Game Over Online ~ Total Annihilation: Kingdoms

GameOver Game Reviews - Total Annihilation: Kingdoms (c) Cavedog, Reviewed by - Wolf / 2XHelix /

Game & Publisher Total Annihilation: Kingdoms (c) Cavedog
System Requirements Pentium 233, 32MB Ram, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 76%
Date Published Saturday, July 3rd, 1999 at 07:59 PM

Divider Left By: Wolf Divider Right

Awhile ago, a brand new developer called "Cavedog" unleashed "Total Annihilation" upon the unsuspecting populace. It was a truly excellent game, gratifyingly accepted by a RTS clone overridden gaming community. It's large multitude of units caused for a very broad band of strategic choices to be made available to the player, and the lovingly polygonal crafted units were a pure joy to behold. Not many RTS fans could resist the title (except the sort of people who liked Starcraft, and no, I will not argue about it). Cavedog then supported their product with a consistent stream of new units and maps to be bolted onto the already huge game. A few months after the release Cavedog announced the development of "Total Annihilation: Kingdoms". This game was not meant to be a successor to "Total Annihilation" but more of a different twist to it, so the people preferring more medieval style combat would enjoy it. Many months and delays later, the game has finally arrived.

The story, in Total Annihilation:Kingdoms, is of four different offspring who have each inherited a part of the land. They are: Aramon, Taros, Veruna and Zhon. These factions lived quite content in their allotted land, with occasional skirmishes between the sides and some pirating and looting, but no real war. This relative peace remains until a disaster happens, which foresees the end of the world, and wars between the factions break out.

Graphically speaking, there is no real change you can see between TAK and TA. It's still the normal polygonal units, nicely animated, but the maps do seem to look a bit more detailed and the RAM requirements for them are low. Now there is one problem with TAK, which is that it requires some real darn good processing power and a stockpile of RAM. Even on my 450Mhz TNT computer with 96Mb RAM, the computer chugs when moving about the map for the first time as it writes madly onto your HD swap file, but after that its smooth scrolling for a while. When many units appear on your screen (especially boats or flying units) the game can start to seriously come to a grinding halt. As you desperately try and select your units and give them some useful command as your HD is going completely haywire, frustration can set in rather rapidly. TAK is so demanding on your computer that after a few games it seems to require a reboot or you are cursed with the worst chuggyness ever witnessed, only to be rivalled by running Unreal on a P133 in Software mode. Turning off shading and shadows will decrease the chance of a chugfest, and it does not happen all the time, just sometimes. Cavedog have spoken on the issues of the drastic slowdowns, saying that DirectX v6.1 does not readily support the large amount of textures used in TAK, they recommend using software mode to solve the problem. I have personally tested this and can safely say that running in software mode made a huge difference and I had no more slowdown problems. It does sacrifice some nice effects though, and its shows Cavedog's complete disregard for any sort of beta testing (I mean, you would NOTICE the game running like complete shit wouldn't you?).

Cavedog have tried to improve on the one area in which their first creation, Total Annihilation, completely failed in. The campaign mode in TA was completely bullocks. After some poor briefing you were plonked straight onto yet another map and basically ordered to kill every moving thing by building a base and many, many units. In TA: Kingdoms, they have improved upon this by making the whole campaign a story. This story, illustrated by average cutscenes, has certain points (48 to be exact) in which you play a role. You are continually swapping sides as the story continues on, playing as all four sides during the campaign. So instead of having four different campaigns for each side, Cavedog created one huge 48 mission campaign which has all four, making for a generally more enjoyable experience. This novel idea is also well executed as Cavedog have tried to vary the missions a bit to avoid the monotone 'build base, build units, kill enemy' curse. In this manner Cavedog has succeeded in making an enjoyable campaign mode, greatly improving the area where TA failed.

