A plodding team of armored knights crashes into their enemies, scything them down with blows left and right. They’re much more powerful than those they fight, but far fewer, and in the tactical combat of King Arthur: Knight’s Tale you’re the one in charge of making sure those knights triumph. I sat down with a preview of the second act of this story-driven strategy RPG, and I found myself intrigued by its mix of combat, knightly tales, and casual castle management.
I’ll be straight with you here: this remix of Arthurian legend plays fast and loose with the myths, and I’m here for it. Arthurian legends are the comic book stories of the medieval period, all about larger-than-life heroes and wildly inconsistent in how they’re depicted. What I mean is that I don’t think you’ll need to know jack about Arthur to enjoy this, but here’s the details anyway: King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is set in a grimdark Arthurian purgatory of sorts. Avalon, what should be a shining mystical paradise for knights, has gone really wrong and Arthur has gone not just normal evil, but super evil.
Screens – King Arthur Knight’s Tale
Oh, and you play the bad guy. You’re Mordred, and you’ve killed Arthur at the same moment he’s killed you. Now you’re both in Avalon, but Arthur has gone all kinds of bad, so now you need to kill Arthur… again. To do so, you need to recruit his former knights, enemies, and allies to your side. Basically none of them like you or want to work with you, and depending on your actions some of them will happily abandon you for a return to Arthur’s side. Complicating things are the Lady of the Lake, ancient gods, elves, and all manner of other supernatural stuff cribbed from Celtic, Irish, and Brythonic mythology both pre- and post-Christian.
It’s not perfect. Some characters are flat, and the dialogue is rough here and there, but the whole thing is so over the top that I think it might work anyway. Take the character of Guinevere, who showed up to herald the events of Act 2 that I previewed. She hates you! You killed her in the first place. She also has to put up with you, as you’re the one chosen by the powers that be to put right the islands of Avalon.
She’s just one of 30 characters you recruit, a who’s-who of Arthurian knights from the legendary Lancelot on down to Sir Yvain, who is generally most famous for going crazy and living in the woods.They’re each one of six classes, and you can only take four of them on any given adventure. They’ve got their own personalities, too, which roughly align with the two axes that Mordred has to choose from: Righteous vs Tyrant and Old Faith vs Christian.
Quests are made up of conversations and choices between outcomes that affect your moral compass, but really they’re all about combat. Compared to the flighty, momentum and mobility-based combat of games like Fire Emblem or XCOM, Knight’s Tale smashes armored soldiers against each other in melee scrums. Soldiers have first armor, then hit points, then vitality.
Armor reduces damage, and hit points are something that comes back from quest to quest, but vitality gives you lasting wounds that can keep fighters out of future missions as they recuperate. The trick to success is to exploit positioning to be sure that you’re backstabbing and cutting down opponents faster than they can surround and overwhelm you—you’ll basically always win normal fights, but you also want to take as little damage as possible.
That’s not to say the only way to win is to be an armored juggernaut. Mage, Sage, and Marksman characters have less armor and more powerful ranged attacks. Guinevere is a sage, for example, and is both mobile with powerful melee attacks and has a variety of strengthening spells for allies. Lady Dindraine is a pious archer who can poison and burn enemies from the back line. The core of any fight, however, always did seem to be the armored knights because you’re always outnumbered two or three to one at best.
I liked the combat a lot, a good balance between the fighting of a more tactical wargame with the low numbers and tight margins of a modern tactics title like XCOM. Melee felt impactful, but getting into a close-quarters fight didn’t feel like a tarpit as it can in modern titles based on Dungeons & Dragons. Bosses aside, a good knight could almost always hack their way out or take a few free hits from an enemy on their armor.
From what I’ve played so far, King Arthur: Knight’s Tale will be the kind of game you expect from NeocoreGames, an ambitious game with solid fundamental design that, at times, might reach a bit far in story and scope. From base gameplay alone, however, expect it to be one of the better strategy and tactics RPGs to release in 2022.