I can hardly call this a review, but after seeing King Arthur and King Arthur II on sale on Steam, I felt compelled to write up some of my thoughts on the two games.
I enjoyed the first game, despite playing it late. We never reviewed it on the site (Joe doesn't always get on with the RTS genre), but its blend of RTS and RPG elements made for a fun and original experience. It had its faults, but its new ideas, and the fact that it had clearly had so much love poured into it by its developer Neocore, made these easy to overlook. [break]
When the sequel came out I was badgering Joe like a kid on Christmas Eve to let me review it. Frustratingly the game hit in the middle of January - a time when a lot of changes were happening at bit-tech. This meant the game dropped down my to-do list, and it’s only recently that I’ve found the time to revisit the lands of Arthurian Britain.
It doesn’t make me happy to say that I’ve never found a game more disappointing.
At the core of my disappointment is the fact that I think Neocore fundamentally misunderstood what made the first game great. Either that or it had a completely different team working on the second game, one which hadn’t actually played the original, just heard about it from a friend. In a noisy bar. While drunk. Without a notepad.
Each of the aspects that gave the original charm and character have either been removed or changed for the worse. The RPG aspects remain, but have been dumbed down for instance, and you can’t split your heroes up as you please any more - you’re limited to between one and three armies, depending on your stage in the game, making for a much more linear experience.
It’s also frustrating to see that the multi choice text adventures - one of the things that made the first game so charming - are now massively over used. This makes the game seem much more laborious (as they are a slow way to tell a story) and actually made me start resenting them rather than looking forward to them.
Possibly the most galling alteration to the game though is the change to how the victory locations work in battles. In the first game you could capture victory locations to erode enemy morale, once your morale was gone, you lost. This made for a nice mechanic for ending battles in a timely fashion - no need to go hunting laboriously for that hidden unit of enemy archers, just capture the victory locations instead.
It was a nice nod to gamers, saying we get it, we know you don’t like spending 20 minutes battling, then a further 10 chasing all the broken enemy units down - here’s a nice mechanic to allow you to win with enemy units still on the board. Amazingly it’s gone in King Arthur II. The locations remain (renamed strategic locations) but the morale mechanic has been removed, meaning you now need kill every last enemy on the field to win. This may sound like a small thing, but it just demonstrates a lack of understanding about what worked in the first game and what didn’t. It’s a backward step.
To add to the mess, the new features that King Arthur II introduces, namely a much improved graphics engine and flying units fall flat. The graphics engine is nice, but adds little and the flying units vary between wildly ineffective and massively over powered, and are animated poorly.
The sum total of the above is a feeling of utter bewilderment while playing King Arthur II (it’s going to get good in a minute, I’m sure of it) and complete confusion once It’s finished it (what did I just play). It’s a strange situation - the changes were so vast and comprehensive that I’m left second guessing my own feelings; did I like the original for all the wrong reasons? Is Neocore actually right? Am I an idiot?
After a period of reflection though, I’m left just plain disappointed - I've never been as shocked by a game as I was by King Arthur II. One things for sure, if there is a King Arthur III, I’ll think twice before playing it now.