King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame

Thomas Cross

This isn't a laborious Frankenstein's monster. It is never less than inventive.

King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame

Publisher: Neocore Games
Players: 1-6
Price: $39.99
Platform: PC
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Neocore Games
Release Date: 2009-11-24

A game with with a title like that is bound to have some identity issues, or at least a clutter of features and ideas. King Arthur doesn't disappoint in this area: it really is a role playing game, a wargame, and a game about King Arthur. While all of that sounds rather interesting (Arthurian legend being rather fresh territory for any video game, and most strategy games needing as much role playing as they can get), the game actually combines them in interesting and fun ways. This isn't a laborious Frankenstein's monster with each gameplay element carefully and tiredly regurgitated. It's its own brand of game, and it's never less than inventive.

The story follows King Arthur as he pulls the Sword from the Stone. Of course, when Arthur does this, he opens our world up to invasion and interference from magical, mystical, sometimes religious forces. As a result, British history as we know it will never be the same, what with the living, breathing faeries, ogres, and other fantastical creatures now roaming the British Isles.

Faced with a divided kingdom and newly marshaled set of demonic and magical forces, you, as Arthur, must unite Britain and win the land back for Britons, whatever the cost. Unfortunately in grand fantasy video game tradition, you begin by progressing through a long, drawn-out tutorial. Here, you learn the basics of combat, recruitment, questing, and allegiance-making. While the strategy elements are presented in the driest and most straightforward of ways (thankfully, considering the game is finicky and difficult for even strategy fans), the leveling, knight-recruiting, and questing mechanics are a little trickier to master.

Questing is handled by what is a mixture of frustrating, fun, and charming interface mechanics. When one of your knights (your heroes) activates a quest, he (for only men may be knights in this world and only ladies may marry them) enters into a text-based self-contained scenario. Here, he makes decisions based on whatever moral compass that you choose to follow, and his options are dictated by his skills and your desires. Thus, when questing to discover the power and whereabouts of the mystical Lady of the Lake, your chosen hero will be asked to make many difficult, choose your own adventure-style decisions. Upon discovering a band of bedraggled knights, do you pay them to join your army, press them into service, or abandon them?

All decisions affect several key attributes of your hero. Favoring the old ways (druids, mystical water-bound ladies, and other old powers of Britannia) will increase your favor and standing with that faction (just as you can easily make friends with the followers of Jesus Christ). You can also play Arthur (and his knights) as good or tyrannical figures. While I chose to play what I thought to be the most historically appropriate brand of Arthur (a good and just king who always favored the Old, pagan ways), players can do what they please.

During these missions, players can also engage in violence, theft, intrigue, diplomacy, and other exciting Kingly machinations. All acts are governed by the leading hero’s skills (offense, loyalty, honor, magic, etc.), and tricky decisions will also net you money, experience, and power (or tax your troops’ loyalty if you make bad decisions). For all its text-based presentation, it is a complicated system, and the first couple of quests that you complete may not sell you on their importance even if they affect your world noticeably. As you progress, however, you will come to realize that playing these quests properly is the key to victory, just as much as winning major skirmishes and battles.

This is where King Arthur’s greatest failing can be found: it is incredibly obtuse and frustrating. At almost every turn, you will be confronted with decisions whose outcomes are purposefully or mistakenly made terribly unclear, including incredibly hard battles and a grand strategic game that does as little as possible to ease you into its truly harsh world. It’s a strange critique to level at the game: there is a tutorial explanation for almost every single pane, menu, and window, and the game painstakingly introduces you to each new concept and mechanic as it becomes available to you.

Introduction and summation do not lead to comprehension, though, especially when the connections between all of these options and demands (really, the most important parts of gameplay) are completely ignored. The game never tells me that I should be careful with my money and my food, and I should. I encountered many quests where both would have made my life easier. Likewise, the game allows you (in the early sections) to horribly hobble your fighting force. If I hadn’t gone back and read forum posts, I would have no idea how to get past the early stages of the game. To make matters worse, the RPG-tinged RTS battles are grand (and, like the rest of the game, beautiful and pleasingly Celtic), but they are also overly hard. Archers are better than absolutely anything else out there (even after a recent patch). There is even an option to weaken all archers in the game, so great is the imbalance created by these units.

King Arthur is an impressive accomplishment on almost all fronts. It melds wonderful retro text quests and skill-based challenges with some great leveling and item-collecting mechanics, and it really oozes atmosphere from its sometimes soft rock pseudo Celtic score to its lush landscapes. However, every time that you try to immerse yourself in the game, it pulls you out by killing you or hamstringing your campaign for reasons you couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Patches may help, but even then, the game needs a major overhaul from a readability and comprehensibility standpoint. It’s fun, beautiful, and clever, but it’s difficult to enjoy unless you really work at it. If you can stomach its shortcomings (and school yourself in its ways as quickly as possible), King Arthur is a unique and rewarding game.


Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Woodstock each did their stint as a lonely Mexican cowboy, it seems. These and other things you didn't know about A Charlie Brown Christmas.

How Would You Like to Be the Director of Our Christmas Play?

It's really a beautiful little movie and has affected my life in numerous ways. For years, especially when we were poor, we always tried to find the littlest saddest Christmas tree possible. In fact, my son Eli has a Christmas tree set up right now that is just one single branch propped up in a juice bottle. And just a couple weeks ago we were at a wedding, everyone was dancing, and me and my wife Amy and my friend Garth started dancing like the Peanuts characters do in the Christmas special. -- Comic artist James Kochalka.

Bill Melendez answers questions with the sort of vigor that men a third his age invest thousands in herbal supplements to achieve. He punctuates his speech with belly chuckles and comic strip taglines like "Oh, boy!" and "I tell 'ya!" With the reckless abandon that Melendez tosses out words like pleasure, it's clear that 41 years after its premiere, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of his favorite topics of conversation. "It changed my life," he states simply, "being involved with this silly little project."

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.