Game Review: King Arthur II: The Role-Playing Wargame

It’s that time of year again, the time when Steam wreaks havoc with everyone’s wallets with the Steam Autumn Sale (and then later, with the Steam Winter Sale). In which I went in intending to buy Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (which was the only horror game not on sale on Hallowe’en, for some inexplicable reason) and came out with, well, see my future reviews.

Anyways, I bought this game because Extra Credits someone said the words “Mass Effect-style choices in a Total War game” and I love the Mass Effect series, even after they really fucked up Mass Effect 3’s ending. The thing is, I’ve never played a real-time strategy game, ever, but there’s a first time for everything, so I figured, whatever, the game’s like $3, I’ll give it a try….

….only to be thwarted by REALLY tiny in-game text, like, so tiny I couldn’t read it and had to rely on the narration, except that there’s a lot of text that isn’t narrated. Therefore, if you’re thinking of trying this game, here are some instructions to fix it:

Program Files > Steam > steamapps > common > kingarthurii > Cfg > Constarray > open the file ConstArray.cfg in notepad or wordpad > change the ‘0’ (zero) at the end of the LAST TWO LINES in the file to ‘3’ > save and close

Make sure you make a backup of the ConstArray file before you do this, though. It worked like a charm for me.

Anyways, there’s some stellar game design right there. /sarcasm

Okay, so, annoying text problem aside, you might have assumed that this is a) the second game in a series and b) that’s it’s about King Arthur. I confess I’ve always been kind of a casual fan when it comes to the Arthurian mythos. I know some of the stories (I like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and I read the one about Sir Gawain and the loathly lady in high school) and I’ve read a handful of the “but King Arthur was really in service to The Goddess” Paganized versions, and I LOLed when they were like “and now here’s King Arthur” in the Mabinogion, because it was kind of random. I even saw that one movie where they ditch the whole chivalry thing and go for the badass Saracen warlord “historical Arthur” thing, and TBH, I have this thing against Merlin, he just pisses me off.

This is why I particularly like the setup for this game, because in this game, King Arthur is seriously wounded via Holy Grail explosion (probably from letting Lancelot and Guinevere in the room with it) and is now pulling a Fisher King, which means Camelot has gone in the toilet. The Knights of the Round Table have all turned against him or vanished, as has Merlin (vanished, that is) and to top it all off, Morgause has summoned the Formorians (who are teh ebils, of course) to royally screw the already royally screwed Camelot over.

Enter William, or as I like to call him: Wee-um, who is King Arthur’s son (presumably not gotten off his sister). Wee-um was raised outside of Camelot, because the devs needed an excuse to allow the player to sculpt his background, and, naturally, it’s up to him to find a cure for his father and save Camelot from destruction.

This is one of those games (like many games that Paradox Interactive is involved in) that looks simple on the outside but can get pretty busy. When you aren’t having it out with opponents RTS-style, you’ll be managing your troops, researching skill upgrades, improving stats by building up towns that are under your control, solving disputes between rival parties in diplomatic missions, and making decisions that impact which quests you do and upgrades you can get as well as defining your morality (more on morality in a moment). Oh, and reading, you will be doing a lot of reading, hence why I was bitching about the text size before. (Seriously, this is really failtastic on the part of whoever didn’t fix this before it was released, because there’s a lot of text.) As someone who likes non-combat dialogue-based missions a whole bunch, I really enjoy the more talky portions of the game. I haven’t played a whole lot of the game, but I’ve already been forced to make some interesting choices: Do I throw the Saxon woman who might possibly be mad to a horde of prisoners whom I know are demon-possessed, or do I put a guard on her to make sure she doesn’t pull any funny business? I’m not sure to what extent all these choices impact gameplay, but I have a feeling there are probably some choice-specific missions down the line.

In terms of morality, yes, there is a moral choice system. It’s divided along two axes: Rightful – Tyrant, and Old Faith – Christian, and before you ask, yes, that means you can play as a good Pagan, which is why I’m playing as a good Pagan diplomacy and leadership-based Warlord, plus I got to call the lady in the previous paragraph a “Christmonger”. In a nutshell, the “Rightful” options are what you might expect from a chivalric romance, the “let’s help all the poor people and children of the world” and the “Tyrant” options are, well, the asshole options, each axes gives you access to different kinds of troops which all seem to be roughly equivalent, so I don’t know if there’s really a benefit to choosing one or the other. I’ve been playing this game in small chunks, so I haven’t really seen the impact of any of my decisions.

