What if you made an XCOM game, but set it in a uniquely dark fantasy universe with melee combat instead of ranged? That is the impression that first comes to mind when you take a cursory look at King Arthur: Knight’s Tale, and it’s kind of a simplification. Because yes, that is exactly what this game appears to be, and many of its core systems have been borrowed from the legendary Sci-Fi series, but it is also more than that.
It layers on new systems on top of that formula, most of which have also been borrowed from other games, and delivers a turn-based strategy experience where your choices matter more than in most similar games. It also fully commits to its own version of the classical legend of King Arthur and lets us experience a twist on it that we’ve rarely seen before, especially in the medium of video games.
But do all of this game’s choices pay off, and does it stand out as something worth investing time into? Well, the answer to that depends on what you’re looking for, and how much you enjoy the strategy genre.
Story And Setting
As mentioned before, King Arthur: Knight’s Tale places an extremely grimdark twist on the Arthurian legends of old. No longer is this a story of wonder and awe-inspiring heroes, this is a dark and broken tale where horrors reside around every corner and morality is flimsy at best.
The game begins by placing you in the shoes of Sir Mordred, a figure within the legends that has often been portrayed as a rival and antagonist to the great King Arthur. A brief cutscene shows the two men engaged in heated combat before both manage to mortally wound each other and die. But as fate would have it, death does not come so easily to either.
You, as Sir Mordred, are then brought back to life by the Lady of The Lake and told that King Arthur is still alive, and he’s not the man he once was. Your duty now is to kill him once again and perhaps restore the world to some semblance of order. But the choice of how you accomplish this task is still ultimately yours, and decisions you make in the game will determine the status of Sir Mordred as either a Hero or a Villain.
King Arthur: Knight’s Tale features a morality system where the decisions you make impact the world you inhabit and your role within it. You can choose to either be Righteous in your decisions and choices or go full-on Tyrant and murder and steal as you please. You also have the choice of either adhering to Christianity or the Old-Faith as your religion.
While playing through the story and completing tasks, you will encounter many of the great heroes of the Knights of The Roundtable. From major figures like Sir Lancelot the Brave to other lesser-known knights, there are around 30 different characters you can recruit to your cause, and the decisions you make with them have an impact how they behave with you both in and out of combat.
So let’s say that you choose a religion or a way of ruling that is in line with the beliefs of a particular character in the game. Not only will they start to show their appreciation with dialogue, they will also get much better in combat and unlock skills that make them a valuable asset. Choose to go counter to their beliefs, and not only will they be hostile to you, but they may also actually leave your party and defect to the other side if you push them far enough.
So this creates an interesting metagame, where you have to pick and choose the type of character you want Sir Mordred to be. Are you going to be a Righteous ruler or a merciless Tyrant, a faithful Christian or a heretical Pagan? Because your choices will determine not only your abilities but also the infrastructure and units you have access to.
It’s an interesting system that yields the most rewards when you pick a side and commit to it. Because while threading the needle and staying mostly at neutral alignment is technically possible, you’re also choosing to forgo some of the best upgrades in the entire game since they are found at the extremes of the Morality compass.
The core gameplay of King Arthur: Knight’s Tale revolves around a grid-based battlemap similar to what you might find in a lot of turn-based strategy games. Players can freely move their units within the confines of these maps, attack enemies directly, flank unsuspecting foes from range, or generally perform all manner of buffs and other relevant actions. You know what to expect if you’ve played XCOM, and I don’t think I have to explain every intricate detail to anyone.
A lot of strategy games put some sort of limiter on your ability to perform any of these tasks, and that is where Action Points come into play. Action Points, or APs for short, determine the types of things your units can do before they have to end their turns. So for example, moving spaces consumes APs, and depending on the amount you move you may not have the resource left over for other tasks.
If a character only has 5 AP to start with, and their attack abilities all cost a minimum of 2 points, then you have to make sure to conserve that amount in order to deal damage. If you’re not careful and you manage to spend 4 out of the character 5 APs to move, then you’re left in a situation where you cannot do anything else. But the game also gives you the ability to carry forward any remaining AP you might have left over into the next turn. Managing this resource is a key component of the gameplay, and proper utilization can be the difference between victory and defeat.
In terms of characters classes, you have all the regular archetypes you might expect to see in a strategy game, but the names are different of course. There are six classes in total, and they cover the basics of both melee and ranged combat. For example, heavily armored Champions have high defense and also deal high melee damage. Vanguards on the other hand specialize in deploying traps, but their defense isn’t great. Marksmen are able to inflict massive damage from range, but at close range, they are basically enemy fodder.
