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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: King Arthur: the Roleplaying Wargame Collection (PC)

King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame might be light on the roleplaying elements, but as a strategy game, it’s an enormously addictive experience, and for anyone who hasn’t experienced what it can offer yet, the upcoming release of the complete collection, that includes the various expansions and DLC really is a must have for fantasy and strategy buffs.

This game can be breathtaking at times


On the surface, it’s a standard conquest game. You take on the role of the legendary King Arthur himself, and are given the objective of becoming the dominant force in ancient England. It’s not necessarily an easy job. In addition to dealing with the conventional obnoxious tyrants and evil geniuses, you’ll also need to deal with friendly and unfriendly creatures from the faerie realms. It’s a busy job to be king. 

Luckily, this England is worth dominating. Though the game has been clearly designed for some pretty powerful hardware, it looks good on most settings (if you’re only able to run the minimum settings though you might want to look elsewhere, as the lowest resolutions are an absolute mess). Military units look splendid and animate cleanly. When they clash with the enemy, the melee itself is dynamic, and enjoyable enough to zoom right down into, though unfortunately in most cases that visual splendour is a luxury you won’t be able to afford – there is likely to be stuff happening elsewhere on the battlefield that requires your attention.

See, while England itself is quite a small country, and the overworld map feels at times claustrophobic, the actual battle grounds are quite large, and filled with varied terrain. It’s great news, because it means strategists can really get into moving units around to take advantage of victory locations, positioning archers to create killing fields on the plains, or hiding melee units in forests.

The overworld map feature seasons, which do have an impact on what you can and can't do

Armies are led by hero units, too, and those heroes have unique special abilities that provide additional tactical depth. The overall flow of battlefields is nicely balanced – a far cry from plodding, but not so chaotic as to become confusing. Which is just as well, because the only hitch in this supremely sheened product is a camera that is just slightly too twitchy. Getting the right camera angle is ever-so-slighty too difficult, but at the same time, you’re not going to lose battles to this, either.

The RPG elements come through in the levelling and moral systems. As units fight successful skirmishes they’ll gain experience points and levels. Those levels provide skill points which you can distribute to the unit as you like. It essentially turns each unit on the battlefield into an RPG-lite character, and allows for a reasonable (and importantly, accessible) level of micromanagement, though it’s going to be a touch too limited for the really hardcore.

The moral system is the really great touch in this game, though. At certain points, you’ll get the option of allying with different foreign factions. Depending on those choices, the game’s direction will shift direction. The ‘moral wheel,’ broken into a 2-way quadrant system (Old Religion vs Christianity, Justice vs Tyranny) has a marked impact on your game as you progress further down a direction – deciding what units you have access to, and determining how the story unfolds. It also offers plenty of replay value, as there’s a couple of different ways this game can be experienced.

Getting hit by armoured knights hurts. Unless you have pikes.

And it’s a big game – especially with the expansion packs, which do a good job of adding additional and varied content to the core game. King Arthur is a story that remains popular for a reason: it’s at turns whimsical and playful, dramatic and dark. Paradox Interactive have done a great job in capturing this fantasy, and boiling it down into a strategy game that really does deserve to hold its head high against the likes of the Total War games.

In many ways it reminds me of the old Warhammer games (Shadow of the Horned Rat, and Dark Omen), in that, although it’s a strategy game, it gives the various units personality. As they develop, you develop an attachment to them, and you slowly mould them into specialist roles to tackle specific objectives. It’s a much more engaging approach to the strategy genre, which typically treats units as handy cannon fodder, and it’s an approach that we just don’t see often enough.

If you haven’t yet experienced this game, then remember, the complete pack is on its way, and really, if you’ve ever enjoyed a RTS ever, that pack is a must-have (though beware, at over 10GB in size, the download is going to take you a fair time unless you have a really fast connection).




Review: King Arthur: the Roleplaying Wargame Collection (PC)
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