Combat-wise, I confess I had a bit of trouble with it at first. Here’s a tip: When your player’s reaction to winning a battle is not “Yay!” but “I won? What? Okay…” then you need a more in-depth tutorial. At this point, I would normally guess that the devs are banking on people having either played the first game or played Total War, but given that I’ve played seconds, fourths, and thirteenths in a series that always included a tutorial, I’d say they were perfectly justified in including an optional one that was a little less vague then “here, watch this video that kind of shows you how stuff works!”

That said, by the second battle, I did manage to figure stuff out. You click on your troops, then you click on the enemy troops you want to die, and then you watch your troops slowly advance forward until they kill the other troops, and some of your units can do magic. The battles are okay I guess, but I honesty think this game would have been 20% cooler with Mount and Blade style skirmishes, because nothing was more epic than being at the head of an army and getting covered in blood as you killed enemies, but that’s not RTS gameplay, so there goes that idea. I suppose the combat is okay, but not seat-of-your-pants-OMFGs-exciting, and that could make or break the game depending on your perspective. For fans of RTSes, I’ve read that it’s basically a clone of the Total War series, in other words, probably nothing special.

As far as issues go, I’ve heard lots of people complaining about game-breaking bugs, but thankfully, I haven’t encountered anything of the sort (I expect to be back in here swearing about this game a week later). I will say that the load times are impossibly long (even longer than the load times for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines pre-patch) and I don’t think they need to be, because the graphics are, well, not exactly the most hyper realistic graphics ever, and then there’s the narration…

Oh gods, what can I say about the narration? For starters, it’s like someone said “Okay, we’re making a cheesy King Arthur game, so we need you to be like, really over-dramatic, about everything…” so you get a narrator who rolls his ‘r”s and randomly emphasizes words and probably pronounces have the words wrong (Pen-DRAGON) and most people will probably find it very annoying, but I confess, I find it too funny to mute it. There is the added annoyance that the in-game text doesn’t often match up with the narration, so if you don’t like it when that happens, stay far away.

There’s also, it must be said, something about this game that makes it fiendishly addictive. I’m supposed to be finishing my NaNoWriMo novel, and all I want to do is play more of this game, because skinner box techniques, or something. Even as I’m writing this, I really want to go and play this game some more even though there are other, unquestionably better games waiting for me to play them, and, I don’t know, I guess that makes this a “good” game, from my perspective, even though the execution falls short of many other games I’ve played.

In close, I’m really hesitant about recommending this game because of the aforementioned game-breaking bugs. I would say that if this review has peaked anyone’s interest (or if you know people who would be interested) wait for it to go on sale (like I said, I bought it for just over $3) and then pick it up. I will say that in the hands of a studio with a bigger budget (like BioWare) I think this game could have been awesome, as it is, it, well, does some interesting things, and I keep coming back for more, but it ultimately feels like, I don’t know, like there’s a lot of potential that just wasn’t realized, that there’s this overall lack of polish, and WTF is up with the small text?!

Now If you’ll excuse me, I need to play this electronic crack before bed. BTW, word count is at 44K 264 (OMFGS NANOWRIMO I AM DOING IT!) I hope to be finished by Thursday, and then maybe I’ll write more of the Tithe-Boy or another review or something.

Oh, and for those of you who like hearing about Trixie (which I suspect is just me by now) she’s gone Greek. Yeah, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking right about now, which is that you should keep a hardhat close by, just in case, or maybe a bomb shelter. Seriously, Nerthus may scare the crap out of me, but Greek deities scare the crap out of me on a whole ‘nother level, except Dionysus, I will always, always be a Dionysus fangirl….except for the whole madness bit, also, I don’t drink, ever, (except for that one time when I was like, twelve, and my mom didn’t tell me there was rum in that punch, I ended up with such a headache, so I said never ever again, ever) so I will just fangirl from afar.

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