Thursday, October 28, 2004
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders finally finds a permanent home on the Xbox after several delays. For a title that promised to combine action and strategy with a huge battlefield scope, it performs rather well, if not perfect.
Many casual gamers will immediately write this off as another hack-and-slash war game like the Dynasty Warriors series. Unfortunately those people will miss out on an experience that proves to be more enriching and enjoyable than the latest in the Dynasty Warriors franchise.
In a sacred land riddled with political tension and rivalry, you start out with your own infantry. To please the King, you stage epic battles against the opposing forces, either leading the infantry into battle or fighting along side them. As you progress, you can upgrade your almost different types of troops, archers, monsters and aerial forces and strengthen, specialize or divide your forces in a full scale strategic war. Up to 1000 warriors can engage in battle at one time as you take control of your character, usually searching for the leader of the opposing force. Once you defeat a leader, his force becomes much weaker in many ways. Of course, you can also choose to play as a hero from the evil side, experiencing a new perspective on the conflict.
Not only does the level of experience and population of your forces make a difference in the strategies you choose, but so does the natural environment. Sunlight, ground formations, height, weather and time of day all come into play when figuring your plan of attack. It is in this depth that Kingdom Under Fire separates itself as no Dynasty Warriors knockoff.
The action elements are thrilling. Slashing away in the midst of your forces gives them higher morale. As you progress and learn special moves and other tactics, the ground combat gets even more engaging, especially when you see the fruits of your strategic positioning of other forces attacking simultaneously. Your forces will even talk to you during battle, giving you updates and cautions depending on how the battles advance.
Of course the story hinges on you winning certain battles and sometimes negative scripted events occur that can't be altered, no matter how positive your battle results. This sort of inconsistency could've been avoided with better planning and sort of detracts from the immersion. Otherwise, the action is intense, especially when you have huge monsters and dragons on screen that must be defeated amongst the other hundreds of enemies.
All the trimmings for a great real-time strategy are all there, with the deep customization of your forces and natural resources affecting the outcome. Unfortunately, navigating the main planning menu gets bothersome too often. The camera never delivers a good angle to see the entire landscape very well which is the crux of positioning. It's this sort of oversight that adds to the unpolished nature.
However, you can go online and take on a friend's forces. You start simply with one infantry and must win in order to be able to upgrade your forces. Like the game, you can set traps, build bridges and plan coordinated attacks in a delightfully unscripted experience. Sticking with it until you amass a reputable force proves to be even more rewarding than plying through the single player missions.
The presentation is magnificent. The cinematic scenes boast good voice acting with sweeping Hollywood-esque camera angles. The amount of enemies and infantry on the screen at once is simply amazing, especially considering the frame rate doesn't stutter even once. The sound effects and in-fighting speech are also great, providing an engrossing, epic landscape. Too bad the music is completely dull and out of place.
Just as the action is about to get old, the strategy aspect of the game is it's saving grace. The only problem is that the strategy planning elements aren't as polished as they needed to be. Still, this is a great start to what we hope will be a new cornerstone in the Xbox library.
First Play: B
Last Play: A-
Overall: 88% B+