Arthurian legend is always fun to see adapted in video games, due to its flexible and strange lore, as well as its lack of representation in games media as a whole. Neocore Games began their career with King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame and with King Arthur: Knight’s Tale they return to their roots, though it’s important to note this game is solely a tactical role-playing game and isn’t a sequel to Neocore’s initial Arthurian outings.
The inspirations for this game are clear: the Merlin of Neocore’s developer team has taken elements from Darkest Dungeon, XCOM, Warhammer 40K: Mechanicus, and a bit of Divinity: Original Sin and married all of that with the beginnings of a compelling story. The Early Access launch build only gives a hint at what will unfold in the narrative, but right off the bat the premise is riveting and pulls you right into the setting with a compelling mystery (Arthurian legend has plenty of that going around).
Players embody Sir Mordred, one of Arthur’s knights who is destined to kill the Once and Future King in a climactic final battle, sacrificing their life in the process. After the battle, Arthur is supposedly taken away to the hidden island of Avelorn by Morgan le Fay, but for some reason Arthur never reaches his fated destination and Mordred is brought back to life by the Lady of the Lake to finish his grisly task. In essence, the setting of the game is a kind of post-apocalyptic dark fantasy Britannia (Arthurian-style, of course) that hasn’t recovered after Arthur’s delayed passing.
Throughout the story, Mordred will rebuild Camelot and reassemble the Knights of the Round Table to aid him in his task. Initially, only five characters are available to meet, but the developers promise to eventually include 30 characters from various parts of Arthurian lore who will make an appearance to either confront the player or join their quest.
This is where the game has the most potential to really stand out as a compelling role-playing game with fully-fleshed out characters that interact with the player and create meaningful relationships. As Arthurian characters come from all sorts of backgrounds and have their own rivalries and ambitions, they can serve as excellent baselines for well-written dialogue, exciting drama, and powerful moments. In the small amount of content available at launch, what has been hinted and teased raises interesting questions and starts vital story beats.
Another element that’s ripe for interesting role-playing is the quadrilateral morality system that provides greater freedom of development and evolution compared to other comparable role-playing games with either simpler or lacking morality systems. This morality system is also set up to give players access to meaningful gameplay developments, which asks for multiple playthroughs. Not all characters will automatically join the player’s cause, with some desiring a certain lean to one morality or the other. Oh, you want to recruit Sir Bedivere for his wisdom? You’re going to have to patronize the Old Faith, but Sir Galahad may become hostile to your cause.
Another strong area of potential is the well-paced and varied tactical combat. With many different enemy types and promises of fun and interesting boss engagements, it certainly seems like King Arthur: Knight’s Tale will provide a challenging quest to players. This combat system will be even more of a highlight if allied characters and options available to the player match the present and promised combat variety.
From a technical perspective, the game runs well, with fluid character animations and solid sound effects. However, there’s certainly room for improvement in terms of optimization as the passive overworld map where players select their missions and rebuild Camelot can be taxing, even on high-end graphics cards. Otherwise, it was certainly a pleasant surprise that even in such an early state of its Early Access life cycle, there were virtually no distinct bugs or crashes, which only means the developers are dedicated to technical polish and that they can focus their attention on crafting innovative role-playing mechanics and features.
Despite the game’s technical robustness, King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is not without its problems and concerns for the future. The visual design, UI, and music are some of the game’s smaller issues. I have no qualms with the character design and general style, however, the game has this relentlessly drab grey color palette, which mutes what little color there is already and hides the really nice character designs. I get that this is supposed to help represent a decaying and dying world, but there are definitely ways to illustrate a dark fantasy setting without making it visually boring.
The UI is currently serviceable, but feels generally clunky, still has some description placeholders, and doesn’t always present vital information such as character abilities. What limited music there is is good, but there’s very little of it and gets repetitive quickly, though I’m sure these areas will be improved over time.
The two biggest concerns for the game are the map design and the characters. So far, the tactical mission maps are of a decent size and have a lot of nooks and crannies, but they feel barren and empty. It’s as if there are supposed to be more encounters, points of interest, or secret pathways or additional combat deployment areas for players to explore, but there’s currently little reason to explore everything as there really isn’t much to do aside from a few encounters and the occasional chest or loot point.
The area of the game’s greatest potential is also its possible weakness. Since King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is a role-playing game, dialogue, character interaction and development, and world and lore building are vital elements to provide a meaningful experience. It seems the developers are setting up the condition that characters will definitely matter, not just as pawns and actors in combat, but will also factor into the story and even affect the player’s own choices by contextualizing and dramatizing Mordred’s relationship to the other Knights and Ladies of the Round Table.
This concern for the role-playing element also translates to the character’s affect on combat. Since all thirty promised characters will be split amongst the six classes, there is a risk that the characters will either be functionally the same with little room to try different builds, or some will have such unique features that they overshadow the more standard or vanilla characters. However, with the current Early Access build, it’s simply too early to tell what direction the developers will take with characters in combat.
The foundations for a solid, if not exceptional, tactical RPG are definitely present in King Arthur: Knight’s Tale for its Early Access launch. At the moment, though, there is too little content to recommend the game right away. If the original two King Arthur games in Neocore’s library are anything to go by, the developers will certainly give it their all to make this game a compelling experience in the long run. All it needs is some significant content additions so that, by full launch, King Arthur: Knight’s Tale lives up to its potential of being a riveting, fun, and innovative Arthurian legend.
A Steam Early Access key was provided by PR for the purposes of this preview.
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