King Arthur: Fallen Champions ReviewPublisher: Paradox Interactive
Platform: PC Exclusive
UK Price (as reviewed): £7.95 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $9.99 (ex tax)
Annoyingly, we never actually found time to take a proper look at King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame when it was first released back in 2009. This is a shame, as it’s a solid title that managed to introduce a number of new ideas to the tired RTS genre. Granted, its battles aren’t as slick or fluid as those seen in the Total War series, and yes, the main storyline loses its appeal at the halfway point. However, these are trifling issues when you’re calling down lighting strikes to smite your foes and commanding fiery knights to do your bidding!
Fast forward back to the present day and King Arthur 2 is on the horizon (January 2012) and promising a whole new set of ideas and mechanics. In the mean time, to keep armchair generals busy, developer Neocore has released King Arthur: Fallen Champions, an £8 addition to the series that bridges the gap between the first and second game, while attempting to bring in new fans at the same time.
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The story centres around three champions from opposing factions, all of whom are travelling through the wild north of the British Isles. Each is there to complete a quest of their own, but circumstances contrive to make the three meet at a point where they must choose to either complete their quest, or to put aside their differences to battle an evil greater than their own rivalry.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes obvious that trying to tell three small stories simply isn’t what the game engine, or even the stylised Arthurian setting, is good at. Gone are the big rolling battles that gave the original game a sense of scale and import - they've been replaced with small scale, Dawn or War II-like skirmishes with few units. These feel unfulfilling when you’re used to commanding hundreds of troops, and they also cheapen the stories of the three heroes by making their problems feel petty. The basic mechanics of the game also struggle with such small encounters - the normally high hanging camera is forced to zoom in on your tiny gaggle of troops, making everything feel claustrophobic.
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Giving you three laughably clichéd heroes to look after also removes one of the original game’s charms - the connection you forged with your individual heroes as you guided them through their lives. We’d have rather spent the whole game with one hero that we could get to know than the three brief flings that we’re given in Fallen Champions. The situation is made worse by the fact that you’re forced down a single development path with each champion, with only one or two skills from which to choose, rather than the 20+ in the original.
In its defence, Fallen Champions has one or two memorable missions - it's undeniably fun when you're sitting atop a hill with a pair of Unseelie Queens, an almost limitless supply of manna and a horde of enemies rushing at you. These moments are few and far between, though, and they’re not nearly enough to make up for the lack of thought in other areas.
We could sound naïve in our criticism here; of course this cheap expansion has less scope than the full game, what were we expecting for £8? To say this is to miss the point, though - Neocore seems to have completely misunderstood what made King Arthur great. It's stripped out all the parts of the game that made it loveable and left a watered down, medieval Dawn of War II wannabe in its place. We just hope that Fallen Champions isn’t an indication of what’s to come from King Arthur 2.