Shogun: Total War founded the genre of the hybrid RTS/turn-based strategy game over a decade ago. But while the Total War series has long been the most well-known in the genre, it has grown stale over time, with frequent installments upgrading the graphics, re-using the same ideas, and, over time, eroding the enemy AI to a degree that player triumph in nearly every battle is inevitable. Thankfully, there is another player in the sub-genre, and they are bringing something fresh to the table.
The 2007 release of King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame brought a new spin to the game. Instead of simply raising troops and fighting battles, it challenged the player to take on a new role-playing experience as well. This hybrid, instead of merely providing you a few new units to fight the same battles, led to playthroughs that felt completely different from any of the Total War efforts (which, at the end of the day, all felt very similar). And now with the King Arthur II release at hand, Paradox provided us with a preview code to look at their next effort.
Despite some hokey voice acting, King Arthur 2 presents a grand tale that begs the player to continue onward. It’s refreshing to have a strong story element to a grand strategy game, which gives the campaign more weight. Instead of fighting battles to take a province and get more funds for raising troops, I’m battling to stop evil, or save my home from rebels. This is a significant departure from the genre norm, as other games typically focused solely on taking territory for the sake of glory or victory conditions. Narrative gives meaning to battles, and attaches one much more closely to the action.
The RPG elements add an interesting twist to the action. While other games have generals who possess traits, the decisions you make along the way will determine what qualities your main character possesses on the battlefield. Is he a wizard? A powerful warrior? Then he will wield magic or strong combat abilities when a foe is on hand. And like any good RPG, the game includes boss fights against unique enemies.
If I were to caution anything about these games, it’s that they take a lot of machine to run. The stunning visuals (they attempt here to take your breath away as often as possible) will eat your video card alive if you aren’t properly equipped. Each unit’s soldiers are uniquely rendered, and the massive battlefields are littered with beautiful terrain. Paradox is known for games that are more substance than style, so the King Arthur games are a bit of a departure from their normal fare. Having been brought into the Paradox fold by Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron, I was surprised to see that this game was so graphically heavy. Don’t get me wrong: I like it. I just wish I didn’t have the urge to go out and buy a $4,000 laptop after playing it.
The battles themselves may seem like the typical “order masses of men into each other” that you get in the genre, with flanking tactics and mixed units being the keys to victory. However, these battles are changed significantly by the additions of hero units, along with huge and dangerous enemies that can easily smash your units to bits.
In a games industry that seems complacent, that never pushes boundaries and offers consumers exactly what they wanted and no more, King Arthur II is a boundary pusher. I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with King Arthur II so far, and can’t wait to get into the full game when it launches January 27th. Having battled back the hordes with Arthur’s knights, and returned from the dead to kick some ass in Dead Legions, I look forward to see what else Paradox has in store. Look for Vagary’s review in the coming weeks.