As I said, none of the classes you’ll find here are particularly new or groundbreaking, but they are functional. The different abilities they have to offer are useful in a variety of different situations, and you’ll never be left wanting. But when you do jump into combat, you have to restrict yourself to a maximum of four different classes, because that’s the number of units you can actually take into combat at a time.
Many of the 30 or so characters in the game also have access to their own unique abilities, alongside the standard ones they share with members of their class. And learning and developing a proper grasp of what class is suited for which type of scenario is the difference between good and great players. Remember, brute force does not win as many battles as proper strategizing does.
Players also have to keep track of each character’s Armor, Hit Points, and Vitality separately, which can be a bit confusing at first. Basically, a unit’s Armor rating determines the amount of damage they can absorb before their health actually suffers. If someone has an Armor rating of 6, then that means that an attack dealing 10 damage will have the first 6 points negated by the Armor, and the rest will then be subtracted from the target’s total Hit Points. If an attack only deals 6 points or less of damage, then the target is not affected in any way.
The Hit Points value is a character’s surface level health pool. These replenish between combat encounters, and they can even drop down to 1 HP without the unit ever really being at risk. After this point, however, both Injuries and Death are completely different matters altogether.
Because when the Hit Points run out, all that’s left is the Vitality. This is a character’s main health pool, and taking damage to this puts a character at great risk of injury or even death if it falls far enough. These points cannot be recovered in between battles, and you have to send an injured character to rest for them to return to full fighting power. Take care of your knights, and never let their Vitality fall if you can help it.
A big part of strategy games like this is the management layer of gameplay that determines your ability to be an effective commander. You have to utilize the resources at your disposal and invest them wisely to get the most out of your units in and out of combat.
So as you win fights or complete missions, you’re rewarded with the obvious experience points, but also Gold and Building Resources. You have to use these not only to build infrastructure in your home base of Camelot, but also to upgrade them multiple times to unlock key training and healing tools.
For example, your characters will not recover their Vitality without the Hospice building being constructed. And the more you upgrade and invest in this, the more knights can rest there at the same time and the faster they recover. This is actually really important if you find that your playstyle leaves your units injured often.
Additionally, you can acquire gear from a variety of different sources such as defeating enemies or even purchasing them from the Merchant building in Camelot. These provide massive boons to your characters such as improving their Armor, increasing their damage, and even providing them with various recovery options. Some of these are open to all types of units, but many are also class specific.
It’s a decent system that allows your units to exceed their limitations and even makes them strong enough to take on foes that might otherwise outclass them. So properly learning what works for each class is once again the key to effective performance in combat.
Visuals And Performance
King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is not a remarkably pretty looking game, in fact, it looks downright ugly at times. I was also really bothered by the muted color palette and the lack of variety when it comes to the maps. After a while, most of the locations started to blend together until I was unable to distinguish one from the other. There are some areas that are clearly more unique and a lot more effort was put into them. And while they themselves are great, they also further highlight the differences in quality between them and the others.
I understand that this game was made by a small studio, so I’m not going to rail on it for too long because I have always been a proponent of gameplay over visuals. And while the game mostly delivers on the gameplay department, it still would have been nice to see some higher quality textures. Graphics are almost never a priority for me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t appreciated.
But what King Arthur: Knight’s Tale lacks in graphical fidelity, it makes up for in pure commitment to the grimdark setting. The game is absolutely dripping with style and personality, and the oppressive atmosphere does wonders for the tone of the story.
In terms of performance, the game mostly ran great with only a few minor framerate drops every now and then. My experience was also mostly bug free, and I never encountered anything resembling a game breaking bug. Even visuals bugs were an incredibly rare occurrence, to the point that they’re not worth talking about. Nothing really hindered by experience to complete the game.
King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is a gritty and highly atmospheric title that wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeves, and the end result is an immensely enjoyable twist on the formula that has a lot more to offer on top of that.
But it’s not an incredibly unique game, and it’s going to have some trouble appealing to fans of the genre that are looking for something new and unique. On the other hand, players who are new to these types of games will find a lot to enjoy.
The core gameplay is familiar but solid, and the morality system adds a welcome layer of strategy to your choices. The management layer is also more of what we’ve come to expect from the genre, and it never really exceeds expectations in any meaningful way.
All in all, this is a really solid, if unsurprising game. I had a lot of fun with it, but I don’t think I’m ever going to come back to it.
- Great Strategy Combat.
- Tried And Tested Formula.
- Grimdark Twist On Established Arthurian Legends.
- Morality System.
- Uninspired Gameplay Loop.
- Bland Locations And Muted Color Palette.
- Lack Of Originality.
King Arthur: Knight’s Tale Rating – 3.5/5
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