The basic premises of TAK remains intact, with metal deposits now replaced by Mana deposits, available for extract by Lodestones, and *super* Lodestones. Total Annihilation also suffered from criticism that the two sides, the ARM and CORE, were almost exact replicas of each other apart from the different models used. This has been the main focus on TAK, to make all four sides as different as possible from each other. Amaron are the knightly people, master of the earth with their focus on artillery. Tairos the Undead, master of magic, boasts a large amount of units all capable of varying magical attacks. Veruna, master of the Sea, the focus on this side is the large amount of boats available. Lastly we have Zhon, master of beasts, the focus here is on mobility without any buildings available for construction (except Lodestones). The Zhon can move anywhere they want and keep constructing fighting units wherever they move. So the focuses of the four sides are on Artillery, Mobility, Naval Power and Magic, making for some very nicely varied factions. Sadly though, there are not by far as many different units per side as TA had, allowing for less strategic possibilities in the game.

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty part, you’ve heard everything they have changed to TA: Kingdoms, now to the true heart and soul of gaming, the gameplay. Initially, when starting the campaign, the game seems rather bland and boring. There doesn't seem to be a big difference and all you do is hack up stupid zombies. Upon further playing however, you should find the game becomes quite enjoyable, as you realize the subtle and obvious differences between the sides. The real enjoyment however, is to be found in the multiplayer section. Playing against human opponents is still the most enjoyable thing there is, and in TA: Kingdoms, you will become adapted to your favorite sides and fully exploit the tactics available to them to wipe out your opponent. There are a large number of maps (although not enough to cater for head-to-head games I think), and some of them are preset scenarios, like the beachhead landing. It seems to be rather a challenging task for Cavedog to make some of these scenarios fair, but seeing as how TAK is equipped with a fully functional map editor, it shouldn't be to long before we see some really good scenarios.

The AI equipped with the game is rather lousy really, in the campaign you won't notice it, but after assigning AI players in multiplayer , you will notice it. The AI does one of two things, either it sits back, seems to do absolutely nothing really useful, attacks you a bit, and then happily gets killed…. or, it builds up a base at the speed of light, attacks you ferociously and relentlessly and exploits every single little mistake in your defences, uses the terrain to it's advantages, never actually manages to kill you, and makes a huge nuissance of itself. The former seems to happen more often, and makes for a rather bland victory, the latter is more interesting, although interest can quickly to turn to annoyance as it munches up *your* CPU power to micro manage its armies and units to maximum nuissance value. Interesting to team up against with your human buddy, but useless for skirmishes.

Personally I preferred Total Annihilation for its big guns and tanks and the larger range of strategic options, but this is an excellent effort by Cavedog to create a medieval version of Total Annihilation. A good solid strategy game which should provide weeks of multiplayer enjoyment, although I am disappointed in Cavedog for botching up their whole Direct 3D Mode.


  • Four sides are subtly and obviously different
  • The Polygonal Units still look nice
  • Weeks of multiplayer enjoyment


  • Direct 3D mode is completely stuffed up
  • Not as many strategic choices
  • Having enjoyed "Total Annihilation" does not necessarily mean you will enjoy "Total Annihilation:Kingdoms"
  • AI is either really stupid or really annoying


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    Divider Left By: 2XHelix Divider Right

    Total Annihilation was a game that set new standards in RTS gaming, Total Annihilation Kingdoms is an over hyped game that will disappoint many. There are many minor problems present in the game, as well the graphics are not up to today’s standard. The screenshots taken by Cavedog try to hide up the poor graphics by making the screens smaller. Overall this game was not impressive at all. TAK cannot even compare to Starcraft , which was released over a year ago.

    One place where TAK really shines is in the cut scenes. They are brilliantly laid out and well directed. After seeing the introduction, I was convinced that the rest of the game would shine as well, but I was mistaken. I was given the option to choose either software render or D3D, so of course I chose hardware. What I found was unreadable text, and found that my units were not detailed at all. I checked with other players and I found that they did not experience the same problems using hardware rendering, however such a problem does exist. So I had to switch back to

    software mode because the game was unplayable. Now supposedly, the hardware rendering only adds to the lighting effects, and no significant quality loss should be present, in this case TAK really has poor graphics. The overall game palette is very dull, and cannot even compare to the old Warcraft 2. This was really disappointing because the game boasted wonderful graphics and animations. I don’t even want to mention the quality of the graphics anymore because they are just pitiful.

