EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Nathan Rowland
previewed on PC
Arthurian legend is a trove of stories and characters, places and fantasy elements ripe for interpretation, especially from the perspective of a video-game producer and developer. So much so, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to play a game based around this medieval romp & romance.
Out of the gates, King Arthur: Knight’s Tale sets a wonderfully wistful and medieval tone from its first menu sequence and through the transitions between cinematics and gameplay. This is achieved through its engaging scoring, if sometimes slightly mismatched instrumentation (acoustic guitar just seems like an odd instrument to my ear in this setting), and an engaging voice-over setting the stage for the legend as it unfolds.
The gist of the opening plot is this: you play as Sir Mordred, King Arthur’s nemesis, recent murderer and himself, also, recently deceased - now resurrected by the Lady of the Lake. Why? We don’t know yet. We only know that we have awoken in Camelot surrounded by armed guards bent on killing us for our treachery. Turns out King Arthur and many of the knights from his own roundtable have been resurrected too and are acting as scourges to Avalon (the island where Arthurian mythology is based) in their new undead roles. Again why? We can only guess from here on. Our task is laid out after capturing the throne of Camelot, to bend Avalon to our will and form our own roundtable OR to follow the wishes of the mysterious Lady of the Lake and purge the land of its dreadknights. But that’s about as much as we get, further pursuing this narrative is blocked at this time. This carries forward to a lot of the current features available in King Arthur, more on that later…
A Knightly Quest
The most of what is on offer in King Arthur is the turn-based, isometric combat. It bears striking similarities to Divinity: Original Sin and other RPGs which blend the genre crossover to RTS titles. Like D&D, attacks of opportunity prevent free movement on the battlefield, but similarly encourage you to create a frontline of melee bruisers to hinder enemy movement. Other important considerations, like how many melee versus ranged members you bring to battle, can alter the flow of combat in subtle but meaningful ways. It’s important to note that at the time of writing, there is no scalable difficulty setting, which in this case seemed a detriment to gameplay as the challenge of combat was often fair to middling. Though, I suspect I was mainly facing grunt enemies for the most part. The viscerality of combat is nevertheless enjoyable, where the weight and sound-design really captures the feeling of swinging a large, hefty battle-axe versus the swift twang of a shortbow. It’s a shame then that you’re limited by these easier fights, where simple mechanics such as bottlenecks can win you most battles. I’m eager to see how boss-battles might be implemented in future updates!
Within missions, you’ll be locked-in with the protagonist, Mordred for every battle, elsewise, you’ll pick up more combatants to fight alongside, and can be switched out between missions giving time to heal or train. These companions are rather shallow and one-dimensional as far as NPCs go which forms as a result of the game’s morality system - a four-sided graph which rates your disposition depending on in-game actions that align with these virtues (Rightful Ruler vs Tyrant/ Old Faith vs Christian). These NPCs act as lackeys no matter your moral disposition and will follow seemingly unfazed even when they verbally state they follow a different creed to you. Returning to Mordred, your protagonist, I don’t like this choice of locking you down to a central character, especially when his skillset is created outside of the player’s control. It seems odd to me that in an ‘RPG’, your player character is stuck being a sword and shield wielder from the first second. This becomes even more problematic when you recruit another sword and shield wielder, as the choice to bring them along in your party provides diminishing value to diversifying your roster. When the game obviously wishes you to sway the allegiances of your companions by bringing different ones along to different missions, this all adds up to be a bit unstable and ill-designed.
As far as visuals go, King Arthur does a nice job of bringing together a drab, bleak vision of Avalon with a clear artistic direction undercutting all of its world design. And whilst the characters do look stunningly rad in their initial armour, it’s a shame not to see a visage of progression as you level and acquire loot. Again, another feature which feels underdeveloped but shows promise for the future.
My overall opinion of King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is this - It is more accurate to say that the game is currently in the state of a ‘demo’ rather than what we’ve come to expect from an ‘early access’ release or a 0.1 version of a release. Only the introduction of the narrative is present and with the addition of the playable, non-narrative focused side-missions, you can be completed all there is to offer within 2 hours. The current version is currently very limited in scope and provides a handful of teasers to what are obviously larger systems and gameplay mechanics. I haven’t touched on the fact that there’s a town-builder similar to Darkest Dungeon in here because at the moment all of it is locked behind text blocking it from ‘this version of the game’. I’m curious to see what changes do occur, but not gripped enough to follow its development earnestly.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.