quest to bring all of England under your rule. As you venture deeper into England, the game slowly reveals its wondrously rich and varied gameplay mechanics.
A familiar path
Your home province is in disarray so your first act is to establish order in key locations within its borders. Establishing order means intercepting and slaying a number of rebel bands. Once an army engages an opposing force the game switches from the map view to a battle view similar to those seen in the Total War series. Large armies, each consisting of up to about 750 soldiers can be on the map. The total number depends on the type of unit and how many of the 16 unit slots are taken up by your knights. You must assign a unit of choice to your knights and combined they take up two slots. While that sounds like a loss, knights fight like demons possessed and will certainly make up for the difference.
Battle maps come in many variations and are tied to provinces. As such, you will certainly revisit some battle sites more than once but rarely often enough to grow wary of any particular one. In some cases, you even get to select the specific map on which you will meet your opponent. Knowing a particular map well may give you a considerable advantage of the enemy forces. For example, forested areas can provide cover against archers for your lighter units and plains are advantageous for your heavy infantry. But there is more.
One markedly different addition to the Total War formula is that of Victory Locations and their influence on the outcome of a battle. Each map has a number of key locations that offer a special bonus to the army that controls it. Such a bonus can consist of additional stamina for your soldiers or more spoils in the form of food when the battle ends. Some locations also offer powerful spells such as shards that rain down on an enemy unit, doing damage as they slam into their bodies. Besides these effects, the Victory Locations also contribute to your Victory Bar. When the battle starts, the game weighs the two armies and shows their relative power in a red and a blue bar at the top of the screen. The bar changes not only when your armies are losing or winning the fight, it is also fed by any Victory Location under your control. If you control more locations than your opponent, his bar will start to decrease faster. It is difficult but not impossible to win the battle – just – by controlling the Victory Locations.
Refreshing new take on the Total War formula.
Much of the difficulty is factored in through a cheating AI.