King Arthur: Knight’s Tale Early Access – inventive turn-based tactics with the soul of Legacy of Kain

X-Camelot

Are you one of the four people on the planet as ferociously invested in cult PS1 classic Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain as I? If so, I have riotous, alarming news: exploring the first few hours of King Arthur: Knight’s Tale took me right back to those blocky, sprite-laden days in some very exciting ways.

There’s a few immediate parallels. The isometric perspective, the dank crypts, the bloody swordplay. All superb, no doubt, but none baked my nostalgia muffins at such a scarily perfect temperature as Knight’s Tale’s voice acting and script. Just like Blood Omen, The tone is thick with fancy lad gloom and baroque, tights-wearing dread. Just like Blood Omen, endearing delivery and deft penmanship make it all very entertaining.

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We’ll start with the protagonist, Sir Mordred, whose chunky, spiked armour makes him look somewhere between a chaos space marine and a Todd McFarlane action figure. I watched the luxurious, dark fantasy intro cinematic, and I was 100% prepared for Mordred to choke a painfully edgy soliloquy out of a hideously scarred voicebox.

But no! He’s well spoken and actually a bit sassy too. He calls the first enemy he meets “lad”, which pleased me a great deal. He’s not even particularly aggressive, just a bit sadistic and disdainful. He has a whiff of the stoic turbowanker about him, but he’s eloquent about it. He’s Kain, basically, but he’s actually on my screen, rather than being lost to the deepest pits of development hell.

I am, admittedly, being unduly selfish with my praise here. King Arthur: Knight’s Tale has more going for it than just appealing to own very specific personal nostalgia. The meat of the experience is turn-based combat which is more reminiscent of Divinity: Original Sin 2 to me. There’s back stabs and opportunity attacks, armour points with squishy flesh health points underneath, and action points that can either be spent or converted for the next term. There’s also a melee overwatch system which is, dare I say, neato.

It’s solid enough, basically. It’s made better by some Goldilocks-length attack animations that don’t sacrifice any of their chunkiness either. So many turn based systems seem to overlook the importance of keeping things moving at a steady clip, and Knight’s Tale really shines here. You can also fast forward through most of the animations, if you’re a caffeine-addled hooligan with no appreciation for the finer things, like a big axe hitting a big man in big armour.

The game currently caps your party at level four, so even though the foundations are solid, there’s no telling if and how the combat will evolve into something that stays entertaining for the long haul. We’ve seen games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and Gears Tactics upend genre conventions in some fantastic ways, so I’m hoping the later stages of Knight’s Tale throws some curve balls. You recruit a lady archer early on who looks like she’s got the sort of abilities that let her chain kills together, so the foundations may well be there for some more complex action-chains later on. We’ll see!

Missions themselves are CRPG-type isometric affairs where you bumble through maps, find treasure, trigger party conversations, and fight battles. Sometimes you find shrines that either help or hinder your party. There are also bonfires scattered about that restore health and armour. You can take a few healing items with you, but they’re initially very limited and expensive, so managing party health over the course of an entire map is another concern.

Perhaps the aspect least explored in the current build is the town management, which lets you use the resources you get from missions to rebuild Camelot. Think Darkest Dungeon, with healers, shops, taverns and the like. There are some roguelike elements that aren’t properly explained – permadeath and lack of manual save – and you seem to be able to use these buildings to heal wounded party members and recruit new ones. Again, the current build doesn’t really do a great job of laying this out for you.

There’s also a morality system which, at the risk of sounding like a broken record – or, uh, a ferociously mauled bard – is another victim of the vertical slice-nature of the current build. It’s hard to get a real feel for how it affects things. The choices themselves seem fairly telegraphed, but there’s also the option to roleplay through in-mission dialogue trees. The few decisions I made were relatively binary, but the writing seems to work hard to justify both paths, so it gets a nice biscuit anyway.

So, praise all around then, and I guess that means you should purchase it immediately, right? Well, maybe not. It took me a fair few restarts to actually make any progress, during which time I suffered a broken camera, broken progression, treasure chests not opening properly, and a few more bushels of assorted Early Access jank. When things did get going, it was generally smooth, but I can’t fully recommend jumping in until the first round of big patches get rolled out. I also had some save issues, and I’m not sure how much this was down to intentional roguelike restrictions, and how much was just bugs and glitches. So, proceed with caution.

That aside though, did I mention how much King Arthur: Knight’s Tale reminded me of PS1 classic Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain? Did I also mention that I love PS1 classic Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain? I might just end up loving King Arthur: Knight’s Tale too.

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