An Hour With… King Arthur II

By Alec Meer on February 1st, 2012 at 6:25 pm.

The masterful Mr Stone is currently tackling the full-fat Wot I Think for Neocore and Paradox’s ‘roleplaying wargame’ King Arthur II, but curiosity and the desire for a quick break from pretending to be a football manager guided me to have a very quick nose at it myself today.

I knew almost nothing of it going in, so I wasn’t expecting the roleplaying element to be in the form of a choose your own adventure book. Between Total Waresque battles, you’ll explore plague-ridden villages and demon-infested dungeons and make consequence-fatted decisions about how to handle the situations you encounter, leaving a trail of human triumph or tragedy in the wake of your attempts to best aid the land as a whole. If Commander Shepherd was the son of a King, was tailed at all times by a huge army and never left the British isles, (s)he’d be this guy. Except you see none of these grand tales of monster-troubling and (optional) peasant genocide.

Instead, you’re presented with oddly small text boxes, with a selection of decisions that usually bear an icon hinting what sort of alignment and faith (and thus eventual perks) they’re likely to nudge you towards, and that’s about it. I’m in two minds: the sleazy graphics whore mind thinks ‘but that’s not very exciting, is it?’, while the shrivelled mind that still remembers how to read, think and imagine offers ‘you are actually reading this stuff, thinking about how it affects your sense of right and wrong and who’s going to profit or suffer as a result of it, rather than just clicking through it. Go you!’

While the presentation is undeniably flat, there is much to be said for imagining the sickness-blighted villagers appealing for mercy or bolshy rival Lord refusing to help, as opposed to watching a puppety denizen of the uncanny valley do its little dance. I know what I’m like though, and fear that, over time, I might just want to click-click-click through to pursue whatever morality I’d decided on as quickly as possible. It’s an odd way to tell a story, and very much at odds with the lavishly-lit prettiness of the battles. But there is something to it: I certainly felt a powerful urge to ensure I behaved like a for-the-people goody two-shoes rather than an anything goes despot.

The other roleplaying element is the collection of loot, the exploration of a semi-open world and the upgrading of your heroes and their armies in a Heroes of Might and Magic style. The world is node-based though, and split into territories that must be conquered or allied with (or ignored, but I suspect you’ll pay for totally sidestepping diplomacy), so no random punch-ups with roaming goons is apparently to be had here. Instead, you need to reach towns, castles, forges and other key locations, defeat who or whatever’s defending them and then it’s added to your territory, replete with unit building and assorted upgrades. Quests were dragging me in specific directions, but it seemed I could go off-piste and greedily snatch other territory if I decided that was more important than saving Britain from demonic invasion and plague.

The battles, which offer more trees than I think I’ve ever seen on my monitor before and which my poor graphics card had a right old moan about on high settings, are stripped-down takes on the Total War formula. If you’ve turned up to this party because it said ‘roleplaying’ on the invitation, you will need to kick the dusty chess part of your brain into core tactical thinking such as flanking, using height and cover and rock-paper-scissoring melee, ranged and mounted troops, but random poking at the various on-screen buttons didn’t reveal too much micro-management. I’m terrible at wargames in this vein, but I managed to pull off three consecutive victories with a basic strategy of ‘keep the archers out of harm’s way while running the horsies around to the back and charging the enemy’s rear’ so I think there’s a way in for non-strategy types.

There’s also the seizing of key points on the battle map that grant various bonuses to your soldiers, but I couldn’t figure out how to capture them in my short time with the game. Also, spells, but a magic shield system means that most of my attempts at offensive magic were ‘absorbed’ unless I’d done stuff to raise my ‘penetration level.’ There are so many things wrong with that sentence, even if I actively try to avoid innuendo. Point being, magic didn’t seem to be much of a substitute for a good old swords’n'arrows barney, at least not in these very early stages of the game.

