Blueside’s Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is the first game to be released exclusively on the Xbox 360 for 2008. Featuring hack n slash gameplay with RPG elements, is the game worth the purchase or a doom to play?
The Kingdom Under Fire franchise was well known last generation among Xbox gamers for successfully blending together RTS and action elements. However, the story line and art style seemed as if it would lend itself well to a hack n’ slash adventure game. Blueside took on the project of making such a game in the Kingdom Under Fire universe and will release Circle of Doom for the Xbox 360 on January 8th. While the game is not a direct sequel to the previous Kingdom Under Fire games it is supposed to fill in some story gaps.
The story behind Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is your typical light versus dark tale. The world is in constant flux between the ages. Nible, the Lord of Light, has stopped the oncoming Age of Darkness. This in turn has enraged Encablossa, the Lord of Darkness, as he wages war against you in the world of mortals. You find yourself trapped in the growing Dark Dimension fighting Encablossa’s hordes trying to get back to the Age of Light.
When you begin your quest you can choose one of 5 characters. For purposes of this review I played mostly as the once-immortal dark warlord Regnier. Regnier is very slow moving but has a very high HP and deals a ton of damage close range. The holy knight Kendal also is slow moving and has high HP. Celine the Elven Queen is quick on her feet but has low HP and is good for range combat. Leinhart the Half-Vampire prince is also fast and nimble on his feet, has low HP, but is a close range attacker. Duane who is described as a narcissistic old warrior is an all round character of average speed and average HP specializing in range combat.
A recurring theme throughout this review is going to be the “old-school” feel of Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. In some places it works, in some places it doesn’t. Reader beware, the old school feel of KuF:CoD is going to be something that draws a clear line between people who are going to end up loving this game and people who are going to end up hating it. It did not work out too well as a next generation experience when compared to similar games that have now been out for over a year.
The presentation of Kingdom Under Fire is definitely old school. The title screen evokes a Lord of the Rings vibe in me with the ring of fire on screen but as far as similarities in quality I think it’s safe to say they end there. The way the menus are presented, even in their font reminds me of something you would have seen on the NES. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, there’s a lot in this game that looks like updated NES presentation. It’s easy to tell from the get go the genre of people who this game is geared toward are fans of old school straight hack n’ slash games and older gamers looking for a nostalgic experience. By next gen terms, KuF is extremely bland in the presentation department. When choosing a character you’ll be shown a statue of your character along with a brief bio and description of what you can expect out of their play style. You can choose the 5 characters described above by default to start. However, there is a sixth unlockable character that can only be unlocked by completing the game with a certain character out of the 5. Suffice to say you’ll read later on why if you guessed wrong you may not care to go back for another play through.
Graphics whores are strongly encouraged to try before you buy if you are looking for eye popping visuals. Once again I will draw the comparison of KuF: CoD to something that was brought into the HD era from the 8 bit era. The environments are varied, but there are only 6. Some of them also are the obligatory environments you find in such games such as a forest with attacking plants. Snow caves where slow-walking lantern-holding eskimos deal severe damage. A deserted city overrun by the dead and my personal favorite, the haunted house. The environments are hardly if at all interactive in anyway as everything on screen is static though I did seem to swipe an item or two by kicking up dirt off the ground.
Kingdom Under Fire claims to randomly generate these levels as you walk through the game and while that may be, the sheer amount of repeat in terms of textures, items, and enemies make what would be a technical achievement of the game a moot point. You’re definitely not having the Great Forrest of Cyrodiil randomly generated which makes things a little bit less impressive.
Player models and enemies are at least middle of the road and there is actual scale. Regnier is a huge warrior and towers over most enemies. The enemies in the game also do provide their fair share of “Oh ****!” moments in terms of scale and visuals. For example, you will find yourself fighting a type of enemy known as a Golem which is the size of a very large troll in terms of width and height. I found myself blasting my cannon away constantly at something that was much bigger than I was. There are also the blood covered flesh men who rive of the ground as they approach you who were of particular note. The best player models are unfortunately NPCs who serve as trade depots within the game.
Kingdom Under Fire also suffers from very noticeable frame rate issues especially when loading a new part of the map even without any enemies on screen or anything happening. For a game with mostly static environments it’s pretty inexcusable to have that type of slow down in such a linear experience. The game also suffers from terrible screen tearing on my LCD.
The music in the game is nice for the first hour or so you are playing. Thereafter it becomes repetitive. It feels like the same tune throughout the game while it changes if you are in battle or if an enemy has spotted you. There is some Far East to Western movie sub-par voice acting in the game when you are talking to what seems to be one of only a very small number of NPCs you can actually talk to. The biggest highlight is definitely the sound effects especially early in game. Listen closely to the foot step sounds and you will be dreaming of a simpler time with midi sound. There are some satisfying moments when you kill enemies and hear steel hitting steel but for the most part there is absolutely nothing to write home about.
The game play mechanics in KuF: CoD are very straight forward. You run around using the left thumbstick and can move the camera with the right. You can have 2 weapons mapped to the A and X buttons. For example, I had a cannon in one arm and a sword in the other. Special attacks can be mapped to B and the right trigger. Items you find yourself using a lot of such as health potions and fatigue potions can also be mapped to the right and left bumpers.
