King Arthur 2 is Neocore’s latest Arthurian-flavored wargame, a sort of Total War meets Lord of the Rings. It has everything one would expect from the franchise. There are pitched battles where you command, potentially, thousands of troops. There is magic, monstrous creatures to defeat or command, and role-playing bits that effect your alliances and the kinds of troops you’ll be able to command. There are some new mechanics to explore, including a more in-depth diplomacy system, new abilities, and a technological research tree. There are even a few slight differences, including scads of Romans and the fact that your adventures don’t seem to have much to do with King Arthur at all. How does it all work out, then? Check in after the bump and see for yourself!
So, Romans, eh? This time around, you find yourself following the exploits of Septimus Sulla, the fancily-named leader of House Sulla. The intro-bits ease you into the fiction. After the Romans withdrew from the gigantic and magic-encrusted Hadrian’s Wall five noble families stayed behind. They set up shop in Eboracum (Modern-day York) and went about the business of being generally lazy and fractious as Roman nobles are apt at doing. Meanwhile, down south, the events of the first King Arthur game play out and the nobles, seeing what a young go-getter can do, decide to follow suit and get about the business of conquest. It doesn’t go quite so well, and Septimus is severely injured. He meets the spirit of Hadrian and you’re given some choices as to who and what this Septimus character is and focus moves to the campaign map so the game proper can begin.
The first thing I want to mention is how the role playing elements of this game play out. Essentially, there are bits of text read to you by a wizened-sounding fellow, and options you can choose in response. It plays a bit like a choose your own adventure book, but each choice you make has some impact on the world at large. The various mini-plots are interesting enough and some of these grant you multiple approaches to working through them. Early on, a rival family asks for assistance. By clicking on the tabs at the top of the dialogue, your choices can focus on helping them, taking advantage of them, or ignoring them entirely. While not as exciting as the fully-voiced talking doll offerings by folks like Bioware, the number of options and consequences thereof make for a meaningful sort of experience. It’s all very well done and even those who don’t enjoy reading should be pleased to note that the role playing bits are short and to the point. Just keep in mind that this is a wargame and not a haunting tale of deep interpersonal relationships and fiery romance and you should be fine.
This, of course, ties in nicely to the improved diplomacy menu. In the original King Arthur, diplomacy was mostly handled by various plot quests. This time around, however, things are a bit more complex and rewarding. In addition to House Sulla, New Rome is home to four other noble Roman houses. Beyond your borders are various other groups. Forging good ties with any of these powers can lead to interesting benefits for yourself and your troops, like hiring unique mercenaries or the ability to grant some of your units elite training. Diplomatic quests pop up from time to time and how these are handled will have an impact with your relationship with these powers. While not as involved as Total War’s system, it feels far more personal and understandable. You’ll know that your relationship with House Quintus has degraded, not because of some esoteric AI formula, but rather because you chose to kick Lord Quintus in the fork at the last tea party.
That’s all well and good, of course, but this is a war game and it won’t be much fun if the war bits don’t work right, will it? Fortunately King Arthur 2 delivers in that regard. The battles play out in real time, but you can pause the game and issue orders when things get hectic. Veterans of the original game and the Total War series should feel right at home. Units have multiple formations and special abilities to add some variety to the mix and seem fairly well balanced. Gone are the days of archers utterly dominating the battlefield and an improved magic system makes for some interesting tactical options. The AI, while occasionally brick-stupid, provides a reasonable challenge, at least as far as my own limited skills were concerned.
Normally, when you start a battle, you’ll see some optional objectives strewn about. In the original King Arthur, holding on the the majority of these in a battle would guarantee victory, but that is not the case any more. Instead, the offer bonuses to whatever side controls them and, while useful, no longer seem to be necessary for victory. The AI tends to dispatch quick units to these sites in an attempt to capture them quickly, which means you’ll probably want to do the same.
Magic is also improved quite a bit. All of your warlord characters can cast spells and enemy armies are always led by someone who can do the same. Many spells are now quite powerful, able to take down entire units. This is countered by each side having a magical defense rating. If your spell power doesn’t overcome their defense, then the spell fizzles and doesn’t do anything. If it gets through, it will lower your spell defense in addition to blowing up a pile of your troops. This means that troops are lost often and even experienced units might perish if you’re not careful. Fortunately, Neocore has made some changes to the game balance to account for this. Hero units cannot cast spells when in combat, meaning you can engage them with cavalry or other quick units if you want to tie them up. Also, you can recruit and replace injured troops (or hire new ones) on any given turn provided you are in your own territory and have the funds for it.
Graphically, this game is gorgeous, both in the campaign and the battle maps. The campaign map presents you with a lush, idyllic version of central England. Trees sway gently in the breeze. The ocean laps quietly at the coasts. Gigantic effigies of generals stomp about the country side. Very lovely, really. The color palette, occasional mists, and celticky music all do a grand job of lending an air of mystery and magic to the land. The combat maps are equally lovely, with vast forests, detailed units, lovely grasses, changing weather and the like.
So, how fun is it? Depends on your tastes, really, but I enjoyed it quite a bit so far. I think anyone who enjoyed the first game in the series or those who like the idea of Total War with dragons all in there would find a lot to enjoy. The magical setting works very well and the back story so far is interesting, if not exactly Arthurian. The role playing elements are well done and serve the setting and the combat-bits well. The plot IS a bit linear as this isn’t a grand strategy game, but you’re granted a bit of freedom in how you approach it and make your way through it. All very well done. I’d definitely recommend it to any strategy game enthusiast and to anyone who wants to see legionaries fighting enormous hell beetles.
That is the overall rating but I’d give it a special recommendation to fans of the genre.