As for King Arthur, would I/will I keep playing beyond my all-too-brief hour? Yeah, I’d say so. It pressed a few of my regular buttons pretty convincingly. Particularly, there looks to be plenty to get my teeth into in terms of the turn-based civilization-building, researching and exploration, even if I’m likely to use the auto-resolve option on battles more than I probably should, because, as a leader, I am a lazy coward who’d much rather make poorly-paid men of far greater physical capability and patience do my dirty work for me.

The game does feel a little awkward as a whole – there are interface oddities such as upgrading skills requiring a double-click even though most everything else is singleclick or click and drag – and again the presentation of the non-combat quests is about as inspiring as a traffic warden, but much will, I suspect, swim into better focus after more time with the game. I hope to return when my soccer saga is complete, and I look forward to hearing what Herr Stone reports about the later stages of the game.

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46 Comments »

  1. TheDreamlord says:

    I know it’s irrelevant to this story, but can someone tell me why I need to click the back button of my mouse twice to go back a page on the RPS website??

    • eks says:

      Firebug says it’s an issue with jQuery. RPS should probably look into it, I tried to have a look but it’s minified (as recommended in production) and it also crashed Firefox when I tried stepping through.

    • Heisenberg says:

      it used to be 3 times (couple months back)….weird

    • Janek says:

      It’s certainly annoying. I strongly suspect it’s something to do with the “Like on Facebook” gumph at the top of each post (which partially disappears when you do the first back)

    • Brun says:

      It has to do with the Twitter/Facebook quick buttons at the top of each story. Apparently, the page loading and each button loading are all treated as separate events in browser history. So clicking back will remove the FB button, then the Twitter button, then actually take you back to the last page.

    • Prime says:

      Must be a Firefox thing. I’ve never experienced anything like that in Opera. Works every time.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Doesn’t happen on Chrome here.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Personally, I mouse-wheel click on the “Read the rest” links, to shove them into a new tab in the background. It’s hardly a fix, but it means that by the time you’ve read the teaser text, the full article has loaded up nice.

    • TheDreamlord says:

      Glad I’m not the only one. And yes, it used to be three clicks a few months back. Now ‘just’ two!

    • jrodman says:

      All the better reason to block javascript from facebook and twitter.

    • mondomau says:

      I pretty much only use Firefox and I don’t think I’ve ever had this issue, at least not on RPS – I’ve definitely seen it elsewhere. I do have Advlock installed, but it’s configured to allow sites I visit a lot (ie rps) through.

    • jezcentral says:

      Pro-tip: Open all articles in new tabs. That what I do, ergo no back-button problems ever! :)

  2. Alistair says:

    To capture a victory location you just need to stand under its flag, or not too far away. There can’t be any enemies present.

    I don’t think it’ll be a great game for Auto-resolvers – it doesn’t have as much of a strategy layer as a first glance suggests (as far as I can tell 20 or 30 hours in). The magical shields thing does add another layer to the battles though.

    There’s a demo, which is just the first part of the game on rails with one battle.

  3. McCool says:

    You can shoot the children? Oh Merlyn would not be pleased…

    I’m reading through T.H White’s excellent Once and Future King at the moment, so this interests by association. Except that is a book about why War Isn’t Fun and this seems to be a game about the converse.

  4. Chris D says:

    “…the desire for a quick break from pretending to be a football manager….”

    What!? This is unacceptable! We must know what happens next in the mighty arena of Blue Square Bet North. Back to the football mines with you, Meer!

    Guards!

    *Sorry, I’d be more understanding but then I’d lose tyrant points.

  5. alseT says:

    This sounds very promising but I have one question: How is the performance on your machine? Because I’ve heard some horror stories about the framerate from the paradox forums.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s actually pretty nicely configurable to get a consistent frame rate. A lot of the complaints on the forums are from the usual idiots who think that just because they can run the latest Medal of Call of Battlefield on maximum their intel integrated laptop is some kind of gaming beast.