The game play itself in the game is akin to Ninety Nine Nights except not nearly as fluid or good. The AI uses a basic formula to attack you repeatedly in wave after wave of exactly the same type of enemies in the same type of formation. A few bigger guys like ghost nights or golems flanked by 10 to 20 lower health creatures such as skeleton warriors and archers. Each portion of the game also has a version of a grounded very low HP support unit such as a bug or a necromancer that appear in large potions and can be quite annoying but easily killed. It’s a very basic kill all the bad guys in one area, run to the next, rinse and repeat. This can cause the game to feel repetitive in a hurry. Not to mention, the game is absolutely linear there are no diverging paths. Invisible walls are also everywhere. Throughout the game there is no deviation from this besides the rare boss battle which occurs at the end of some of the locales. The game itself is in the short to average scope of things clocking in between 7 to 10 hours. Blueside and Microsoft are quoted as claiming 40 to 50 hours of game play. I scratched my head over that one then realized that was to complete the campaign with every character which most gamer’s likely won’t do.
As you slaughter your character gains experience and your fallen adversaries drop loot. The upgrade system for your character is a little quirky in KuF:CoD. Once you have gained a level you will be able to pause your game and distribute your attribute points. You can upgrade your characters health points, skill points, and luck. When you level up you will receive a lump sum of 200 to 300 points to spend as you want. Increasing health cost me 2 points, skill points cost me 28, and luck cost me 5. This lends to be a bit of strategy when upgrading your character to what is otherwise a shallow game in regards to RPG elements. Health points are pretty self explanatory. Skill points are defined a bit differently than you would expect. Skill points are more like what Oblivion considered to be fatigue. The more skill points you have the more attacks you can perform before you are tired and need to recharge. Skill points also govern what gear you can equip and what spells you can use. Note that a lot of the gear in Kingdom Under Fire is character specific. You may be playing as one character but the loot you collect can only be used for another. This unfortunately does mean if you are playing alone you are picking up a good deal of loot you can’t even use. Luck governs such things as the quality of items your fallen enemies drop whether it be coins or better gear. As I increased my luck I noticed the amount of gold enemies dropped dramatically increased as well as the attack and defensive rating of gear. Player also beware, if you pause the game in an area with enemies they will still be able to attack you even if you are switching items or equipping potions. Just because you paused the game doesn’t mean your enemies did.
One major complaint in the game play department that needs to be mentioned is the way learning magic spells and trading are handled in the game. At various points through the game you will come upon trade idols such as the idol of greed and the idol of death. At these idols you can buy and sell gear and potions as well as store items you’re not going to be using and synthesize new ones. The synthesize is pretty similar to alchemy you can combine the power of one item with another while paying a price in gold to ensure your synthesis is successful. It’s a nice addition to the game but I found it unnecessary. Buying loot was also a rarity as most of the loot dropped from enemies was superior to the ones on sale. Or loot that was on sale that looked like a worthy purchase but was character specific and hence useless for my character.
Near these idols you can also press the back button to sleep. Once in sleep the story is progressed and you are in a black dream zone where it is you and an old man. Other story elements take place in this zone but I do not want to spoil them. You can ask this old man to teach you new skills. You can pick two at a time for such magic skills as fireballs and invisibility. Once you choose the two skills you want to learn you are given what amounts to a very shallow side quest to actually be able to use them. A side quest will ask you to kill a certain number of a certain enemy type to learn the skill. Some of them can be quite steep. The most annoying thing that happens is that as you progress through the game you may have to go back to previous areas to find these enemies. It seemed extremely out of the way to do this and because my character is a meleeing badass I simply pressed on. It makes little sense from a design standpoint to have to go back to a place I have already been to find and kill a certain number of enemies like 10 sand lightning wizards which by the game’s design will surely be bunched together in one place. You may be spending a long time looking for said enemies. Which brings up another point worth mentioning, be careful of where you save. Just because you saved and quit standing in front of the door leading to the next location doesn’t mean you’ll get to start there when you reload.
The AI in the game is also mindless. Difficulty in the game is handled not by intelligent AI but by simply increasing your enemy’s health points and damage. Numerous times I was able to walk up face to face with an enemy and stand there while the enemy did nothing. Once you have the right gear, the game does turn a bit into a mow down fest because of this fact. There is very little strategy to your enemies. I am almost surprised the enemy archers did not charge me.
Despite these issues, gamers who miss old school mindless button mashing hack n’ slash game play will absolutely enjoy this game. While the single player portion of the game is dull there is some enjoyment to be had in other portions of the game.
Lasting Appeal: 7.0/10
Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom does a service to fans of this genre by featuring seamless cooperative play over Xbox live. You can load up a game on your own make it open to the public or private and travel through the game with up to 3 other companions. The game scales the difficulty up and down based on the number of people in your party and is thankfully lag free. Players may come and go as they please from your game without any load screens or breaks in the action. There doesn’t seem to be any type of match making involved as I was able to play co-op with people on Xbox live from all levels from beginner through expert. This type of game was made for the use of a feature like co-op play. As you go through the game everyone on screen can pick up the same loot and there’s even an MMO style roll if you defeat a boss together to see who gets the best piece of loot.
While playing by yourself is a downer in Kingdom Under Fire playing online with friends via Xbox live was an enjoyable experience. If nothing else, it’s nice to play through a hack n’ slash crawler such as this one with friends and see how your character compliments their’s. While the online game play is strong, the noticeable absence or local cooperative play left me puzzled. However, either by yourself or with your friends via Xbox live I just do not foresee any replay value to this title beyond defeating the campaign once through.
Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is certainly a niche game which older gamers and fans of hack n’ slash games may enjoy. However, as a next-gen experience the game is disappointing in almost every way save for seamless online cooperative play. While online play was entertaining, I strongly encourage gamers to try before you buy to see if you can get past some of the game’s obvious problems such as the game play repetition, magic spell design, and sound. For less than the cost of Kingdom Under Fire you can pick up Oblivion and Two Worlds both of which do a far better job of hack n’ slash RPG game play and visuals than KuF.
Overall Score (Not an average): 6.5/10