King Arthur: Total War For Fantasy Nerds
A Steam sale is a hell of a drug. When those bastards at Valve mark some random game down to an absurdly low price, I will often find myself buying it just to give it a shot. Every now and then, this leads me to a real gem. Such was the case this week when I downloaded King Arthur: The Role Playing War game.
Now, technically, I downloaded the King Arthur Collection, which was on sale for just under $15. This included the original King Arthur, as well as two expansion packs. I have been playing for three days now, the game has literally taken up all of my free time, and I have not had time to touch the expansions, so I will focus on the main game in this article.
Put simply, King Arthur is Total War for fantasy RPG nerds. The game is similar in MANY respects to the the Total War games. Like those games, King Arthur features two levels of strategy: turn based campaign strategy followed by real time battles. While this may seem derivative on the outside, the game’s single player campaign follows the basic storyline of the rise of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and it adds a few very nifty twists to the formula that the Total War series has exploited for many years.
In terms of gameplay, the game is much simpler than the Total War games. Your kingdom’s economy is not nearly as finicky as other titles in the genre. You can conquer other kingdoms with greater ease, and any diplomacy or espionage elements have largely been avoided. On the over world, the only units are your knights, and they in turn carry armies composed of other units with them into battle. You can appoint knights to the Round Table, grant them fiefs and wives, and level them up, with branching skill trees, giving them both passive and active skills to use in battle.
The game features fantastical creatures as well as magic in battle, adding a great deal of flare and additional strategy to the Total War formula. While I still need to position my troops well, set up ambushes, and plan ahead in battle, it feels great being able to decimate an enemy unit with a lightning bolt, or freeze them in place so they can be slaughtered by a unit of club-wielding giants.
The game has a much stronger single player component than most Total War titles, with both storyline and random quests thrown on the map for your knights to tackle. Some of these will take the forms of battles, whereas others are “Choose Your Own Adventure” style text adventures, complete with riddles, moral choices, and stat-determined outcomes. These RPG-lite elements add some nice variety to the rinse and repeat nature of conquest and battles.
The game was developed by NeoCore Games, a Hungarian studio. This initially made me a bit skeptical about the quality of the game’s translation, I have had prior bad experiences with Eastern European games. That being said, the English text is fantastic, as is the small amount of voice over.
The game was originally released in 2009, so it runs great on modern systems. Frankly, the graphics hold up well, as you can see in the screen shots. While they do not compare to a more recent title like Shogun 2: Total War, at their highest settings they are pleasing to the eye. Also, the game has a very neat gothic style to the cut scenes and general artwork as well, giving it more character than an Eastern European war game based on classic medieval fantasy has any right to have.
I’ll be honest, the subject matter is a personal guilty pleasure of mine. I am a total King Arthur geek. I watched Excalibur more times than any person should ever admit to, and I can even receipt Merlin’s mystical chant from the movie verbatim. That being the case, King Arthur totally spoke to me. Like Excalibur, the game treats the story of Arthur in a dark and mature way, while not avoiding the magic or fantasy.
In short, I highly recommend the game. While the game is ultimately a more shallow experience than the Total War games, the single player story is frankly more fun. If you were like me, and WANTED to like the Total War games but could never really get into them, King Arthur could scratch that itch. If you are a fan of the Total War series and are tired of Shogun 2 already, give King Arthur a shot… you may find that it is a quality budget alternative and/or supplement.
Finally, I should note that there is a sequel in the works, currently scheduled to release in Q4 of this year. The developer has released a teaser trailer for the sequel, and it looks just great.