As far as Western mythology goes, the legend of King Arthur is one of the most enduring stories we have. Kept alive for hundreds of years, these tales have been told and reimagined, again and again, each with a unique take on this classic tale. That is where we begin Pendragon, inkle’s newest game, with a well-researched and carefully crafted, every-changing tale.
Much as I tout the King Arthur myth as a renowned classic, I’ll offer a short summary for those unfamiliar – he was Britain’s most legendary King and brought the country out of the Dark Ages, fighting constantly for chivalry and justice, until he was betrayed and struck down by his son Mordred. Also of note in the legend are the Knights of the Round Table, Arthur’s staunchest allies, his wife Guinevere, sister Morgana Le Fay, wizard Merlin and the Lady of the Lake.
Pendragon takes place after the final battle between Arthur and Mordred, but instead of ending with Arthur’s death and being laid to rest on the Isle of Avalon, Pendragon turns the round tables on the player. Arthur is not dead yet and is instead prophesied to have one last, truly final battle with Mordred in Camlann. Playing at one of Arthur’s many allies, you must rush to his aid before it’s too late and gather as much support along the way as you can. The story of Pendragon is thoroughly researched, and it’s clear from the names of places and the fates and personalities of characters that inkle did their homework.
The gameplay of Pendragon is not quite like anything I’ve ever played before, nor anything I’ve come across at cons or from fellow reviewers. It’s an interesting blend of strategy RPG, visual novel and roguelite, something akin to taking Final Fantasy Tactics and Heaven’s Vault, putting them in a blender and adding the boards and procedural generation of Bad North. At the same time, I’d be hesitant to label it as purely a roguelite or an SRPG.
Story and gameplay is conducted on boards, moving your character or characters one square per turn. If there are other characters on the board, dialogue will take place as you move along and if there are enemies, you attempt to outmaneuver them and kill them. Boards are randomly generated with one per location and these change in terms of layout and obstacles every time you start a new game. Going through conversations with other characters you get some opportunities to choose dialogue and also tell fireside tales at camp.
Unlike more involved strategy games, Pendragon doesn’t feature hit points or elaborate ability trees. Instead your attack depends on who goes first, with a very Chess-like flavor to the combat. There are different abilities that you can earn and change as you move through the story, some depending on your other allies and experiences. There’s also a morale meter in the form of a sword that will force you to flee from battle if you play too defensively, and the earning and consumption of rations throughout your journey. While this may sound simple, combined with the varying difficulty levels available for unlocking and the board randomization, each playthrough offers something different.
I enjoyed the simplicity of the gameplay elements of Pendragon, it was less complicated to master than most strategy RPGs but still has the rich story and does still pose a challenge. Much like Chess, it’s how you play the game that makes the biggest difference, though I wasn’t fond of the morale meter punishing you for fighting too defensively. Several times I accidentally backed myself into a corner and wanted to play defensively to get out, only to find that I couldn’t. While in the context of the story, this makes sense – you want to keep going and push forward to save Britain and Arthur – in the context of the game it’s a more shoehorned playstyle.
The art of Pendragon is delightful, and has a simple, stained-glass feel to it, adding to the Old English atmosphere of the game. Characters each have unique designs and while I’m disappointed that none are in their prime – looking at you, Lancelot – it’s accurate to the legends and the time period.
Unfortunately, the music and audio for the game can’t be said to be as delightful. Music was bland and forgettable and none of the characters are voiced, necessitating keeping your eyes glued to the screen so you don’t miss any of the scrolling dialogue in interactions. The game starts to feel at points like you’re simply watching the action play out on a windowpane, rather than being completely involved in it.
For those looking for strategy and more than a tinge of legendary accuracy, Pendragon delivers. With multiple storylines and multiple endings, there is plenty of replayability for those looking to dive deeper into the King Arthur mythos, but you’ll still get a satisfying story from just one play if you’re not looking for that. Though the music and audio is forgettable, the art is lovely and more than makes up for it. So, are you ready to be a knight of the round table?
TechRaptor reviewed Pendragon on PC using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Unique Gameplay Style Blends Strategy and Roguelite
- Well-Researched Histrorical Mythos
- Beautiful Stained Glass Art Style
- Game Punishes Defensive Play
- Forgettable Soundtrack and No Voice Acting