Neocore Games took on the Arthurian legend with their own vision and it looks like they hit the nail on the head, provided that King Arthur: Knight's Tale doesn't lack too much polish.
Everyone knows who King Arthur is as well as that he had a round table filled with knights, some of whom were searching for the Holy Grail. It's known that strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords is no basis for a system of government but that didn't prevent the good king from seating it in Camelot.
The part that may not necessarily be as widely known is that the Arthurian legend has countless retellings and different interpretations. Neocore Games decided to add their own version onto the pile and frankly, I couldn't be happier about it - what I've seen in the first two acts of King Arthur: Knight's Tale had me thinking that March 29, 2022, the launch day for the full game, can't come soon enough.
As I previously mentioned, Neocore's version of the Arthurian legend immediately grabbed my attention, even back when the game was first announced because it successfully subverted the expectations one might have upon hearing "King Arthur". You are not playing as Arthur and you are not on some noble quest that inspires knightly virtues. Instead, you start the game as Sir Mordred, a tyrant who dealt the killing blow to the Once and Future King.
This setting immediately sets the expectations high and thankfully, the execution delivers for the most part. We are introduced to the dark version of Avalon and the characters we meet are desperate while also in various states of decay. If this description sounds like it's straight out of a Souls game, it's because of what Knight's Tale actually feels like, albeit in an isometric view.
Voice acting is generally up to par, with a few exceptions that fit neither the atmosphere nor the character they are portraying. The good news is that these voices don't dominate the experience and listening to the occasional musings of your party member is a nice immersive element, rather than an ear-piercing ordeal.
Speaking of which, the characters you meet are not as fleshed out as you might expect from an isometric RPG. There are no long companion storylines through which you have a constant discourse with them. Instead, the character actively speaks during the recruitment quest, after which they might react to the environment but these are rare occasions.
While this sounds like a major drawback, it really doesn't hold back the journey because of the storytelling system that relies on subtle details instead of copious amounts of exposition. As you go and recruit the knights for your round table, you meet some of the less-known names from the legend as well as prominent figures surrounding King Arthur's mythos.
For example, you meet Balin and Balan, who may not be as famous as the Grail Knight Percivale or Queen Guinevere but each of them gets enough story to set them apart and make them unforgettable - quite the feat in a game with dozens of recruitable companions. Sir Balin, just like he was portrayed in the stories, is not a pleasant knight. The fact he wields two swords immediately tells a significant story from his past, without having to go into tedious exposition.
Meanwhile, it immediately becomes apparent that the more prominent names like Guinevere are highly important, without putting the others down. This is done through the character designs, their traits and more circumstantial details that are not just thrown in front of you in the form of text. Unfortunately, it's impossible to describe these details without spoiling the story so I'll just move on to other things, like gameplay.
Combat in King Arthur: Knight's tale doesn't rely on cover that much but there are abundant opportunities to use it when necessary. That said, you will mostly be forced to craft your team of four differently on a pretty frequent basis.
Each companion you recruit has a different build path depending on their level. Two Champion knights will always be similar but one of them might be able to crush the enemy's armour as soon as you recruit them while others won't be able to do so until level six. This skill shuffle added one of many layers of complexity to building an effective team but finding that sweet spot of four builds with great synergy is not enough.
You also have to consider the morality system as you decide whether you want to be a tyrant, rightful, Christian, follow the old faith or remain neutral. These decisions will open the doors with certain companions and close them with others so keeping an effective team around is as challenging as it is fun and rewarding.
When the time comes to test your team in combat, the game will introduce you to the basics but you will have to progressively learn the systems and develop advanced tactics on your own. When it all comes together, this is one of the sources of accomplishment that will leave you with that feeling of joy after a gaming session.
In my experience, the progression pacing for my characters was just right. As I learned how to weave different skill sets into the perfect killing machine, the game let me repeat the dance a few times to memorise it and then my squad would level up to get new abilities, evolving the tactics further. As a result, gameplay felt fresh through both of the Acts and I wasn't bored for a moment.
The one thing I would point out as a grievance would be the long loading times. These are maps seen from the isometric view and they are not that big so it remains a mystery as to what the game needs to load for so long.
Performance and graphics
Doom and gloom are the two words Avalon is crafted around in this game. That said, there is beauty to be extracted even from a setting like this. An occasional display of glorious architecture or an oasis of beauty in the ruined realm are more impactful than being bombarded with beautiful views at every corner and frankly, it was high time someone figured it out. Props to Neocore for being among the first studios to go in this direction.
Performance hiccups did happen in a few moments but most of the gameplay was smooth. That said, my PC exceeds the recommended specs so this shouldn't be happening but here we are. These issues may be ironed out by the time Knight's Tale launches but nothing can be guaranteed yet.
King Arthur: Knight's Tale is an isometric RPG in a setting that is as unusual as it is original and beautiful in its own right. Neocore Games took the expectations, threw them out the window and offered something that had me glued to the screen while playing and anxious to get back into it while I was away.
As I previously noted, I can hardly wait to get my hands on the full game so I can play through it more than once. Hell, I'm going to start another roguelite through the first two chapters today.
March 29 is gearing up to be a truly magical day. Someone might even throw a sword my way and make me a king.