Well this is frustrating. Throughout my time with King Arthur 2 I’ve suffered severe framerate issues, to the extent that my first attempt to play had me running an astounding single frame per second on the menu screen. The usual tricks have helped, but even with DirectX 11 disabled and the graphics options set way below what the game’s own auto setup tool says my machine can handle, I’m averaging around 15 FPS during the battles. And I’m not alone.
It’s not unplayable – although some may justifiably disagree – but it has had an effect on the way I’ve played the campaign, leaning more heavily on auto battles than I otherwise would have. It’s certainly not as broken as some of last year’s titles, including Paradox’s own Sword of the Stars 2 and Magicka, but after a 2011 in which every big game seemed to release with some sort of problem, I’m starting to see the need for a zero tolerance approach. Especially for a Steamworks game with no demo, giving potential customers no way to see if they’ll have problems and no recourse for a refund if they do.
Developer Neocore has been steadily releasing patches over the last week, but the problem remains. So I’m saying, outright and upfront, don’t even consider buying this until it’s fixed.
Right, King Arthur 2 then.
Its strapline – the Role Playing Wargame – is important. While the combination of turn-based board-game style overworld and real-time battlefields come straight from the Total War school of strategy design, King Arthur 2 is, at heart, an RPG. Even more so than its predecessor. The story starts with King Arthur on his deathbed, Merlin vanished, the Round Table cracked, its knights feuding and Britannia in general going through a rebellious heavy metal demon phase.
Rather than give Arthur’s heir William the freedom to raise an army and tell everyone to jolly well calm down, sorting out this mess involves a more linear series of missions and battles. To an extent you’re free to engage in diplomacy or warfare to befriend or conquer neighbouring territories, but it’s never the focus, and the plot always seems to throw up new quests to keep your hero units otherwise occupied. In fact, certain territories are completely blocked, guarded by giant units with hovering skulls indicating, should you try to start a fight, they’ll stomp you into the hell they’ve escaped.
It makes for a more linear game, one in which, for the most part, you’ll be following the prescribed path through the story. Certainly the constant procession of new quests and directed content keeps things interesting, but where the Total War series has always lived through the emergent stories you carve for yourself, King Arthur 2 has one basic route and, I suspect, one campaign will play out pretty much like every other.
Quests come in three forms: battles, diplomacy and adventure. Battles play out as straight skirmishes between your army and a specified unit on the map; diplomacy gives a list of possible choices that have a potential effect on your standing with other rulers, as well as the effectiveness of your own kingdom; and adventure quests, which accompany all of the main story threads, send you on a choose-your-own text quest through a variety of moral and tactical decisions.
The text quests work well, drawing you into the world beyond your omnipresent position on the campaign map. There’s a variety of styles, from discussions and bargaining with mystical figures and tyrannical warlords, to expeditions of your own into troubled lands. At their most involved they require use of the Chronicle menu, researching old legends to navigate labyrinths or learning the customs of mythical races to successfully initiate negotiations.
While the outcome from a narrative perspective is rarely in doubt, depending on your choices you’ll be given moral points which help unlock new units and skills, as well as bonuses or penalties for future battles. Except, with a good grasp of the proper tactical deployment of your units, the effect of these decisions isn’t especially dramatic. Keep to the basics – protecting archers, using cavalry as shock troops, utilising trees as cover wherever possible – and you rarely need to worry about the finer details.
Each unit collects new skills as they level up, which can then be deployed in battle, but it seldom gets more involved than remembering to turn the skill on as they approach the enemy. Some complexity is added by a series of spell-granting capture points on the map, but while the enemy will make a push towards taking these, they tend to move as a big group ripe for ambush.
It’s typical of the entire approach to the strategy side, paying lip service to elements of tactical and economic management, but never delving so deep as to make them essential. Managing your kingdom, done through the winter seasons, is particularly basic – limited to assigning research and upgrading towns and villages. There were never any hard choices here, just building and learning whatever I could afford and assuming that my units were seeing the benefit in battle.
Here’s the interesting upshot to this mix of admittedly lightweight systems: it was enough to keep me entertained. I’m not trying to suggest that King Arthur 2 is in any way more than the sum of its parts. It’s not. It is the sum of its parts, and that sum equals an enjoyable romp through Britain. I’ve pissed off vicars, bothered the Welsh, saved my hometown from a dragon (or at least had the act of saving my hometown from a dragon described to me).
It’s not deep – even fans of the original looking for the same meat on the strategy bone will come away hungry. But other games, from the grand campaigns of Total War to the frighteningly detailed battlefield statistics of 1C’s Real Warfare 2, already fill that niche. Instead King Arthur 2 offers an interesting clash of mechanics that mesh nicely together to provide something a bit different.
But for god’s sake don’t actually buy it yet.