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King Arthur: Legion IX Review

Mento’s Mori

Considering our lukewarm reception of the base game, reviewing the stand-alone expansion King Arthur: Legion IX is perhaps a troubling choice. But I wanted to see how the team at Neocore Games would iterate upon the potential of the base game, Knight’s Tale, and its (at times) fantastic turn-based tactical combat system. I’m happy to report that my gut instinct was right and this team has now come within a hair’s breadth of perfecting the series’ robust and satisfying encounter design, while additionally stamping out all the bugs. Add to that a delectable, no-fluff cost of $29 and this game represents not just a stark paring back in price but also scope. Luckily, my main issue with Legion IX’s predecessor was its outrageous time-sinking bloat which is now nowhere in sight. Also not missed is the game’s hardcore permadeth elements which only served to steer players towards repetitive grind. 

The story sprinkles enough pulpy, dark twists on Pendragon mythology to coax the interest of those who steered the Knights of the Round Table in the previous game. Newcomers are also welcome here, with this side story not intersecting with any of the narrative baggage of the series outside of seeing a few familiar Arthurian faces. The titular Legion IX is an undead band of Roman warriors led by Gaius Julius Mento that have escaped from their afterlife in the underworld and have now taken it upon themselves to turn their residing limbo of Avalon into a new Roman Empire. 

Aside from the agile sword-fighter in our protagonist and cover character (the aesthetically frightening but otherwise prudent and tempered Mr. Mento), the player’s beginning entourage includes the tanky brute Octavius Remus and spellcaster Plutonius Nerva. This trio’s early skill synergies will quickly bring players up to speed on the nuance and flow of King Arthur’s tight and challenging battle scenarios. With only three initial abilities each, the player will be pulling off risky tactical plays with combos chained in such a way as to make them feel smart. Because the player’s turn is unstructured, they can freely spend movement and action points between any party members in partial order rather than execute a single character’s entire turn before planning the next hero’s. For players wanting to eke out the maximum efficiency on their turns, the reasonably high skill ceiling will take dozens of hours to master.

Events pose dilemmas between chapters that help ground the narrative and add stakes

As the so-called legion grows in power and influence by raiding the lands around their developing settlement of Nova Roma, conversations and progression systems soon appear. The present and future members of the legion will have vastly different (potentially inhumane) visions for the future of your developing Roman enclave. These are represented as morality and reputation sliders with certain dialogue and narrative choices changing how later missions and character motivations will branch. While this all adds to some great thematic flavour, it all proves to be a tad overambitious by the credits. There are not enough decisions given to the player by the game’s end to make any great impact on any of the morality and loyalty sliders outside of a few minor stat modifiers. During the later chapters, some characters take it upon themselves to wander in and out of the party due to their alignment, putting some strain on the player’s ability to manage a reduced fighting force. Those unexpected hurdles result in some appropriately daunting scenarios which were elating to overcome. While I appreciate that the systems tied to building Nova Roma and managing your legion do not demand any prolonged attention or skill from the player, there’s not enough emphatic feedback for decisions outside of manipulating the numbers behind characters’ combat stats with seemingly much left unexplored by the credits.

There are also still some odd design choices carried over from Knight’s Tale. It remains slightly frustrating that you still cannot use potions that you’ve picked up during a given chapter until it has concluded. A chapter already comprises multiple lengthy battles, this health potion would be helpful now, please! Returning players will already be playing a guessing game about how many combat encounters will be in a given location once they start clearing the fog of war, using this hopeful projection to manage the few healing resources the player is given. It typically results in heaps of backtracking to unextinguished campfires, an uninterestingly slow trek during every chapter that returns from the base game. Exploration is still a bit boring, with paltry amounts of obscured gold to be uncovered and the occasional surprising gear piece. The little slices of Avalon that players explore from a top-down perspective best serve as a needed respite between the mentally demanding battles, but players hoping to be served with a side of adventure may be disappointed.

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Grid-based tactical RPGs are my love language. Embrace the green tiles

A bandaid on managing your party’s health through marathon chapters is the inclusion of characters with greater healing utility, like your fourth recruit Virgila who can evenly distribute the party’s HP. One of my favourite things about this game is how each of the unique handful of party members that Mento recruits can all be built to complement interesting plays and tactical combos. Players are encouraged to really dig deep into these immortal characters who cannot permanently perish like those in the previous game. 

With mastery over this legion comes the confidence to spice things up with some risky modifiers that the game metes out with satisfying victories. Take for instance the addition of the Lars system. This new addition is a gameplay modifier that fundamentally changes how combat flows, which leads to wildly new and satisfying approaches to your tried and true strategies. These relics can be obtained by exploring the otherwise relatively empty maps within a mission and enabling them back in the hub city between missions. They enable weird roguelite twists like being able to have your heroes draw down on their future turns’ action points now and cause a deficit of AP. This represents the deliciously tough proposition of being able to cause enough damage now at the cost of being ineffective and vulnerable next round, or restoring 10% vitality but losing the ability to restore it at campfires. Suppose you’re the kind of person who gets positively sweaty about having the power to pull those kinds of levers in a turn-based tactical puzzle, you’re unlikely to find an experience as experimental and satisfying in this space right now.

The relative emptiness of environments dampens exploration

It’s a shame about the voice acting and incidental writing though. Most of the undead legion, especially Mento, sound like they’re talking through a fan. When Mento gets attacked during a fight, one of his common response lines is, “You really want to kill me, don’t you?” enunciated with a distractingly flirtatious affectation. There are also too many low-effort observational call-outs in broken or baffling English. Cutscenes fare better, but poor editing often blends sentences together and isn’t without some amateur exclamations. There has been effort put into the critically important dialogue and event text, but there is also an equal amount of letters and object text to fill in the world without actually adding any memorable texture to this depiction of Arthurian myth.

Final Thoughts

Legion IX offers a tight, truncated, and laser-focused snapshot of its ambitious-though-flawed forebear. It’s a damn fine value proposition at half the price of the base game that also does away with half that game’s troublesome baggage. A considered refinement of the Knight Tale’s robust tactical engine that gives the player a small but diverse party that is fine-tuned to make smart plays feel like triumphs. The frustrating character management systems are stripped back and refined, cutting away dozens of hours of fluff resulting from hero permadeath and grind. The best thing going for this game is that its turn-based combat encounters that make up the overwhelming majority of this experience are just so bloody good. The core combat system was the best part of Knights Tale, and this expansion just zeroes in on that while smartly reshaping itself with thoughtful encounter design in every chapter.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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King Arthur: Legion IX Review
A Touch Of Christian Magic
Succeeding with a smaller scope, Legion IX is tighter and more satisfying than the base game, though still pained by odd design holdovers and bad audio.
The Good
The Lars modifiers empower player experimentation
Encounter design superior to the base game
Lean, lengthy, and affordable
The Bad
Everything outside of combat remains a bit mid
Voice acting is annoyingly distorted and often comical
Investing in Nova Roma’s systems between missions doesn’t quite pay off
7
Solid
  • NeocoreGames
  • NeocoreGames
  • PC
  • May 10, 2024

King Arthur: Legion IX Review
A Touch Of Christian Magic
Succeeding with a smaller scope, Legion IX is tighter and more satisfying than the base game, though still pained by odd design holdovers and bad audio.
The Good
The Lars modifiers empower player experimentation
Encounter design superior to the base game
Lean, lengthy, and affordable
The Bad
Everything outside of combat remains a bit mid
Voice acting is annoyingly distorted and often comical
Investing in Nova Roma’s systems between missions doesn’t quite pay off
7
Solid
Written By Nathan Hennessy

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