King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame launched to mainly positive reviews during the backend of 2009. Buoyed up by strong post-launch support and a series of DLC releases, King Arthur has left fans salivating for more. To bridge the gap in storylines between King Arthur and its upcoming sequel Neoware Games have created King Arthur: Fallen Champions, a piece of standalone DLC that offers some tight storytelling and preset RTS maps. With a budget price and an aim to highlight the core elements of the franchise Fallen Champions should offer an excellent entry point for newcomers whilst whetting the appetite of current fans.
In Fallen Champions you play the part of three heroes, each one following their own motivations as they fight their way towards the game’s final battle. Each hero, a Knight, a Pict Shaman and a Sidhe offers an entirely different play style within the battle maps and points towards the franchise moving into more of a fantastical setting rather than existing in a strict post-Romano-British Arthurian background. The biggest change comes in the relegation of the campaign map from a turn-based open world into a linear setting in which you move your three heroes between their preset battles. However, instead of simply moving forces from one battle to another, the campaign map now allows you the chance to engage in some light role-playing by offering a Choose Your Own Adventure style tale expanding on King Arthur’s original quest system. The options you take as you work your way through these short tales impact on the number and type of troops that you will have available to you in your next battle. This engaging style manages to be both nostalgic and fresh whilst also ensuring that each one of the Fallen Champions within the game is fleshed out and quickly becomes a real character to the player.
Frequent replays however do show that the story telling element isn’t quite as branching as it may seem; throughout it’s somewhat obvious what choices will lead to a better advantage in the battle ahead and you are punished for not making the ‘right’ decisions. Without grey areas it does become somewhat of a black and white scenario, the stark moral choices laid out for you expecting you to tow the Arthurian line. Without revealing spoilers one decision has you being able to choose whether to keep a magic item for yourself or give it to another character you meet. If you give it to them all is well and they continue to offer their services in the battle to come; if you don’t not only do they leave your company but the item in question is destroyed. While one shouldn’t expect a positive outcome from every decision made the choice between unit and item would have been more welcome from a replayability perspective than the choice between unit and nothing.
The RTS combat sections of the game will feel very similar technically to those who have played King Arthur before – the only discernible difference is that ranged troops (archers in particular) feel a little weak. An ironic turnaround for those who saw their forces wither under a rain of arrows in the original game pre-nerf. This does make combat somewhat of a less tactical affair in relation to overall army formation and instead concentrates your attention on melee flanking opportunities and wily use of the terrain itself.
Each battle in the campaign has its own specific victory conditions and tactical ploys available to achieve them. One effective scenario requires you to set large swathes of the map on fire in order to disrupt your opponent’s superior army and force them to fight you piecemeal, a classic case of divide and conquer. These preset differences between battles do lead to each battle feeling unique and stops them from becoming repetitive while you are completing the storyline. It also facilitates engagement with the action, spurring you on to discover what surprises the game has in store for your next battle. From a campaign perspective however the bespoke nature of the maps ensures that if you return to the start of the campaign to begin again fighting the same battles will seem repetitive. While the text adventure part of the campaign could mean that you face the battle with a slightly different force composition, you can always fall back on using the same generic tactics as you did the first time round.
The general tactics seen within the RTS section of Fallen Champions aren’t as deep as some high strategy games and there is one particular default setting that competent armchair generals will want to switch off (*cough* auto-charge *cough*). The combination of infantry, cavalry and ranged works well and mainly as expected, although the focus of the game is clearly on an attacking melee aspect rather than creating defensible lines to entrap your foes. Magic, either granted from the skills of your own hero or from controlling fixed points on the map, provides an additional mechanism with which to bloody the nose of your foes and for some characters the use of certain spells are almost essential for success.
Outside of the battles and the story choices you are able to decide how your heroes level up. There is a fairly simplistic bent to the choices here, boiling down to deciding between more passive abilities and more active ones. There are synergies between certain skills, but it is hard to ‘spec’ wrong. You are essentially left to grow your heroes are you see fit, your favoured interpretation of Arthurian lore catered for. The ability to equip your heroes with various artifacts offers an additional customisation route but during the course of the game you will only have to decide between competing items extremely rarely. Bearing in mind the nature of the game and its intent as a piece of filler DLC between two major releases and this is not entirely surprising, but the ability to further customise your heroes may have increased the re-playability of the game somewhat.
King Arthur: Fallen Champions is an enjoyable stand alone expansion that delivers some great concepts and interesting battles. As a piece of DLC it pushes the envelope of what gamers can expect for their money, offering them the ability to play with some of the main concepts and functionality of what should become a successful series of full price offerings. It may not be the most in-depth strategy game experience but then King Arthur has never really aimed for that, intending to offer you a more holistic and enjoyable experience. For this price point and these mechanics, Fallen Champions offers the right mix of RPG and RTS gameplay and represents an excellent pool in which to dip you toes into the world of King Arthur.
Review by Lewis Brown & Chris Unwin