      It’s running fine for me with an 8800GTX, although I do have the camera blur (irritating) turned off and the environment detail turned down slightly (because otherwise 90% of your battles will involve you looking at a clump of trees with flags floating above it and trying to work out who’s winning).

    • Ertard says:

      Don’t buy it yet. I can get 30-35 FPS on a good day – it’s usually around 15-25 – and that is of course completely unplayable if you ask me. For the overworld map, fine, but the battles are painful and just a drag when you can’t pan and move the camera. What’s worse is that lowering settings does next to nothing. The game is simply unoptimized. I’ve tried shutting the usual suspects off as well as lowering enviromentla detail a fair bit. Still the same.

      No Intel integrated stuff here. 560 Ti, i5 750 @ 3.8 GHZ, 8GB RAM a solid 45-60 in Shogun 2 fairly maxed out (perhaps a more apt comparison the battle of warfield 3, but I do have a solid 50-60 on high in that).

    • Archonsod says:

      Wonder if it’s the 64x version that has the problem. I’m running 32 bit (4 Gb RAM, Q6700 Intel) and performance is fairly smooth in the battles. In fact it tends to drop more on the overland map (generally the rain / snow effects) though never below 30.

    • Wheelsner says:

      I hate to add to the chorus of gloomy proclomations but I’d have to say (regretably as I bought it fairly blind to support the developer), “Hold off on buying this one”. Performance for me is fairly awful to the extent that I’ve so far played about 5mins of the prologue about 6 times before quiting in frustration. There seems to be no appreciable difference between DX9, 10 and 11 in terms of performance and the only way to get a consistently decent framerate invloves tweaking the game so it looks like a cross between the 1st and 2nd Medieval Total War Games.

      Enssentially, turning off all the suggested CPU and GPU hogging features such as SSAO, antialaising, smooth animations and motion blur still results (at least for me) in framerates as low as 18 on the 1st battle (which isn’t particularly huge). I can only imagine how bad this would get late game.

      The only way I can get (for now) a tolerable and consistent frame rate is to turn the unit detail down so low that if the camera is more than spitting distance from the units they turn into lovely 1990esque sprites.

      I hope they fix this, but for now it’s sitting unloved in my steam library.

      PS This is on a i5 2500k @3.6 ghz and a 560Ti.

      PPS I’d love to be wrong on this one, so if anyway is getting wonderful performance (heck, I’d settle for acceptable) do let me know!

    • Reapy says:

      I had to shelve the demo because of bad performance. My machine is reasonably new and shouldn’t have a problem. I knew it was bad when I turned the detail down and there was no framerate change, not even incrementally. I have a feeling it might be a driver thing or something that needs to get patched.

      Saw a few threads on the forum that seemed the same problems. But yeah, nothing more than 20 fps, even on the main map

      win7 x64
      i7 920
      6gb ram
      ATI HD 4800 (something, i forget ) ha

      I wonder if its an ATI problem, I feel like most gaming bugs I see are ati related. I guess could be the 64 but I think win 7 64 is pretty common now a days.

      Anyway I couldn’t give the demo more than 10 min with the framerate issue. I did one choose your own adventure, it was interesting, but I can’t help but feel i’d rather have it acted out in game, even if it just was a few pictures or the 3d models of my generals standing there. I guess I didn’t like the format too much.

      In battle i liked the fact that it was a little easier to steer guys around than in total war where I feel like I had to click and drag out the correct formation depth every time I moved the army.

    • alundra says:

      No, no AMD or NVIDIA discrimination for this one, the forums, both steam’s and the developer’s, are filled with reports of bad performance. It’s just lazy development, they have been having this kind of trouble in every of their games, maybe even Crusaders.

      They come up with all kinds of excuses and explanations and they refuse to acknowledge that reason why people with insanely powerful machines, I7s, dual gpus etc…, get 5-20 fps on their games is because they didn’t care to optimize their games.

