Neocore Games' King Arthur 2 was always going to struggle to get a good review out of me. I just don't find RTSs on this scale, where formations and positioning win the day, engaging in any sense. So please read this review with that, and the fact that I am complete newcomer to the series and the genre, in mind. Also bear in mind that this is a review of the prologue currently available ahead of the full game's release as a pre-order bonus.
A competent and ambitious take on the RTS genre, marred by performance issues and a high barrier of entry. This game certainly isn't geared towards newcomers to the series, let alone newcomers to the genre.
I fired the game up to be greeted by a surprisingly lean set of options, the most notable absence being multiplayer. Now, while I'm sure a lot of people playing RTSs like King Arthur 2 and its ilk would be more than happy plugging away at a lengthy single player campaign, the lack of multiplayer in 2012, be it competitive or co-operative does seem strange for this kind of title. The options menu however, was adequate with ample control configuration options and a reasonable amount of graphics and resolution options, but no option to auto-select optimal graphics settings for your configuration - it is of note that this game supports DirectX 11 out of the gate, though I was having framerate issues on this setting.
Aside from the options menu you're straight into the main story (no other single player skirmish or instant action modes - strange omissions), with a bare-bones text-based tutorial being your only lightsource in the cavernous depths of King Arthur 2's real-time battle system, text-based quests and dialogue choices. It's an interesting mix, and it sets King Arthur 2 apart from its rivals, namely the Total War series. Luckily it doesn't stray too far from that formula, however, with the battle system playing very similarly to the Total War games - any veteran of those games should feel at home here. The battles are just as satisfying and epic in King Arthur 2, but it bears repeating that the tutorials for this game are completely inadequate for a newcomer to the series and to the genre - limited to tiny window-based video tutorials and windows of text. I felt like I was thrown way into the deep end when I arrived at the first battle, with no concept of which units are effective in which situations and which formations to be adopting - I ended up employing a "send in all the things" strategy. Which, actually worked pretty well...
The text-based quests and dialogue choices were the big surprise for me, it's a shame that that you have to wade through dreary beige slideshows of well-drawn but generic images instead of full cutscenes to get to them - I understand that these are a series staple, however, and long-term fans of the series, and gamers prepared to engage with the lore and read the reams of material will probably get more out of the game's story than I did. It's a story that begs to be given ample time to simmer and develop, a lot like a written novel, but very unusual for a game.
On a number of occasions I encountered either bugs preventing me from progressing further, or oblique game design making it very unclear exactly how I was supposed to complete my objectives. Luckily, with regard to the bugs, Neocore are actively checking the Steam forums on a regular basis and I presume their own official forum, and are taking note of bugs and fixing them for future patches. These issues on top of the aforementioned performance issues make it abundantly clear that this effectively a pre-release version of the game, the full release of King Arthur 2 will not be until later this month - so I would expect these bugs to be ironed out by then.
King Arthur 2 is a different kind of beast. Taking the epic scale of battles featured in the Total War series, and adding an enticing fantasy and role-playing twist. It's a shame that in its current state there are a number of performance issues and bugs holding it back, but Neocore are actively engaging with the community to collate and tackle these bugs - hopefully in releasing an early prologue section and allowing the community to help squash bugs now, it should mean that King Arthur 2 has a smooth and more successful launch.
It's certainly not for everyone, myself included. It is not welcoming, and it's tutorials are insufficient to provide the level and depth of knowledge required to successfully play and enjoy the game. That being said for series veterans and players willing to dedicate their time to learning the ins and outs and King Arthur 2's gameplay, they will be rewarded for it with a competent and unique take on the genre that marries the RTS and role-playing genres in interesting ways.
A preview copy was provided by gamersgate.com.