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Dragons look!

It doesn't matter who you are, everybody loves dragons. From their mythic roots where they fill a marked niche somewhere between wizards, warhorses and dinosaurs, right up to the ‘modern' videogame dragon, which is essentially the fantasy game version of a helicopter gunship. Good guys, bad guys, mounts and bosses - they're a pretty versatile bunch.

King Arthur - The Role-playing Wargame was something of an eye-opener last year, a very real competitor to the Total War series in a lot of ways. The fantasy elements and strongly defined background made it a game easy to get immersed in. There were plenty of layers and, while oriented specifically for single-player and only really absorbing for a single playthrough, Neocore proved that they had the imagination and definition to put out a solid and, for the most part original, wargame.

Giants, wargs, and other fantastical beasts were par for the course, obviously. Otherwise it's not fantasy, it's just incorrect history. Spells and abilities meant you had more magic knights running about the place than Mastertronic. But where were the dragons?

Ah, here they are, look. In this DLC. King Arthur - The Druids tells the flip-side story to its forerunner, King Arthur - The Saxons. Many of the developments that were first seen in that package are present here too, such as the diplomacy system. There's a couple of new spells, a few new monsters (including the aforementioned big lizards, of course) and a new playable faction.

Trouble is, there's not really a lot more. The simple-yet-elegant quest system from the core game has been relaxed considerably, giving the game more of a ‘sandbox' feel (including user-set victory conditions) at the cost of really setting itself apart from the original. Of course, the Druids are the faction of the Old Religion, so there's the odd ‘beat up the Christians' quest here and there, but none of them show the thought and imagination that pervaded King Arthur the core game. All of the random quests from the original are still in The Druids, in a completely unchanged state, so be prepared for all the flavour text to still assume you're King Arthur.

The Druids themselves are a new class of playable character, in their white robes and with their staffs, as you'd expect. +10% to mana, can't ride horses. There. Otherwise, they're just knights, same as all the others.

There's just something missing here, to really set this DLC apart thematically from the original. Sure, you start in Wales, and start with a stronghold and a druid, and there are a couple of quite cool new magic items and spells (such as invite unseeelie warriors, that allows you to summon a posse of glowing blue badasses for a couple of minutes to play merry hell with your enemy's archers), but after a couple of hours of battles, troop musters and stronghold management I felt a little too much like I was playing King Arthur with all the interesting bits stripped out.

When The Druids was announced, of course, it was the dragons that really garnered interest. You could chuck a dragon in the new GTA game and everyone would be happy, so it was really only a matter of time until the scaly little buggers turned up in a King Arthur DLC. You get one to a unit, and they're tough as old boots. Plus, they can breathe fire at approaching enemies, with a paltry 4-second cooldown, so you can blast the things out like crazy. Otherwise, they're just another army unit.

So I'm a games reviewer, and it's in my nature to be picky and critical. There is plenty of fun to be had here if you're a fervent fan of the original game. A new starting location, with a diplomacy system that stands up to a fair amount of abuse, actually makes the game a little different to approach. The map is precisely the same as the core game map, so it's familiar to long-time players, but a different approach is required due to starting resources and neighbours. There are a few interesting groups aside from the rival kings with whom you can deal in the diplomacy system including prospective wives, the Sidhe, and the outlaws. Of course, the cost of the game is lower (as it's DLC), but so is the amount of fun you're likely to be able to squeeze out of it.

It would have been nice if the new items, spells and monsters, not to mention the diplomacy system, could be selected as options in the original game, as a way of adding fresh life to the main game. Surely that wouldn't have been too difficult to implement. All in all, it just feels like this DLC had been either rushed out, or not really had enough resources allocated to it.

A final word of warning: the current Gamersgate download for The Druids installs by default to a folder that doesn't work with the Gamersgate download for the main game, so some minor tweaking is required in order to get it all working smoothly. I can only speak for Windows 7 64-bit, which is how it was running on my test machine. Further details can be found here.

 

The unsselie Sidhe can turn the tide of battle