Once Upon A Knight proves that two games in one doesn't necessarily mean more value. This game of a fairy tale prince imprisoned by an evil wizard has two full campaigns to play out -- one as a computer role-playing game and the second as a real-time strategy game. Unfortunately, neither live up to genre expectations, and what the developers managed to create was a RPG/RTS game that is wacky at times but always flawed.
The two campaigns are connected through a common story, but are separated by several years worth of in-game time. No matter what, the game opens with an animated intro that shows the good Prince John being sent off into a planar void by the evil sorceror Valtamand. However, the prince has his faithful allies in his army and in the magician Gallus.
The RPG takes place during the years that the prince is missing. Players choose from one of seven different character types (archer, knight, barbarian, spearman, priestess, sorceror, amazon mage) and are quickly told through on-screen dialogue that the magician Gallus has gone missing -- and Gallus is the kingdom's best hope for bringing back Prince John. The heroic character sets off to find Gallus.
In traditional RPG fashion, players guide their chosen heroes through various small quests as they work their way toward the end battle with Syff, Queen of the Depraved. The mechanics of the RPG campaign can easily be compared to several action RPGs like Dungeon Siege and the Diablo series. Controlling the hero is as simple as left-clicking on where you want him (or her) to go or what you want the hero to attack. However, the character has a mind of his own and doesn't necessarily obey commands right away or at all. A more severe problem is in the maps. Just because it looks like the hero can walk through a flat area doesn't really mean he can. It's all too common to click on a place you'd like the hero to walk to and find him taking the longest way around possible.
Although it gets quite frustrating, players will quickly learn that a fair bit of each mapped area is not accessible. Put simply, this is just bad planning on the developer's part.
There are eight chapters to the RPG campaign, each with various goals that must be met, but players can take advantage of pre-story chapters to earn some character levels for their heroes and thus be more prepared for the full story. Unfortunately, the pre-story chapters aren't very detailed and the goals are at times not easily identified, but the option to kill a few wolves and other bad nasties for some much-needed experience points is enough of to make them of use to players before beginning the long haul.
Like with most RPGs, as characters gain levels, their abilities improve. In this case, each level gained will give the player a few points with which to spend on abilities, allowing players to customize the characters to a certain extent.
Aside from the shoddy mapping system and sketchy gameplay mechanics (again, I repeat that characters have minds of their own), Once Upon A Knight's RPG campaign also suffers from repetitive one-liners. This is a common complaint about computer and video games in general, but there's still only so many times I can hear the knight quip "Is there a fight in it?" before wanting to gouge my ears out with a spoon.
As RPGs go, gamers would be better off picking up one of the several Dungeons & Dragons-branded adventures out there. Does that leave some hope for the RTS fan? Sadly, not really. If the RPG side is flawed, the RTS side is downright mediocre.
The RTS campaign begins with the safe return of Prince John, who must set out to revitalize his troops and bring them together in an orderly fashion to destroy Valtamand's forces. However, labeling this part of the game as a "real-time strategy" is akin to labeling Survivor "reality." You can do it, but it's just not an accurate description.
The RTS campaign at first feels more like an RPG than the RPG campaign does. Gallus has saved Prince John from the void and sent him on his way to rally what few troops of his remain. To get to his troops, though, the prince must quest for his original armour, shield and sword. It's not until after the armour quest that the prince is able to take his first band of allies out to help settle the score with the evil wizard.
Some strategy is involved in combat, but like in the RPG, the units have minds of their own and pretty well do as they please when it suits them. Rallying the troops becomes a frustrating task, and trying to get the archers (who die very quickly) to stay behind the grunts (who don't die quickly) was a very difficult task. Far too many of my archers died in some of the most basic fights.
Just like in RTS titles like the Age of Empires series, building is part of the game. At certain times, the prince and his forces will need to complete tasks like rebuild and expand a village and defend it. Few hints are given as to what the exact goals of each stage are, so at times it feels like groping in the dark to figure out how to complete a task.
Using cows in the strategy is perhaps the only noteworthy addition to the RTS genre. Players must build stables for the cows, send the bovines out to pasture and then bring them back in to milk them for much-needed resources. While interesting and somewhat amusing at times, it really doesn't save this game from the depths of mediocrity.
As real-time strategy games go, Once Upon A Knight is a letdown. For true RTS fun in a fantasy flare, it's best to look toward Age of Mythology.
In general, Once Upon A Knight is merely okay. Graphically, it's certainly passable. The sound effects get repetitive but are well done (the game just could've used more of them), but the musical score is actually good. Overall, though, there are better games in both the RPG and RTS genres than Once Upon A Knight.