Friday, August 26, 2011

King Arthur: Fallen Champions Review

King Arthur: Fallen Champions, developed by Neocore and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Three heroes gain experience and unlock unique skills, looks nice
The Not So Good: Short linear ten mission campaign with no strategic mode, tiresome story elements, lengthy and tough missions with vague objectives can’t be saved mid-battle, no skirmish options or multiplayer, same iffy AI
What say you? This standalone expansion treads the same ground with new limitations: 3/8

This review also appears at

So how do you differentiate yourself from Total War? Add crazy ass fantasy units and spells, which is exactly what King Arthur did two years ago. The formula seemed to work quite well, and it was repeated in the ultimately-disappointing semi-sequel Lionheart. Neocore is back again with another standalone expansion-type game with King Arthur: Fallen Champions, which follows the tale of three fantasy leaders in their quest for…marshmallows? I’m not sure, I wasn’t really paying attention to the introductory movie. In any case, this title can serve as a consolation prize to hold you over until King Arthur 2 comes out next year. Does Fallen Champions fall, or succeed with its blend of real-time tactics and role-playing?

King Arthur: Fallen Champions is, not surprisingly, graphically similar to the previous titles in the series, which is a good thing. The game thrives with great detail in almost every aspect, starting with the beautiful environments: England never looked so good, with majestic mountains, dark forests, and shimmering creeks present in every map. The terrain is varied in each location as well, giving you a different look at the countryside every time you play. The units look great as well, with good animations and detailed textures when viewed up close. The spell effects are a little cartoonish, but effective in their scope. The sound design is passable, with pleasing background music and appropriate battle effects. There is no voice acting for the story mode, however, which is somewhat of a disappointment. Still, overall the presentation of King Arthur: Fallen Champions is favorable within the strategy genre.

While using the same setting as the original game, King Arthur: Fallen Champions is a completely linear game where the strategic map is simply used to select your next mission from a wide selection of…only one choice. Each of the game’s three heroes has three missions that must be completed in order, although you can switch between heroes between battles. The game culminates in a final battle royale with everyone involved, using their skills and units earned along the way. You must be victorious in every mission, as there is no room for error. Each hero has varied skills and plays differently; the units under their command are also diverse in their abilities. Heroes gain skill points after each battle that can be used to improve several skills in their arsenal, giving the user a bit of customization freedom.

King Arthur: Fallen Champions also includes story elements in “adventure quests”: a very uninteresting mode where you click actions in a series of locations. While you might potentially meet different people and gain allies along the way, ultimately you’ll end up at the main battle, assuming you don’t get lost in the circular options: particularly disorienting are the directional movement options (go north, south, east, or west), where you can literally keep going in circles with no assistance from the game. The story is a very poor replacement for the strategic mode: I found the stories lacked engaging plots or anything else to keep me interested in what I was clicking. Frankly, after the first couple of stories, I simply wanted to get to the next battle as quickly as possible. Also removed are skirmish and multiplayer options: all you get in King Arthur: Fallen Champions are ten linear single-player battles, which drastically reduces the longevity of the game.

Most missions involve engaging the enemy one group at a time as you move across the map. While the overall objective might be slightly more complicated than that (like rescuing a specific unit, or defeating the enemy boss), King Arthur: Fallen Champions does a terrible job explaining this to you: the final objective is never indicated on the minimap, and you can’t refer to the mission goals in the middle of a game. Some missions do have some innovative special rules that make things a bit more interesting than “kill everyone,” but these are rare exceptions to linear level design. Most of the battles pits your tiny forces against numerous enemies, offsetting that imbalance with your magical abilities and tactical prowess. The scenarios are also very long, which makes the lack of a save game option distressing.

Units are interesting: although the fall into the standard categories of infantry, cavalry, and ranged, some come with special abilities (positive or negative) which makes you treat them a little bit differently. Each map is also dotted with victory locations that can grant bonuses to your army. Ordering your troops around is standard fare: formations, attacking, control-grouping, the usual. Different terrain is better for different types of units, and time acceleration is available to speed up the boring parts (which is most of the time). The AI continues to be a mixed bag: the scenario designers are partly to blame, never amassing them to become a real threat unless you charge directly towards the main base without picking up reinforcements along the way. The enemy AI does engage the appropriate opponent when available, but it never executes any sophisticated tactical strategies. The battles in King Arthur: Fallen Champions still suffer from the “large mass” problem, where most units just engage each other in a gigantic chaotic circle of death. The tactical AI does a poor job dealing with this: units will routinely just circle around the outside of the mass, scouting for a way in. It’s funny (in a sad way) to watch a powerful hero with a glowing sword walking around in circles trying to find the enemy to fight in the middle of the pack. Ultimately, any player of Neocore’s previous games will not see anything new or different when it comes to the tactical battles of King Arthur: Fallen Champions.

At $10, King Arthur: Fallen Champions is priced as a small standalone expansion for the original game, and it doesn’t even live up to those lowered expectations. First off, the game is short, consisting of only ten missions. Now, the missions are lengthy, but they usually involve the same tactics (engage groups of enemies one at a time with your outnumbered squad on the way to the objective) and you can’t save your progress in the middle of a mission. While time acceleration offsets some of this limitation, I’d still like to save my game after undertaking thirty minutes of challenging strategic work. The objectives in each battle are very unclear: your goal isn’t indicated on-screen, and you can’t access the mission briefing during the actual mission. The tactical battles are the same as before (with the same up-and-down AI), except you get fewer units and more enemies to deal with: not exactly fair, and a little tedious as you defeat wave after wave of inferior opponents. The role-playing elements are entertaining, if a bit limited, with several skills to choose from between missions. King Arthur: Fallen Champions doesn’t have a strategic mode, instead replacing it with tired “adventure quests”: choice-based text stories that are boring, repetitive, and overly lengthy. King Arthur: Fallen Champions also lacks skirmish battles and multiplayer that was present in previous titles, although the graphics remain intact. Because of the limited, linear content, I’d rather just pay twice the price and get the original King Arthur, or wait a couple of months for the true sequel, instead of settling for the Fallen Champions.