Camlann’s battle between King Arthur and his son Mordred, recounted in a highly narrative strategy game.
“Whoever draws the sword from the rock will be, by right, King of all England.” The Excalibur prophecy, as well as the legend of King Arthur, is one of the best known Celtic myths in Western culture. The story of this exemplary monarch, who represented the justice and protection of his country, has been represented in countless artistic works. Video games have been no exception, and we find multiple references to his figure in different titles, such as the invocation of The Knights of the Round Table in Final Fantasy VII or the Master Sword in The Legend of Zelda. As for works entirely dedicated to the Arthurian cycle, we find King Arthur, an adaptation of the homonymous film by Clive Owen. Likewise, the Inkle study gives us Pendragon, a narrative adventure roguelike available for Windows PC.
Inkle surprised us with Heaven’s Vault, an investigative adventure full of originality. With Pendragon, the British studio shows a creativity that grants a great personality to a strategy title whose plot is built according to the decisions we make in combat. And, although the proposal is attractive, the result is a game that shines for its narrative side, but with an unsatisfactory combat system.
Towards the Battle of Camlann
Who else, who less, knows King Arthur and some of the myths that surround him. The Knights of the Round Table, his wife Guinevere and his affair with Sir Lancelot, the wise Merlin, the mysterious sorceress Morgana… Pendragon is all a celebration of the Arthurian cycle and its most prominent figures, but this time it reviews an episode not so well known as the legend of Excalibur. The course of our game will focus on the myth that put an end to the life of the King: the battle of Camlann, where the duel between Arthur and his son Mordred took place, in which both would perish.
However, and as you would expect from a traditional video game about King Arthur, we will not control him until the game phase. We will start our adventure with another character of our choice and we will start the journey to Camlann to assist the king. We will start with Queen Guinevere or Sir Lancelot, throughout the game we will meet new characters who will join our cast and with whom we can start a new adventure. In reality, the journey to Camlann will not last more than an hour, depending on the detours we take along the way, although the charm consists in seeing how each of the characters lives their own perspective on the legend. If we want to live the epic from all possible points of view, we will arrive at approximately 12 hours of play. Likewise, it is appreciated how Inkle has delved into each of the protagonists, taking the myths as a base and adding very interesting nuances: we will meet Queen Guinevere beyond her infidelity or an individualistic Morgana but with a noble sense of justice.
On a narrative level, Pendragon is very enjoyable. As we behave on the board and the decisions we make during the journey, relationships between the characters will be built. In combat, abusing a defensive strategy excessively can make us look like cowards, and it will reduce our morale until it is exhausted and flee, leaving our allies behind. Even if the battle goes bad, some companions may leave us to our fate. On the other hand, recklessness against strangers can be punished with the loss of a possible and valuable alliance. As an interesting addition, we have the nights around the bonfire in which one character tells a story to another inspired by Celtic legends.
An unbalanced game of chess
From our starting point, we will decide which route to follow to get to Camlann. After each encounter, new locations will be unlocked for us to continue on our way. In each of them, a board will be opened that we must overcome by reaching the other extreme. In the style of a chess with its own rules both in movement and attack, we will move while we deal with the characters or creatures that come our way. Taking turns, we will decide how to approach the enemy, what abilities to use and we will assess whether it is worth killing him or looking directly for the exit. Likewise, there will also be encounters in which the only thing we have to do is move while having a conversation with a non-player character. According to our decisions, we will be able to find food with which to survive from day to day.
However, as we have commented previously, the strategic part shows more deficiencies with respect to the narrative side. As good roguelike, we must very well measure the enemy and our resources to reach the battle against Mordred and be victorious and, of course, death will return us to the starting square. The movements of each type of character and antagonist are easy to memorize, but sometimes we will have the feeling that there are aspects of the game that are beyond our knowledge. Depending on our attitude in combat and with our allies, we will unlock a series of skills that will replace the previous ones. The problem is that we will never know under what criteria we will acquire one power or another, and the option of being able to keep the former would be appreciated. Also, applying the strategy reading to the contrary will not always be easy, since the AI behaves unpredictably and it does not help that the defense is punished in the game. On the other hand, the replayability is the best fed aspect of the game, as we will be curious to discover and meet all the playable characters. Also, as we complete a lap – whether or not Mordred defeats us – we will unlock new levels of difficulty.
A legend among stained glass
On an artistic level, the design is very original and striking. stained glass style of the characters and appreciates how some stereotypes of epic fantasy are challenged. Far from having warriors of idealized beauty, we will see figures with more realistic and diverse appearance. Each of the characters has their own depth and charisma, although the secondary allies do end up being a copy between them that ends up being repetitive in each turn. Warriors with thick bodies and mature faces, far from the golden youth of a hero. The interaction interface is accessible and simple from the first glance, as well as the elegant and legible font. On the other hand, the BSO, while creating a decent setting, doesn’t stand out much further. It is also a pity that the texts are only available in English, although these are a literary delight for those who know the language.
For lovers of the Arthurian cycle and Celtic mythology, Pendragon will be a game very enjoyable for its narrative component and his relative allegiance to the legend of King Arthur. It is a joy to be able to build each story according to our decisions, the locations we visit and our attitude on the board. With a more solid strategy system, this would be that King Arthur game we deserve.
Pendragon is a proposal with great personality, with a strong narrative component based on the construction of a story developed according to the decisions made in combat. We are facing a pleasant celebration of the Arthurian cycle, in which we revisit almost all its characters and the battle of Camlann, and where the unlockable protagonists will invite us to return to the game again and again. The narrative side is attractive and relatively faithful to Celtic mythology, with very interesting licenses. It would be the game about King Arthur that we deserve, if not because his strategy system, inspired by chess, is unsatisfactory and unbalanced, although well-intentioned.
- Excellent narrative built through in-game behavior.
- A great celebration of the Arthurian cycle.
- An unsatisfactory combat system.
- No translation into Spanish.
- Sometimes the punishment for defensive behavior is unfair.
It meets the expectations of what a good game is, has quality and does not have serious flaws, although it is missing elements that could have taken it to higher levels.