      And to sign up, don’t get this one until they come up with a good sale for the goty version.

    • mipearson says:

      I had sympathy for the dev for the performance woes (cos performance is hard, yo) until that post on the forums from one of the devs along the lines of “QQ moar, the eye can’t see more than 24fps anyway!”

      FPS is essential for panning/dragging/accurate clicking. I dialed down the detail in shogun to get 40+ fps for this reason.

    • Archonsod says:

      Yeah, but they actually have a point. We know it’s impossible to see faster than 30 FPS due to the nature of the eye. Yet you still get some utter fuckwits convinced that they can notice the difference, because I guess the entire field of biology is just guesswork.

      Similarly it’s not going to affect accurate clicking and panning at all, given most modern computers are capable of considerably higher output than 24 actions per second.

    • Muzman says:

      We do? I’d be interested to hear about that. Last I heard the human eye was rated roughly at 60-80 fps (since it doesn’t ‘refresh’ as such) and discerning up to those levels was quite do-able.
      Maybe you’re talking about just games presentation, which do present an interesting artificial situation.

    • soldant says:

      Eyes do not see in frames per second. The term is meaningless for human eyes, our physiology does not look that way. Your capability to recognise and pick out detail depends on how fast it moves, but your eye isn’t a camera that takes a picture at 30FPS for the brain for processing or anything like that. The light enters the eye, hits the cones/rods at the back, gets converted to an electrical impulse travelling along the optic nerve, and then off to the brain for processing (simplified version). Generally your physiology means you can only recognise and process between 10 or so separate images every second. “Memory” fills in the blanks to create motion.

      Anyone who says “the eye sees at 24/30/whatever FPS” is flat out incorrect. The eyes do not work that way. How we perceive framerate depends on a lot of factors, including how it fluctuates, the amount of blurring (blur generally makes things look smoother at lower framerates), and a host of other factors. But your eyes are NOT locked at 30FPS. I can guarantee that pretty much all of you can tell the difference between 30FPS and 60FPS if you were looking at it.

    • Reapy says:

      Pretty much this. You do t even need to are about the biology…watch a movie at 24fps, then watch one at 60, the difference is noticable. Movies stay slow because it’s what we are used to it as an audience….but when you need a game to be responsive, 19 fps is unacceptable.

      I mean, play a game at 20 fps, then again at 60 and you notice the difference. Record a flaps movie at different fps, you see the difference. Hell when I played war and a lot I had the fps pegged to 100 and at some point they upped the max fps to like 110 or something. I felt the difference in terms of response time, it just was right, even though I couldn’t see the change, the change in fps just felt wrong.

      So using a lame excuse to justify why you can’t get your game over 19 fps I just putting blinders on your eyes going lalalalala.

  6. Nameless1 says:

    The way you judged the roleplaying (cyoa) part of the game is simply and utterly depressing.

    It’s probably the best part of it (as It was of the first King Arthur), as It does provide a lot of variability (hence longevity), depth, a good narration and It is linked well enough with the gameplay (morality, religion, the “heroes” and their upgrades, the main plot, etc..).
    But no, let’s sympathise with those who can’t read more than an sms in videogames because It will resemble too much a book…let’s totally avoid mentioning how well designed and presented (artworks) it is..let’s forget to mention how totally nonsense is to pretend to have it “graphically appealing” (and how? with two little units speaking in the battlefield?)

    This is by far the worst “review” I have read here in a long time.
    Didn’t expect it.

    • h4plo says:

      Did you .. see that phrase “an hour with”? As in, he played the game for an hour? There’s a big difference between a formal review and a quick glimpse, friend.

    • BigSmallFeet says:

      To be fair it’s not really a review. But I agree with what you’re saying.

    • Maldomel says:

      I agree too, but it is not a review, and he said that he didn’t know about the gameplay beforehand. In that condition, you can’t really blame the man for saying inaccurate things.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I don’t know what you read, but it sure wasn’t what I wrote.

