Arthur's Knights: Tales of Chivalry
Arthur's Knights: Tales of Chivalry is a game steeped in mythology and belief. Some of the myths and beliefs it perpetuates are that 3D games must be keyboard controlled; that graphics make a game; that adventure games are all about story; that keyboard control allows for precise movement; that adventure game puzzles are all about running errands; and that by allowing two paths through the game using pretty much the same locations with only slight variations in the story and characters will make us think we have got value for money.
Strip away the myths and what you have left is a game that is pretty to look at but is repetitive and tedious in terms of gameplay. Whether you choose to play as Bradwen the Celtic Warrior or as Bradwen the Christian Knight you will essentially be playing as Bradwen the errand boy. There is little variety in the puzzles and very little challenge. For the most part you talk to characters who tell you what you must do. For example Merlin needs some salt for a ritual, you jump on your horse and travel to the only location available and talk to a character who gives you the salt. You then jump on your horse and travel back to Merlin and give him the salt. Even in other adventure games that may require some errands you usually have other obstacles to overcome before you can get the item.
Conversations are crucial not only because they hold most of the answers in this game but also because they trigger events, can decide the outcome of fights, and even allow you to acknowledge the existence of certain items. Often if you haven't been told about an item or artefact you can't interact with it in any way. This means you must pass it by and then return to its location once you know it is significant. Hence there is plenty of trudging around but this really only gives the illusion of complexity and challenge. Rather than presenting interesting problems the game becomes an exercise in talking to the right person. Even the riddles presented by the fairies are not too difficult and boil down to simple multiple choice answers.
I played all the way through the Celtic Path and about half way through the Christian Path before I decided that it just wasn't worth it and there were much better things I could be doing with my time. There didn't seem much point in playing out essentially the same scenarios and by this stage I'd had enough trudging back and forth. I longed for much more interaction with the gameworld but the limitations of the interface effectively prevented that.
The game introduction shows a young pageboy who visits Master Foulque, a Fifteenth Century librarian and chronicler who has written a tale of Bradwen at King Arthur's court. From here you can choose which path, Celtic or Christian, Bradwen will take as Master Foulque will commence the story based on your choice of red or white book.
Bradwen's tale unfolds as you play the game. At a time when the Romans have left Britain the various tribes are rivals for power and refuse to unite to overcome the common enemy, the Saxon invaders. Bradwen (who sounds at times like Nigel Planer who played the long-haired, lentil-loving hippy in The Young Ones) is the illegitimate son of Cadfanan, ailing King of the Atrebates tribe. Bradwen's evil and scheming brother, Morganor, is the heir to Cadfanan. During the course of the game Bradwen will become a Knight at Arthur's court and seek justice against the actions of his brother no matter which path he takes.
The story itself is mildly interesting and touches briefly on the notion of a world in transition where the worship of the Goddess in her many guises is replaced by the worship of a solitary God. This transition, fascinatingly explored in Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, is presented here only as background colour and fairies. It might have been more interesting had Bradwen, the Celtic Warrior, resisted the imposition of this new religion on his traditional beliefs. Instead he succumbs meekly (perhaps in the hope of inheriting the earth). That there was resistance to the imposition of Christianity is illustrated by the new creed's subsuming of ancient beliefs and Gods and Goddesses and festivals within its own mythology to win over the recalcitrant populace. In the Christian path of this game we learn that the Celtic White Mare Goddess Epona is relegated to the ranks of Christian Saint. Alas, the game chooses to skirt the issues by charting a non-provocative and superficial path through this explosive and brutal period in history.
Arthur's Knights: Tales of Chivalry is primarily a keyboard controlled 3D adventure game that allows use of the mouse only for conversations, all of which are subtitled, and for selecting items within a pop up menu that includes your inventory and portraits of characters and items you can ask about. You can't use the mouse at all to interact within the game world. The keyboard is used to navigate your character through the game via the arrow keys (plus the shift key to run or gallop if on horseback) and the spacebar is the all-purpose interaction key.
The manual claims that keyboard control allows for precise movement of the characters. I beg to differ, though the claim has some merit in that you must manoeuvre your character to a ridiculously small precise spot before you can do anything. Simply opening doors became an exercise in precision in moving my character incrementally along and pressing the spacebar more in hope than any certain knowledge that I might have achieved the exact location.
The graphics are excellent with many animations and interesting locations. The fluidity of Bradwen's horse galloping is remarkable but I would have gladly traded this feature for more use to be made of the travel icon. Part of the problem is that there are areas where Bradwen can only ride his horse, there is no scope for any other interaction whilst on horseback. Interspersed with these scenes are locations where Bradwen dismounts and you can carry out actions in the gameworld. So you get the ludicrous situation at times of having to travel from one part of the gameworld to another several locations away by riding, walking, riding, walking and waiting for each location to reload. I am still not sure how your squire, Corwyn, manages to keep up.
There is some fighting but the game controls it for you. If you have the right item or information in your possession you can't lose, if not you can't win. A cut sequence will show you the outcome and these are not extended or gory. Even a scene where you must relieve an ogre of his head avoids gore. This and other elements of the story suggest that the game is aimed at a younger audience and delivers lessons in chivalry and adherence to a code of honour. There is even an 'edutainment' component in the form of a Historical Database that is updated as you play where you can learn about many facets of life during the Dark Ages. Similarly you can review your progress through the game by clicking on the storybook. Blank lines indicate that you have yet to do something or even that you may have missed something, though it isn't necessary to have every line complete.
The game comes on three CDs and unfortunately must always be started with the first disk in the drive. There are only ten save game slots, but this is sufficient. You can have games going in both paths at the same time as there is scope for as many as five people to play each with their own saves.
Most readers would be aware by now how much I dislike keyboard control because it limits interaction and emphasises navigation. Arthur's Knights is a classic case although navigation isn't difficult (except for the need for precise positioning) as the beautiful graphics are largely made up of invisible barriers illustrating how little there is to interact with. Most of the interesting objects in the game are literally untouchable and remain clever bits of detail such as the two cats and roaring fire in Bradwen's home. There are some changing camera angles but nothing to disorient the player unduly and don't forget this is not a game where you are going to be attacked all the time.
I know that there are some players who find this sort of game with keyboard control to be immersive, I can only disagree. For me immersion in a game only occurs when I can interact freely and easily with items in the gameworld as part of seeking solutions to a range of problems to be overcome. Pretty graphics, talking to characters and running errands just aren't enough.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2001.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98/ME, PII 300Mhz (PII 350Mhz recommended), 64MB RAM, 95MB Hard disk space, 12xCD ROM drive (24xCD ROM recommended), 8MB DirectX 7.0 compatible 3D video accelerator card, keyboard, mouse.