‘King Arthur: Knight’s Tale’ preview: chivalry is very much dead

The Arthurian sequel fans have been waiting 1500 years for

King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is a bit of a misleading title. The first time I heard about it, my mind jumped to images of do-good knights, running around and doing all the weird shit they were known for in the Arthurian legends. You know – helping an old man who says he’s a wizard (yeah right), hacking off each other’s limbs (for fun), and shopping around Ikea for a round table big enough for 13. That sounds mostly right to me.

I was paying enough attention, however, to recognise a baddie when I saw one. In King Arthur: Knight’s Tale you play as Sir Mordred – a dastardly black knight whom, in the tales, put an end to the eponymous hero before dying to his own gory wounds.

The cool thing about King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is that there’s no creative re-telling, or long campaign build-up to this moment: it’s already happened. King Arthur and Sir Mordred have sufficiently hacked each other to bits, and yet they’re mysteriously back from the dead and looking slightly gruesome.

King Arthur: Knight's Tale
King Arthur: Knight’s Tale. Credit: NeocoreGames.

And that’s how, seconds into NeocoreGames‘ RPG, it neatly chucks your standard fairy tales in the bin. With a former hero turned evil, and the character you play seemingly no better, you’re tasked with escaping jail – and a bit of a moral grey area. In those opening moments, newly resurrected and carving through prison guards with Sir Kay, I found myself echoing that infamous David Mitchell quote: are we the baddies?

When you start getting into the grisly, rotten meat of Knight’s Tale, that’s a question posed to you so often enough that Mordred should get it printed on some plate armour. Brought back to life as the better of two evils, you’re given another chance to choose the legacy that Mordred leaves: do you want to get back to being a big bad bastard, or is your second shot at life a chance to do some good?

This is decided with a fairly robust moral system, which challenges you with a variety of tough choices throughout the game. Early on I was tasked with rebuilding Camelot as the seat of my power, as the castle becomes your central hub to manage your forces and stay healthy between quests. Around the same time, I noticed an event on the world map (your hub to accept missions across the world) that asked me how I wanted to deal with some villains I had previously beaten, a gang of marauders that had terrorised nearby villagers before my arrival. I was given two choices: execute the marauders to provide “justice” to the victims and improve my standing with my new subjects, or sod that and recruit the bandits for some extra manpower around the castle?

King Arthur: Knight's Tale. Credit: NeocoreGames.
King Arthur: Knight’s Tale. Credit: NeocoreGames.

Well, I’m Camelot’s Good Boy, and I chose to…execute them to the last man. But it was the good choice, I promise: as helpfully highlighted with a “good” or “evil” icon, this semblance of justice was exactly what a Good Boy would do.

If that sounds a bit violent, don’t expect it to change when you take your band of knights out on a mission. From the world map, you can deploy your squad to its next quest in a format that will be familiar to fans of Larian Studios. On these quests, you’ll free-run around the map in isometric fashion, and then dip into turn-based combat with your party whenever a fray arises. From what I found, there isn’t too much of an incentive to run around and explore in the world, as loot (gear improvements and cash, namely) is never hidden far from the beaten path you’re on. Because of that, King Arthur: Knight’s Tale feels a lot more like a medieval XCOM than the RPG-heavy Baldur’s Gate, as you’re really just careening from battle to battle with intermittent splashes of story and base building thrown between each fight.

That’s not a bad thing, really. King Arthur: Knight’s Tale packs lots of meaty force into its combat. Sending Sir Kay to swing his massive two-handed sword into someone’s side feels grotesquely weighty, and it’s incredibly satisfying to hew down foes with a series of carefully calculated moves. Combat gets better the later you go on, too: the early addition of a bow-wielding character gives you a bit more variety in how you can tackle encounters, and your morally questionable gang of ruffians unlock more skills to use in battle as they level up. Some of the more exciting missions in Act 2 felt much more comfortable in throwing a daunting amount of enemies at you, and with some new party members entering the mix I found myself really getting into every encounter.

On the other hand, the armour system in this game – which adds an extra layer of protection over your health – works both ways: you’ll feel like a human bulldozer when foolish bandits take a swing at you, but chipping through a particularly tanky boss can feel like a chore if he’s packing enough armour.

Although it’s plenty of fun, the combat in King Arthur: Knight’s Tale doesn’t try to innovate. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and it lacks some of the more detailed combat options you might see elsewhere in the strategy genre. I was fine with that – the combat still does enough to remain interesting throughout longer playtimes, and the setting – a fairy tale that’s been left to rot and moulder in the dark – did wonders for keeping me engaged. Along with an intriguing morality system (even after my preview, I still can’t comfortably say I’m not the baddie), there’s a lot of good in the game that left me wanting to push Mordred’s quest a bit further. It also feels like there’s a lot of replayability to dig into here – there’s two game modes to play depending on whether you’d like to play a more traditional campaign or experience it from a roguelike angle, and I’m half tempted to go back just to see how my various decisions could have played out differently if I felt like being evil.

That’s on top of some of the new Act 2 content I played around with, which included an even wider world map, extra party members, and a fair bit more. I explored some of the later missions in this act to see what a decked-out party feels like, and left feeling very satisfied. Considering the full launch of King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is meant to release with a total of four acts, I’m pretty excited to see what’s yet to come when it releases in full next month.

King Arthur: Knight’s Tale is currently available on Steam in Early Access, with a full PC launch scheduled for March 29. PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions are planned for a later date. 

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