    The audio is very similar to the graphics. The cut scenes are excellent. The voice acting really sets a good mood for the game, however once the game begins dull sound effects take over. Recall that the games Blizzard have create, each unit had several voices that were all unique. TAK is the opposite, you get the same "Yes Sir", or derivatives of it. Sometimes units don’t even respond with sound. The sound effects are not any better. When the archers blast their arrows, it sounds merely like a thud. The ambient sounds and environmental sounds are non-existent, example birds in the background, or sounds of water from a stream. Small little details like that can hugely improve the game. Last but not least is the music. The music falls short of creating a good mood for a medieval game. This is truly sad because it doesn’t take much talent to create some excellent music. Take Might and Magic 7, the music was spectacular, TAK was less than mediocre.

    Now on to the most important part in any game, the gameplay. First, the AI has some serious defects, and plays worse than a drunken old fart off the street. There is no challenge what so ever, and I fail to see how they could make the original TA AI and turn it to something so inferior. For example, if my archers were shooting the AI from a ledge, the units would remain standing still, not even moving out of the way. Another problem I found was the inability to properly patrol an area or attack a target. For example, when you order units to attack an opposing side’s unit, they often get stuck, and don’t bother to move. It is extremely frustrating not to be able to set formations or having units just wonder around getting killed. Overall unit control was crudely designed.

    The first few missions can demonstrate to any novice player why TAK is a failure. The first problem is that the map is already revealed. Unfortunately this is a nuisance, because it takes away from the pleasures of exploring the map. This can be turned off in multiplayer, however in single player it remains on. Now, the Fog-of-war is a complete joke. Not only do you still get to see the opponent’s units when they are close the shroud, but your units can attack father than your sight. To me, this makes little sense what so ever. Now, another problem is the placement of buildings. I found this to be extremely tedious, because you cannot rotate the buildings. Either that or the poor documentation leads me to be unable to figure out how to rotate my gate. Now the gate is very interesting, it allows units to pass when you activate it, and you can also close the gate. The problem is that, the game must be placed East to West, and never North to South. Something about that does not seem right does it to you? The next problem is the terrain. It is difficult to tell if a terrain is of a higher elevation or a lower elevation. Make no mistakes that the terrain is beautifully rendered, just the angles make it difficult to figure out the elevation. Now the terrain and the buildings combined have another slight problem. Recall that in other RTS games, invisible game blocks were present, so you could align walls or buildings properly. Either they are not present in TAK, or they are extremely small to be useful. Too many times, I have had to demolish my walls in order to build them again to line them up. As we can see the game play suffers immensly, thus making this game difficult to enjoy.

    I like to compare Starcraft to TAK just because the original TA posed a great alternate to Starcraft. Blizzard took months of beta testing and even new patches today to even up the three sides and make them balanced. TAK has no balance. When playing multiplayer, the dark evil side always has an advantage. This is due to their speed, combined with proper air units and long range attacks with their dragons and other weird creatures. Now, the loading time of this game is hideous. When playing with my friends, we found that seeing which player loaded first was the most exciting! It takes approximately two to five minutes on a Pentium III 450 to load a multiplayer game. Also, the first player into the game had a high advantage because they could control the units before the other players. This could have been avoided easily by pausing the game, much like SC until all players were truly in the game, and not loading. Furthermore, when the unit number increased, frequent lock ups or seriously slowing down of the game was experienced.

    Overall, I was displeased by the release of this game. It was over hyped, and released too early. The graphics are not up to par, and the music and sound is just average. The game play is sufficiently hindered by lack of a competent AI, and other minor problems. I would suggest that you save up your money and not purchase this game. If you are looking for a RTS, I would recommend buying Starcraft if you do not have it, or even buy Dungeon Keeper 2.


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