OPINION | GAME ON: In grimdark ‘Knight’s Tale,’ Mordred must save Avalon from evil King Arthur

"King Arthur: Knight's Tale" is a turn-based, tactical and role-playing game that twists standard Arthurian myth so Arthur is evil and Mordred must kill him to save Avalon. (Courtesy of NeocoreGames)
"King Arthur: Knight's Tale" is a turn-based, tactical and role-playing game that twists standard Arthurian myth so Arthur is evil and Mordred must kill him to save Avalon. (Courtesy of NeocoreGames)

In "King Arthur: Knight's Tale," don't expect the classic telling of the story, with clear lines between good and evil. In this turn-based, "grimdark" fantasy that evokes "X-COM" vibes, one does what one must, and only history can judge the right of it.

From the minds of a small Hungarian studio NeocoreGames we are brought an enticing, interesting reimagining of the classic British fable of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Except in this telling, the final battle at Camlann between Arthur and Mordred has already happened, and both died in the fight, along with all the other knights.

But from beyond death, Arthur has cursed Avalon, and this time the Lady of the Lake has chosen Mordred, the one man capable of matching Arthur in combat, as her champion, and raised him and the other knights from the grave. His goal? Restore Camelot, re-establish the Round Table and break the curse by killing King Arthur for good.

Along the way, Mordred will recruit companions straight from Arthurian lore such as Merlin, Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot and even Lady Guinevere.

Note that grimdark is a type of speculative fiction that can be dystopian, amoral and violent.

"Knight's Tale" is a lengthy adventure — expect a good 50 to 70 hours of game-play, with some replayability as well.

In all, there are 41 recruitable heroes to join Mordred, who each belong to one of six classes. But you can't take them all with you — only 12 can sit at the Round Table, and only four can be brought to each mission. Some heroes are encountered during missions, but others can only be unlocked through the game's morality system, which slides on a scale of Christianity to The Old Gods, and between Righteousness and Tyranny. Each hero has his or her own beliefs and traits, and their loyalty is not absolute. For example, Merlin is a powerful sage and a believer in the Old Gods, so if Mordred heads down the path of Christianity it can make it difficult to keep Merlin as a follower.

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There's an element of "Darkest Dungeon"-style base building, too, with gold and materials used to restore and upgrade Camelot, adding facilities where heroes can heal wounds, train between missions and trade with merchants.

Combat is satisfying and can be a real challenge if the difficulty is increased. The game starts out fairly small potatoes, fighting simple undead (known as the Lost) and living bandits, but the foes soon progress to powerful undead, banshees, fellow knights who have not joined your cause, and eventually you face epic boss battles against — straight out of Arthurian lore — fey creatures, beast-like monsters, and even a dragon.

In an era where many games are a glitchy mess at official launch, which is seen as just another milestone in an ongoing development process rather than the day a completed, playable, finished product is due (looking at you, "Cyberpunk 2077," "Fallout 76," "Star Wars Battlefront 2"), it's nice to see some real professionals still work in the games industry.

Granted, "King Arthur: Knight's Tale" is not perfect — a consequence of being developed by an indie Hungarian game studio and not a major developer — but they put their limited budget where it counted.

They made a few motion-capture cut scenes, which look great — and then re-used those assets repeatedly. They didn't bother with endless variations of armor and weapons. The knight with the heavy armor and two-handed axe always looks the same, no matter what he's equipped with (cleverly, equipment upgrades are done through attaching "runes" rather than the weapons and armor themselves). This probably saved them a ton of money on hiring artists; but they didn't compromise where it counted, which is a solid combat system, seven enemy factions and more than 50 unique units, and a stable game that doesn't crash repeatedly.

There's nothing in "King Arthur: Knight's Tale" that's particularly groundbreaking, and there isn't much that'll tax the mind — no riddles to solve, really, and the story is a bit on rails, with all roads leading to the final showdown, and all conflicts are resolved by fighting it out — but all the same, it's a solid effort, it's enjoyable to play and it works.

A nice touch is that sometimes conflicts can be resolved with a one-on-one duel rather than a group battle, and that's pretty cool.

‘King Arthur: Knight’s Tale’

  • Platform: PC
  • Cost: $44.99
  • Rating: Mature for violence and adult themes
  • Score: 8 out of 10

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