Updated Tue, Feb 14, 2012 by Stow
With a subtitle of The Role-playing Wargame, I thought I was in for a treat with King Arthur II. How could you possibly botch a setting as glorious as this with heroes, items, magic, and massive armies clashing?
It’s really simple. Make every single one of those ingredients completely forgettable, and the end result is a game that just doesn’t cut itself a piece of the Total War pie.
While I’ve been doing my part as a reviewer to give games the benefit of a doubt, I got my hands on King Arthur II long after that release patch frenzy happened. (I’m notorious for bashing games for that at this point.) Even with all of the major problems fixed however, the core game falls flat on every level.
Take for instance the overworld map. You can seize towns, raid provinces, and complete quests easily enough. But you don’t feel like this is a wargame where you’re commanding massive hordes. You feel like you’re playing a Heroes of Might and Magic game where you’re forced to roll with your superior army on one hero, slowly clearing the map. The overworld map might as well not exist anyway, since it's only real purpose is as quest delivery system—there’s no incentive to explore or split your army.
The overworld map points you to your quests and that's about all it's good for. You don't even have to be in a town to resupply your army!
The quests themselves play out as a miniature visual novel or choose-your-own-adventure type game. Often times you’ll have several paths to completion, some with better results than others, and some may end in all out war while others lead to peace. This would be wonderful, but the entire quest system is delivered in a box with about the same style and finesse as a basic WoW quest—brown box, dull writing, skip to decision/rewards after 50 of ‘em.
When the actual combat breaks out is where the game shines a bit more, but again the systems are just inherently flawed. Magic is ridiculously powerful to the point of game breaking, but each army has an arcane shield at first that will absorb most spells outright until brought down. So if you have fewer mages than your opponent, it more or less functions as a time limit before fireballs begin wiping out entire legions of experienced troops. It’s just a stupid all-or-nothing strategy that requires you to micromanage and cast/reinforce spells every time they’re up.
Units move at a snail’s pace, even light infantry. Units that somehow manage to survive a fight and not die of old age can be promoted multiple times to the point of being able to walk over the rest of the campaign. If your army can’t do it, later on your hero most certainly can. The items of King Arthur II are strong as hell and actually give some meaning to the useless text boxes that they call quests.
On their own, these flaws don’t seem so bad. But when the whole package is taken into consideration, the gameplay falls flat on its face compared to the games it draws inspiration from.
Heroes are the real standout of the combat, and fortunately they have the detail to match. The same cannot be said for your rank and file troops.
While you can’t expect the same level of detail, zoom and animation you'd find in an AAA title in a game of this ilk, you do get a good feel for the combat and can assess any situation at any given time. Quests are punctuated with high quality concept and line art. The map even does a good job of changing with the seasons.