I just want to preface this review by saying that the original King Arthur game was awesome, and you can check out the review here. While it was awesome, it had its flaws. At what point do the technical flaws of a game overshadow the “awesome” factor of a game? I suppose you could look at Skyrim as a good example: the game is extremely buggy, even after some patches; yet it’s still absolutely gorgeous (even more so because of the new HD texture pack) and the mechanics are incredibly fun to explore. Let’s not forget to mention that it’s a far cry from the days of Arena and Morrowind, and even Oblivion. I reiterate though: at what point do the technical faults of a game prove to be too much to overlook in favor of the fantastic parts of the game? It’s this burning question that was sticking in my mind as I played King Arthur 2.
It’s a great game, let’s just put that right on the table. All of the best parts of the original game are back, and the mechanic issues that Fallen Champions had are nowhere to be seen here. You start off playing as Septimus Sulla, a Roman Champion on the brink of death. He is saved by a dead (but…not dead?) Emperor Hadrian (the guy who built the wall), who tasks him with uniting the powers of Rome to face a dangerous threat from beyond the wall. It’s all so very Game-of-Thrones-y, and I kept whispering “Winter is coming” every time I hit a winter turn. Players guide Mr. Sulla (he’s from wealth, let’s be respectful here) across his little Roman province, as he embarks on his epic quest. Through diplomatic text-based quests and epic battles (like Age of Empires, if the little dudes actually listened and kept to formation) and a little sprinkling of magic, players will unite the powerful roman families and other allies, and forge their destiny as ruler of Rome. Or, you know, just protector of the wall. Or become broke and homeless, wandering the grassy knolls and fighting former allies until you just can’t afford to restock your army, and then it’s game over. I seem to do that every time I play a King Arthur game. And that’s just the prologue people. The prologue. The main story has you doing exactly the same thing as King Arthur’s son, William Pendragon. You’re tasked with reuniting the powers of Brittania and driving back the Fomorian hordes. Very intense drama, wicked-looking battles, sweeping scores; it’s all very exciting!
The stories for both the prologue and the main story offer up interesting and compelling narratives, and there was a greater emphasis on the narrative this time, which added some much needed structure and linearity to the game. The presentation of the choose-your-0wn-adventure quests are still fantastic, and there were puzzles aplenty in them too. Some of the puzzles had their answers hidden in the Chronicle (the archive for all plot/backstory elements), which gave it a purpose beyond mindlessly collecting information like a compendium. The search-and-find element of those puzzles added a lot of depth, and I found myself scouring the rest of the Chronicle for hidden information, and discovered a lot of information and creative stories.
The graphics of King Arthur 2 have been ramped up, and I’ve never seen a game that renders so much look so beautiful. From afar, the landscapes of the battlegrounds, and even the world map are meticulously detailed. Even when you zoom in during combat, the units still have lots of detail. The spell effects are also really cool too, if a bit brief. I was just really impressed by how much the game has improved from the original, and how it’s incorporated not only the tone and mood of both the original and Fallen Champions, but how it juxtaposes them in both the prologue and campaign. Being able to visually and narratively combine two polar opposite storytelling tones in a game is actually quite difficult, but the presentation in King Arthur 2 is just…well, awesome.
Playing King Arthur 2 is a relative joy; that is, when the game isn’t crashing or freezing, or some game-breaking bug appears. I want to start with the fun bits though, so let’s keep this review all spunky and fun. No depressing stuff here. The gameplay has been streamlined and even simplified a bit from the original and it’s extensions: the micromanagement of the game has been dumbed down to next to nothing, and the action or narrative bits have been amped up. Battles are far more intense with larger armies, and some battles even utilize completely different maps. One of my favourites was where you were laying siege to a traitor’s city, and you send your army through the streets all the way up to his castle, where you fight him directly. Definitely unexpected, but eyebrow-raising nonetheless. It’s really cool when developers add in little bits like that to intrigue the player and keep them playing. Diplomacy in the game is handled much easier this time around: simply pour money into your allies – occasionally getting loot in return – and don’t attack them. And all of those quests that had time constraints in the original game are mostly gone now in King Arthur 2; I only had one instance of it happen so far. I do want to add that the main questline generally pushes the player away from the side quests, although in hindsight I probably could have left the main questline to rot while I did the side quests. It really was enthralling though, so I didn’t really want to stop pursuing it.
And now the bad stuff. There were game breaking bugs in the prologue, namely the disappearing text box that had information, the freezing upon quest completion, the crashing when choosing certain options, etc. The game would also randomly freeze and crash, my drink of water or bathroom break surely laid to blame. It’s frustrating, and thankfully the game autosaves very often. Weirdly often. Almost like the developers were aware of all of these crashes, but insisted on going gold anyways. Whatever the case, it takes away from the overall polish of the game.
The game has tons of replayability, as there are multiple character paths and quest choices that can dramatically change the outcome of the game, main plot notwithstanding (although there are multiple endings and ways to die – many, many ways to die). The easiest is to replay the prologue, as it offers about 3-5+ hours and has multiple paths to take, and there are about 4 or so different endings, not including the numerous ways you can die. You seem to be able to die very easily in these games. Maybe it’s a comment on the socio-political climate that Brittania faced in it’s early days of division with Rome? Or, you know, it’s just a feature.
King Arthur 2 is great fun. It’s the strategy equivalent of Skyrim in many ways: full of horrible bugs, but if you can stomach picking wings and legs out of your teeth, you’ll love the game to pieces. It’s definitely fun, and worthy of a high score; hopefully in a couple of patches it will get one. For now though, I’m rating it 7/10. It’s definitely a top notch game, and my favourite of anything paradox has produced so far (except Hearts of Iron Card Game – I LOVE card games). Fans of the series, fans of …ah screw it. This game is fun, plain and simple. It’s worth every dime. Go pick it up!