First Impressions: King Arthur - The Role-Playing Wargame
The internet is full of good buzz about this hybrid RTS-RPG set in the Age of Arthur. Lloyd Sabin is well over 10 hours into the game and is hooked. Find out why.
Hungarian developer Neocore scored a bit of a sleeper hit with last year’s release of Crusaders: Thy Kingdom Come. The game was highly stylized and heralded by a handful of players for good quality game play, with historical battles based on the Crusading Era in the Middle East…basically, it was a fun little game that went virtually unnoticed. Now Neocore are back to get our attention again with King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame. After two days with King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame I have to say — they have my attention.
Currently the game is only available via Valve’s Steam online service, with hard copies slated for release ‘in the coming months.’ It took about two hours for me to download my copy, and then about 20 minutes for installation. Recommended system requirements are: 512MB RAM ATI or NVidia video card, 1.5 GB RAM, and either an AMD X2 5000+ or Intel Dual Core 6420. My very first launch of King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame was problematic, with the .exe file failing. However, after restarting my machine it the game started normally. Otherwise my system, which meets the recommended requirements, is running King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame smoothly and with no crashes or visual problems so far.
The graphics and music of King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame are superbly done. The art style of the game is dark and menacing, representing Dark Age Britain as a dangerous, magical, unsafe place. The campaign map is very detailed and colorful and includes representations of villages, towns, strongholds, ruins, rivers, forests, religious and mythical power centers, and armies. For the first few minutes it was just a joy to scroll around the map, which is zoomable, and just look around. Further on in the game, once a battle is joined, the 3D map of the fighting is also well done with no noticeable performance hits in my first few days of play.
The real meat of King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame is to be found in its split RPG and RTS gameplay. For the initial 5-6 hours of the game, the player is led through a very detailed tutorial. The tutorial may be too scripted for some, but I enjoyed it. There are a variety of options to perform many different campaign actions right from the start – it was slightly overwhelming, but exciting. The campaigning is organized seasonally. All movement on the campaign map is done in the warmer months…there is no movement in winter, and the cold season is used for army and hero organization. I did find one apparent glitch in which I was given two units of cavalry after a successful quest, but I was unable to move them anywhere on the map and had to disband them. I am not sure if this is a genuine bug or if I needed to unlock some feature, but it is the only glitch of its type that I found on the campaign map so far. Edit: We just received word from the developers that this is not a bug. "You must have heroes with your units to command them on the map so you can pick up any units with any of your heroes on the campaign map. Units without heroes defend themselves against attack but only the mightiest Knights of Britannia can lead the armies :)"
Not every campaign option is available in the beginning of the tutorial, which is also part of the first 'book' of the game, of which there are four. More options open as the game progresses, and there is a certain air of dark mystery that King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame generates where the player will want to go just one more turn, and play one more quest. It really ignites your imagination, even if you’ve had no experience with the King Arthur mythos before sitting down with this game.
It was hard to tell if the initial battles, like the early campaign, are scripted. I don't think they were, but they were very easy. I had the difficulty of my entire game set on 'Normal' but I didn't lose once until much later in the game. Difficulty begins to rise after the five hour mark. Recruitable unit types are of the typical medieval variety, but heavily stylized: archers, heavy footmen, spearmen, light and heavy cavalry, etc. There are also more unique types of units like sentinels, and I am still learning what their specialty is…right now it looks like they are good for scouting.
As for opposing forces, they seem to receive the more interesting units, including Winterbreed and Autumnbreed (heavily stylized foot knights) and a number of dark fantasy units like Giants and other mythical creatures. All of the units look great and can be placed in formations ranging from the standard loose and tight, to wedges. Hero units, typically the player’s roundtable knights, each have unique spells: offensive and defensive powers that can be used on the battlefield. Even at this early stage I have already used the defensive ‘guardian angel’ spell to protect some of my army on the battlefield. This spell produces a literal winged angel who hovers above your troops in the midst of combat. There are many others that I have yet to earn.
Once the player chooses the battlefield he wants to engage the enemy on (a nice touch) the fight begins. Battlefields, whether urban or rural, contain 'places of power,' or rally points — usually five —that, when held, give you bonuses in morale over the enemy you're fighting. It was hard to tell how tactical the fighting actually was, but I used combined arms...peppered the enemy with arrows, flanked with cavalry (made sure to stay of the woods) and charged with infantry and everything seemed to come together...that is, until later in the game when I was tasked with taking London and got my royal buttocks handed to me. Urban fighting is not easy in King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame.
The camera control during combat also feels ‘correct’ and not clumsy when using the keyboard. I was able to zoom in very close, at ground level, to watch my units fight and everything worked smoothly and technically sound. The battles do have a Total War feel to them, but to me at least they felt easier to control and more refined. So far I have had battles the included up to 1000 men total. Additionally, fighting can be paused and orders issued, and battle time can be sped up and slowed down.
Combat isn’t always the only option for resolving differences…diplomacy plays a part. Once you march your army into a location with another character or army present, a diplomacy screen will open if the opposition is agreeable. Within this screen gold, food, and religious items can be offered in exchange for terms. As the player offers more and more, the opposition’s needs will be satisfied and the deal is struck. If the opposition cannot be satisfied, then talks fail and it’s off to combat.
AI and Morale
For the first five hours or so I didn't notice any particularly smart enemy AI but they didn't appear as dumb as nails either...they did try to withdraw, use the terrain and try to flank. At first I thought 'hey they're not retreating' but in subsequent battles they began to fall back as well. I also managed to capture an enemy general a few times and also had my own knights captured. The key to these battles is unit morale, which is measured pre-battle and during battle by on-screen indicators. If it drops too low, that unit will flee. I have to confirm this with further play, but when units flee it appears that the entire unit is lost as well.
Character and Plot Development
As the player fights on, the characters develop on the games ‘morality tree’...either 'rightful' or 'tyrannical,' combined with Christian characteristics or traits of the 'Old Way' — pagan/druid beliefs. Depending on who the player aids and who they become the enemy of, traits constantly change and evolve.
There is also an actual roundtable, sort of like a base of operations, with ladies, a prison to keep captured generals, and indicators measuring gold and food produced by provinces captured through diplomacy and combat. There is also a very detailed 'chronicles' section to learn more about the characters and places you encounter as the game unfolds, which is good for those who don't know a lot about the mythos. All of the writing and narration is done very well, especially if this is a Hungarian game...I have found very few, if any, English mistakes, which is refreshing.
Although technically King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame’s campaign is scripted, I found that as you move forward choices become more numerous and the feeling of being ‘on rails’ diminishes. The RPG aspects of the game, deciding who to help, who to fight, where to explore, are done with well written text with a nicely drawn backdrop to illustrate the area the player is visiting and the characters the player is interacting with. The tutorial slowly introduces the player to these RPG elements so as to not overwhelm the player, and the balance is good. Combat units as well as heroes get to have their abilities enhanced through an RPG system, adding a welcome layer of RPG depth to the military side of the game.
After a few days of play, King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame feels like a great book unfolding and I am curious to go further into the mythos. So far it is a great looking, great-playing, technically solid game that is not only holding my interest, but increasing it.
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