The original Knight Squad from way back in 2015 (Xbox One) is something I look very fondly on when reminiscing about the early days of the current generation. It offered an addicting gameplay loop, diverse characters and plenty of ways to slaughter your friends. Knight Squad 2 appears to grab this base formula and push it into new heights. It doesn’t touch the core gameplay but offers new modes, items and arenas to cause havoc. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to give it a go.
The trailer’s tagline “Bold new ways to ruin friendships” really sums up the experience well. Knight Squad 2 feels noticeably similar to the first but this works in its favour. You, as a knight, are placed in an arena where you must fight off all other knights, score goals, hold crowns and get involved in all sorts of things. The majority of the controls involve your thumbstick and the A button to attack, but Knight Squad 2 adds a nice little twist to the central formula with a shield button. You can deploy your shield to block attacks offering an opportunity for a counter attack. This adds a level of strategy not found in the first title which changes the way you approach combat. Combat feels like a nice mix of a twin-stick shooter and Bomberman. All combatants are situated in an arena that is partially destructible. You all start with the same items but new items can be picked up to defend yourself or attack opponents. Knight Squad 2 still keeps this loop at the centre of its gameplay.
In a sense, this is what works about Knight Squad 2. It is similar enough to the first to be instantly playable but different enough to differentiate it. In the preview build I’ve had access to, I was only able to enjoy a handful of modes but even those felt distinct and clear. For instance, the last man standing mode has changed to “Battle Royale” and now implements squads and duos as a tongue-in-cheek reference to that thing taking over all games right now. This change adds a meaningful distinction to the original mode and really amps up the frantic nature of Knight Squad 2. A well timed attack can end a 4 v 1 assault with uproarious laughter or a rogue controller flung across the room.
As well as some small but noticeable changes to the gameplay, Knight Squad 2 has a different graphical look this time around. Knight Squad had serviceable but rather rudimentary 2D graphics where Knight Squad 2 feels more fleshed out and dimensional. It feels a little closer to 2.5D than before and animations are much more fluid. Everything about it has this bouncy cartoony style that fits the game style much better. Swings have a certain weight that makes attacks feel more predictable in meaningful ways. Finally, there are fully fledged death animations as characters fall down and horses topple. This adds more chaos to the fever pitch of the end of a fight.
This moment of uncertainty is made even less clear by the choice of weaponry and environments. A book of burning and ice aura add new found levels of intricacy to weapon choice. Most weapons have a rock-paper-scissors style decision to make. The bow is great for ranged combat but bad if the opponent is quicker than you. The saw gun is great for confined spaces as it bounces off walls but not good in open areas. The ice aura employs an ice effect that freezes enemies that follow you; an excellent defensive tool. The book of burning deploys a fireball that has a wide arc but very little distance. Unlike the previous titles, unique weapons can also be upgraded. This is a feature I wanted in the previous title as it really rewards you for playing the long game with certain weapon choices. The full functionality of a weapon is made clear upon upgrade, incentivising waiting for the right moment to strike, retroactively changing the way you see the previous Knight Squad title.
Knight Squad 2’s weaponry system manages to take the formula present in the previous title and change the way you look at it. As you understand the full capability of weaponry, you start to wander how you went without it before. This perfectly encapsulates my experience with Knight Squad 2 as a whole – it feels instantly familiar but much deeper than the previous title. New modes, weapons, and skills incentivise messing with the formula and learning a unique play style. No longer is there a clear best weapon, each weapon is viable and deadly in the right hands. In the wrong hands, hilarious. It doesn’t matter if you and your friends are good at Knight Squad 2, you can guarantee a nice night, good memories, and a broken controller or two.
Massive thanks go out to Chainsawesome Games for providing us access to Knight Squad 2 on Xbox One. As soon as the full game launches, we’ll be back with a full review.