King Arthur: Fallen Champions

Review

posted 10/25/2011 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
Platforms: PC
King Arthur – The Role Playing Wargame (KA1) is on its last legs.  The sequel, named “King Arthur II – The Role Playing Wargame” (KA2) has been announced and there are screenshots and a blog and lots of good buzz.  So why would Paradox release this game, and why would anyone buy it?

First off, there is no official KA2 release date yet.  The web site says Q4 2011, but who can really tell?  It wouldn't be the first time a game was late, or the first time one was buggy upon release.  In short, it could be a while before you get to play a new game set in the Arthurian world.

The selling point for “King Arthur - Fallen Champions” (FC) is that it is sort of a bridge between KA1 and KA2.  It is not clear exactly in what sense this expansion bridges the two full games.  The graphics technology does not seem to have advanced that far and the gameplay is pretty much the same as KA1.  Perhaps the stories are meant to serve as an intro to the KA2 campaign.


That would be too bad as the stories are not really all that interesting.  But first, a short introduction to the franchise for my readers who are new to it.

KA1 was generally well-received by both critics and the general gaming public.  This had a lot to do with the hybrid style it brought to the table.  On the one hand, it looks like “Lords of the Realm” or “Total War” in which you are presented with a map of Olde England divided up into various territories where each territory provides men, money, food, and the like to its owner.  As a would-be king it is your job to build these resources into an army with which to conquer other territories until you have vanquished all before you in real-time combat.

On the other hand, you are a king (or at least want to be one) and have to deal with people.  There will be lieutenants to appease, rebellions to crush, marriages to arrange and quests to undertake.  Your kingdom's status on the strategic map can determine what options you are offered (more territories can lead to better marriage prospects) while success in a personal quest can lead to a powerful martial artifact.  Quests are generally handled through a text-based choose-your-own-adventure style interface.  When embarking upon a quest (say, finding the Lady of the Lake) you are presented with some text describing the situation (“You see a lake”) and are provided with a set of options (“Swim the lake”, “Wait for boat”, “Leave”).  Which options(s) you choose determines whether you succeed on the quest.  It makes for an interesting way of telling a story within a generally TBS/RTS framework.


All in all, KA1 laid out an interesting game system: role-playing plus RTS plus TBS plus text adventures equaled an offbeat yet engaging game.

The big change in “Fallen Champions” is the complete lack of the campaign map and associated elements.  There are no lieutenants to appease, no cities to build, no territories to recruit from, and no marriages to arrange.  It is a huge letdown for players who enjoyed the campaign part more than the RTS.  The only parts left are the RTS battles and the text-based adventures.

You play as one of three “heroes” - Sir Lionel, questing for a damsel in distress; Lady Corrigan of the Sidhe, trying to find her way home; and Drest the Chosen, a Northern shaman.  Each of them has a linear series of scenarios they each must go through.  After they have each completed their set, their storylines will combine into a coherent whole.  So, in short, three heroes, three sets of scenarios, get through them all to find out how it turns out.


Each scenario is composed of two parts: an initial text-based adventure followed by an RTS tactical battle.  The text adventure moves your story forward along with (possibly) providing bonuses for the following battle.  It is a handy way of moving a story-based set of missions along but is definitely as case of “Your Mileage May Vary”.  If you like text adventures, great.  If not, just look up the answers on the net and get all the best bonuses.

Next up is the fighting, which is disappointing.  Maps are often too large relative to the troops numbers deployed on them which can lead to long periods of time spent simply closing.  Even when the armies come to grips the lack of variety can be snooze-inducing.  Basically, you get guys on horses, guys with swords, and guys with arrows.  There are a few specialist unit types, but for a game set in mythological England one would expect more variety.


The game falls into a steady rhythm: read some text, fight a battle, repeat.  The text one can take or leave.  Combat is somewhat better.  Within the limitations of the combat engine, battles can be fun.  The AI is competent which leads to some replay value as one can try out different tactics against a tenacious opponent.  The game as a whole is not that long but the various scenarios can have some replay value.  Temper your expectations, however, as the difficulty levels can be uneven and there are a few annoying bugs.

In summary “King Arthur – Fallen Champions” is a pretty average ten dollar expansion.  If you are a fan of tactically-oriented RTS combat (or a King Arthur completist) this might make a nice pickup to play over Thanksgiving until KA2 comes out.
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