    • BioSnark says:

      “let’s forget to mention how totally nonsense is to pretend to have it “graphically appealing” (and how? with two little units speaking in the battlefield?)”

      Graphic novel, obviously… well, obvious to me. I thought that’s how these things are done, nowadays. Dredge webcomic artist pool for a style and throw monies.

      In any case, as an rpg fan and a TW fan, I won’t be getting this any time soon because it sounds like it’ll run worse than Empire did on release and my computer will start crying. Hope the devs have a change of heart on performance standards and get that sorted.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s actually nothing like TW. Beyond the fact both have a real time system for combat.

    • Nameless1 says:

      @biosnark: It is already some kind of graphic novel (better seen in the prologue intro)
      @all the others: that’s why i wrote review between ” “…my mistake, anyway.
      @Alec: sorry for the “acid” in my words but I was really pissed off to see an rts with (for once) some depth in the narrative and rpg department treated like that. If that’s not what you intended I doubt I’m too far away from it anyway. Maybe It would have been better to play a lot more before the article, especially because I guess from your words you knew almost nothing of the 1st one.

  7. MaXimillion says:

    A big problem with autoresolving is that it doesn’t actually simulate the battles, so stuff like the buff-granting achievements and weapon levelups that depend on in-battle feats (like killing a certain amount of enemies or casting X spells) don’t gain anything from autoresolved battles.

  8. Palindrome says:

    Does this game share the terrible balancing of its predecessor? Once a certain point is reached in the first king Arthur endlessly respawning armies full of top tier units begin to appear which require a quest to be completed to stop, except that you don’t get the quest until quite a lot further in the game. This results in my own armies being decimated and my Kingdom destitute long before I can do anything about them. I really liked the first game, at least the first 2/3rd or so.

    • Archonsod says:

      Haven’t progressed far enough along to say for sure, but given what I’ve seen so far I doubt it. Or rather it’s no longer a problem if it did since there’s several ways you can cover ground (teleporting circles are back, but on top of that the new recruitment system means you could also simply slap down a new army at the nearest castle you own too).
      On the other hand the map is now the whole of Great Britain, so the mid-game gets a little more grindy.

    • Torgan says:

      I’ve just started chapter 4 of 5 and haven’t had anything like that. To be honest there is very very little of other kingdoms really attacking you, mostly you’re just following the quests from province to province and once you complete them you take that province.

      Really enjoying it so far though, there have already been two patches out since release last Friday to fix some niggles too which is nice.

    • Alistair says:

      I’m at the same point (entering the final chapter) and I’d say that’s a key point (and difference with say the Total Wars).

      The campaign map basically doesn’t have a purpose.

      It’s very close to being a mission select menu and nothing more. There’s no major incentive to take more provinces. Enemy provinces do not generally produce attacking armies, and provide pretty minor bonuses (+ 5/10% combat stats, research points) if you do take one. So you just take quest after quest, and where they are and where you are on the map is kind of irrelevant.

      Really it’s much more like their Crusader games (where you advance through battles as you travel down the side of the Med) than like a strategy game about expansion and defending front lines.

      So I’d say try the demo for the battle, and if you love it, go ahead – the little RPG sections provide entertaining colour & context, but I feel a bit let down by the strategy layer (i.e. there isn’t one). From memory there was more ‘advancing over the map’ in King Arthur 1.

  9. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Penetration level. And in the game.

    Ok, done. Somebody had to.

  10. Crainey says:

    This isn’t what I asked for – http://i.imgur.com/BKTN2.jpg
    Paradox is perhaps one of my favourite game publisher, their games feel really raw and indie, perhaps for the wrong reasons but I like it nonetheless!

  11. wodin says:

    Not a fan of the Rock Paper Scissor mechanic, as soon as I read\hear that my interest departs to other pastures.

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