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King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame

King Arthur. The sword in the stone, the lady in the lake, and the knights of the round table are all present and accounted for in King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame. But this mix of role-playing, real-time strategy, and turn-based grand strategizing doesn't quite work out as smoothly as the infamous accident that resulted in Mr. Reese's blending of peanut butter with chocolate. Hungarian developer NeoCore Games has created a compelling epic here that delves deep into Arthurian legend and builds a strong fantasy role-playing atmosphere but at the expense of some of the strategy. So even while you can easily get hooked on guiding King Arthur to the throne of Britain by vanquishing enemy monarchs and negotiating with watery tarts throwing swords at you, taking armies into battle is more problematic because of balance issues and grueling difficulty in the campaign. While the overall game is well worth playing because of the outstanding development of the Arthurian theme and some innovations on both the role playing and strategy sides of the fence, the flaws that mount up after a while will leave you hoping for a patch.

In the beginning, however, King Arthur is one impressive game. Visuals strike you right away. The rolling green fields of the countryside and the sunshine glimmering off the sea really provide an old English atmosphere. The detailed soldier models and the ability to zoom in for close-ups of battles also lend wargame credibility. It's all a bit more grim than one would expect from a King Arthur game, with a Warhammer influence evident in the painted art seen on loading screens, although it still sets a great dark mood. Only the occasional typos in the onscreen text, along with the forgettable music and sparse voice samples detract from the otherwise immersive atmosphere. And even then, the game sometimes surprises you with some spooky sound effects during battles or when scrolling across the map screen of Britain.

Even more interesting is a quest structure that runs alongside the battle events. Quest locations are marked on the main map with glowing scrolls. If you visit one with a knight, you take on a story mission told by interactive dialogue sequences. Quests play out like one of those old Choose Your Adventure books, with you answering questions, choosing between sneaking and fighting, and so on. Most quests are exhaustive and span a dozen or more questions that take you through a whole adventure. Some recount new stories about dealings with your rivals to the throne, while others delve into key tales of the Arthurian mythos, such as finding the Lady in the Lake. All are enthralling, and the final results always have an impact on the game in an important way. Actions are tracked on a wheel of morality that shows how you've been behaving as both a ruler and a religious leader. If you stand up for a friend, you gain a point or two toward righteousness; but if you betray him, you drop a point or two toward being a tyrant. The same goes for old-faith paganism and Christianity. If you spend too much time helping the druids, you gain points with the pagans; if you commit to making a Christian province, you earn points with churchgoing folk. All of this influences how you are seen by others and changes how you go through the game because pagan tyrants have different options from nice guys who are keen on Jesus.

Even though King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame can hook you for a great many hours in its present state, you can't escape the notion that the game could use a pretty comprehensive patch. This is a great concept but only a good execution, which leaves the end result sort of dissatisfying even while you find it hard to stop playing. Let's hope that NeoCore Games keeps at it until the game is brought to its full potential.

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