All is not well with Arthur and his knights. After uniting the kingdom of Britannia and bringing peace to the realm, a mysterious assassin curses the legendary king and heralds the imminent invasion of the ravening Formorians from a demonic realm. The round table has been disbanded, the knights have scattered and turned upon each other and Arthur has to recruit new heroes in order to find a cure for his affliction and defeat the machinations of the Witch Queen Morgawse. It's the perfect starting point for an epic adventure, and King Arthur II is set to deliver in brutal, magical style.
Players will once again plan their campaigns in a turn-based campaign map that's twice the size of the original game; creating their armies and sending their heroes out on text-based quests that resemble the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books. Hero experience and new recruits can be gained from taking part in these interesting sub-missions, along with gold and powerful artefacts which can be combined, sold or crafted into stat-enhancing items. Morality also plays a key role in decision-making, which now affects a cruciform graph of character archetypes that grants special powers and abilities depending on your own personality.
You might be forgiven for thinking that King Arthur II is just business as usual, then... but when battle is joined, the improvements are obvious.
The real time battles are powered by Neocore's new C0re Tech 2 engine, which is capable of rendering up to four thousand simultaneous units and 60,000 character polygons. The scope of the engagements is absolutely enormous, and the maps now consist of 120 million polygons by themselves. Vicious ground troops such as Warg Wolves showcase the gory level of detail and varied animations as they rip and gouge their way through ranks of possessed enemy infantry, with commanders able to zoom out for a strategic overview or plunge into the slaughter at ground level.
However, the new flying units thoroughly steal the show. Dragons and other mythical creatures dominate the skies, creating an interesting rock/paper/scissors dynamic between the implacable airborne horrors and the petrified enemy formations below. Heavy infantry and cavalry are thrown into utter disarray by the appearance of these winged flame-gouting nightmares, but archers and magic users are more than capable of tactically bringing them down if they stray into the line of fire. Savvy commanders will need to deploy their fliers in well-timed attacks in order to exploit vulnerable formations... and defend from similar manoeuvres accordingly.
By far the most important overhaul to the battle mechanics is a much deeper magic system. Commanders can call upon enormous range of spells in combat such as ferocious flame walls, fireballs and even powerful enchantments that change the environment (such as being able to clear the skies from demonic storms for a limited time) - but now both sides have a an ambient resistant shield that protect against incoming hexes. Players will need to break and lower the enemy's magic resistance while constantly bolstering their own, and each spell has its own penetration value that determines whether it will be effective. Shield breaker spells and similar magicks will prove invaluable for lowering resistances, and likewise, terrain, artefacts and shield enchantments can add to this value. Magic will prove to be an exciting and tense metagame that adds a completely new dimension to each engagement.
Casting time and interruption provides another key new feature. Enemy spellcasters typically take time to charge up their magic, allowing players to sneakily pre-empt them with a quicker spell (or cavalry charge) to break their concentration. A number of spells can punch through any resistance and have little or no charging time attached, making them perfect for averting potentially devastating enchantments. The regular clash of massive armies and majestic fliers will be complex and satisfying by itself, but the best battlefield commanders will need to simultaneously keep their eyes on magic alerts and spell resistance levels as well.
King Arthur II is set to launch next January on PC. We'll be following this one with great interest and will keep you updated by the wire.