What do Giants: Citizen Kabuto, Sacrifice and Kingdom Under Fire all have in common? If you guessed that they’re all gender benders, you’re absolutely correct. In recent months, numerous developers have been blurring the lines that separate the various gaming genres by combining the best elements of each. In the case of Gathering of Developers and Phantagram’s Kingdom Under Fire, it’s a blend of real-time strategy and role-playing. This certainly isn’t the first title to merge these two genres. Warlords Battlecry is a prime example of a game that utilized role-playing elements within it’s strategic gameplay, but Kingdom Under Fire takes this concept a step further by mixing several Diablo-style levels into its campaigns. Interestingly enough, the real-time strategy component of Kingdom Under Fire is reminiscent of Warcraft, so clearly Phantagram was influenced by the previous works of Blizzard, which I guess is better than being influenced by the likes of WizardWorks. Unfortunately, Kingdom Under Fire mimics Blizzard’s games so much so that it fails to develop it’s own identity.
Kingdom Under Fire details the epic battles on the continent of Bersiah, where the Race of Light (Humans and Elves) and the Race of Darkness (Orcs and Ogres) co-exist in a brooding cloud of suspicion and hostility. Players can side with either of the two Races as they begin their respective campaigns towards victory. The plot isn’t particularly imaginative but it does develop nicely within the game. The campaigns are broken up into modes. The real-time strategy scenarios are separated by role-playing levels, in which you’ll take control of a single hero and venture through a variety of locations. It’s actually quite a unique feature, but you’ll quickly find that neither mode is very creative in its own right.
Kingdom Under Fire’s real-time strategy mode is relatively generic. If you’ve played any real-time strategy games in the last year, the interface should be entirely familiar. You often begin each scenario with a handful of units and a few buildings. From there, you’ll have to mine and gather resources (Gold, Iron and Mana), build a camp, research weapons and technologies, recruit and train an army, and eliminate your enemies in the surrounding area. The only real unique addition to the RTS component is the use of mid-mission cut-scenes that often have a direct influence on the mission at hand. The interaction between the cut-scenes and the gameplay are actually quite neat and help give an added dimension to the game.
The RTS mode sports a number of flaws however. While the interface is manageable and instantly recognizable, controlling troops can often be quite a task. Pathfinding is really quite weak and you’ll often find yourself guiding small and larger groups around hills and other obstacles that they can’t manage themselves. There are no formations or aggressiveness settings for the troops, so you have to watch over them constantly, like little children. By far the biggest glitch in the RTS mode is the lack of a save game function. While it’s certainly not noticeable in the earlier missions, some of the later scenarios take upwards of an hour to complete, meaning you’d better have a lot of time on your hands before you begin any one mission. This omission is simply unforgivable.
The role-playing mode isn’t much more imaginative than it’s real-time strategy counterpart and in fact plays like a simplified version of Diablo, if that’s at all possible. In this mode, you’ll adventure through several dungeon-like locations with your hero, gathering armour, weapons and experience points. Although, much like the RTS mode, many of these levels are extremely long, there always seems to be plenty of health and magic potions around to keep you alive, so I rarely ever felt in any danger in these missions. In the rare occasion that your life is claimed by a minion, the lack of a save game function shines through yet again. Playing through any one of these levels over again can be quite frustrating.
What I really liked about this RPG mode is the fact that it gives the hero a little more meaning and purpose. These levels are a great way to increase their experience for future battles in the RTS mode but unfortunately once you step foot back in a RTS scenario, you often won’t use your hero like you should. This is simply because once your hero dies in the RTS mode, the mission is considered a failure. So what’s the point of improving your hero in the RPG levels if you’re afraid to use him in the RTS scenarios? In the end, I found myself leaving my hero behind to guard the main camp, seldom venturing out in combat except perhaps for the final kill. On a side note, I can’t quite figure out why the enemy heroes have the unique ability to vanish right before they perish, an ability your hero lacks. If you don’t want us to kill opposing heroes, don’t make us confront them.
Graphically, Kingdom Under Fire is a mixed bag. Resolution is limited to 800x600, putting a relative cap on the level of detail in the game. Most of the animations are still quite solid, but I wasn’t too impressed with some of the spell effects. Sometimes I found it hard to distinguish creatures within the RPG mode, but the RTS mode was much easier to deal with. There is plenty of FMV throughout Kingdom Under Fire, accompanied with speech, but the audio department on the whole is as lacklustre as the visuals. The usual battlefield acknowledgements are present and a nice epic soundtrack plays every now and then, but there’s nothing here to write home about.
The defining moment for me in Kingdom Under Fire occurred when I reached the eighth mission in the Race of Light campaign. I got bored, so much so that I decided to start up the Race of Darkness campaign. I got up to about the same point, mission seven or eight, and I became uninterested again. There weren’t enough innovative ideas introduced in this title and ultimately I felt as though I had played Kingdom Under Fire many times before. Kingdom Under Fire does support multi-player skirmishes across the Internet and LAN with up to 8 players, but the gameplay is as dull in multi-player as it is in single player.
When the war is over and the sun sets on Bersiah, Kingdom Under Fire is no better than the sum of its parts. The real-time strategy mode recycles ideas from Warcraft II and the role-playing levels do the same, only with Diablo. The potential for success is certainly present, but a number of issues arise throughout the game, among them a lack of a save game feature. Unless you don’t mind the recycled material, there’s just not enough imagination or charisma in Kingdom Under Fire for this reviewer to recommend it.
[ 29/50 ] Gameplay
[ 07/10 ] Graphics
[ 06/10 ] Sounds
[ 06/10 ] Multiplayer
[ 05/10 ] Fun Factor
[ 07/10 ] Storyline