Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusades

by MaxPower

The business of making video games is a big business. The oft quoted stat is that the video game industry now pulls in as much in revenue as the movie business but you hear much less about the developers of video games than you do producers of movies. Granted there are some big boys that are household names; Ubisoft (Splinter Cell), Rockstar (Grand Theft Auto), Bungie (Halo), Bioware (Canadian developer who did Knights of the Old Republic), but there are a ton of smaller shops putting out quality games. Many of the developers who aren?t household names are from non-North American or European countries. Witness Phantagram – a Korean developer who put out Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders for the Xbox. KUF is an action strategy game that mixes mass-scale combat (hundreds and hundreds of individually rendered units) with real-time (Warcraft-esque) strategy elements, quasi-RPG upgrading ability and a fantasy setting.

This Xbox game is a sequel to the PC game ? Kingdom Under Fire ? which was published in 2001 to not so stellar reviews. The Xbox title, however, is one that I would suggest will fare much better in gamer?s eyes. It is also a game that was published in September 2004 without much fanfare ? a hidden gem if you will.

Human Hero vs. Ogre Leader
Human Hero vs. Ogre Leader

It is fairly rare that I discover a game that I find really unique as well as being entertaining. One of the more ?unique? PC games in the past ? Black & White ? held no interest for me, as well as some of the games that I find very entertaining and fun (Halo 2) aren?t really all that unique or innovative. However, KUF for the Xbox is both – players take on the role of a general in a fantasy battleground, fighting alongside their troops of warriors, catapults, dragons and flying machines to crush enemy opposition. Up to 150 characters can appear fighting on one screen, with each character modeled with 3,000 to 5,000 polygons, boasting breathtakingly large scale and realistic details. Think Diablo on a massive scale with the ability to zoom right down to your character level or go up to look over the entire battlefield. ?Kingdom Under Fire? consists of more than 100 missions and fully supports Xbox Live functionality, including ?head-to-head? deathmatch, ranking updates, and feature downloads.

The game basically works as such; you have a commander and a few armies that you can customize. Let?s say you have an infantry division carrying swords, an archer division and a cavalry unit. All of these units have upgradeable armour, weapons, magic and elemental resistance that can be upgraded with the spoils of your battles when you get back to a town. You want to attack the enemy units ahead on the field, rather than just sending everyone to attack straight away you can use some fairly complex real-time strategy to get the game going. Maybe you should have your archers shoot fire-arrows (you can actually see one guy carrying a flame to light all of their arrows and hear the commander going ?Fire!?) into the forest around the enemy to flush them out into the open and then use your cavalry to flank the units and attack them from behind pushing them into your waiting infantry. Or maybe you should do a head-on rush with your infantry using your archers as long-range support both for firing and healing while using the cavalry to pick off any stragglers. The options for the strategy are almost limitless especially when you consider the different kinds of units that you can utilize, for the humans ? ballistae, catapults, flying machines, longbow men, mortars, spearmen, knights and paladins are a few of the options each bringing their own strength and weakness. For the dark (orc & dark elf) forces, utilize scorpions as siege units, the swamp mammoth (a four legged gargantuan siege engine), cavalry archers, dragons or undead demons. Many of the missions have ?free? slots which mean you can bring whatever units you desire depending on your style of play and what you have upgraded. In a mission with lots of enemy dragons you?d be best served by bringing a couple of extra archery divisions because your infantry will get slaughtered out on their own, but those same archers wouldn?t help much against an enemy army equipped with cavalry units.

Mortars fire into charging Orcs
Mortars fire into charging Orcs

That sounds like a complete game right there if played from a typical Warcraft/Starcraft top down style. But the best feature of the game is after you?ve made your strategic moves and your forces are in motion the action ?zooms in? automatically when your main commander engages in combat. Two sides of hundreds of individually rendered units running at each other a la Braveheart to a metal music soundtrack, arrows firing overhead and right when the units are about to clash your guys give a roar and the action zooms down for hack and slash combat. You get to button-mash or utilize your leaders? combos to strike down individual enemy units. All the while the rest of the battlefield is in action as well. What?s that? Your supporting archers got ambushed by an infantry unit coming out of the forest on your flank? Do you disengage your infantry to rush back and protect your archers or do you send in your cavalry as support? These types of decisions coming at a mile a minute can make the learning curve for this came fairly steep (i.e. you?ll get surprised and toasted on occasion). The controls eventually become intuitive but the first time you?re in a grand scale battle and there are 20 allied units and your 5 personal units up against 40 or 50 enemy units warnings will be going off all the time from all parts of a massive screen. So part of the trick is to keep your guys together and peer through the fog of war. Obviously, you can tell I enjoyed this game immensely. Something about being able to order masses of troops around but then getting down to the actual hacking and slashing that appeals to my more un-refined sensibilities.

Phantagram had noted in a press release that normally it would take about 40 to 50 hours to complete all four scenarios in the game for first timers. While this may be true, I found that I cruised through most scenarios on the first time and had to repeat and repeat a few ?super hard? missions. The first Regnier (he?s a bad guy) mission is so incredibly tough it could sway users to drop the game at that point and not ?finish it?. It is also not intuitive ? you need to retreat (read: run) ?through? the advancing armies and go into a little cul-de-sac of hills and then set up your defensive perimeter, otherwise your armies will be outnumbered and swamped. The other missions following that one are much much more simplistic. It would be appreciated if the developers were a bit more consistent in their making the first levels easy and the later levels difficult and not trying to stick in extremely difficult levels to up the ?game playing? time. That is probably my single major complaint about the game, well that and the crappy voice acting, both of which I think can be traced to the fact Phantagram is an international developer. As they get more experienced with international gaming issues I think they?ll find good voice actors are a relatively cheap way to increase the ?quality look? of a game and their developing methodologies will become smoother. In spite of those problems, Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders for the Xbox is a fantastic game that is unique, combing a multitude of styles into one compact and very enjoyable package. It?s not often you see something like this come along that isn?t hyped into oblivion. A gem.

  • Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusades
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on January 1st, 2005

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