It has been fifty years since the Dark Legion has taken the Holy Land. Under the command of Regnier of Hexter, the Dark Legion plans to expand their territory and set their sights on the remaining human strongholds. While those under him question his leadership, the humans to the west begin planning their own crusade. Under the command of Hironeiden army, the forces of the Human Alliance march towards the Holy Land to take back what they have lost. The peace over fifty years has been shattered, and a new war is about to begin.
After a quick glance at this title, one might mistake it with something from the pages of JRR Tolkien, author of the famed Lord of the Rings series. With the large number of races in this game, including the Dark Elves, Humans, and Orcs, one could get the impression that it's from the fantasy world of Tolkien. EA has developed a similar title based directly on the Lord of the Rings movies, unlike those titles however, Kingdom Under Fire is more than a simple movie-to-game release. The plot is more imaginative and the gameplay further refined, producing a very enjoyable gameplay experience.
From the artwork and graphics to the sound and gameplay, how does Kingdom Under Fire stand out amongst such famous RPG's such as EverQuest, or even the recently released World of Warcraft? Albeit they are available on different platforms, with competition in the genre with such high standards, Kingdom Under Fire needs to do a lot right to get noticed. What Phantagram brings the table is more of an action-oriented title then a simple RPG. While they are a fairly new developer on the scene, they have successfully brought to life a title in the fairly common fantasy genre.
Kingdom Under Fire is not simply walking around with your upgraded sword, collecting items to slay some beast, like many of the other fantasy games available. It offers a fairly deep combination system for the in-battle modes, a well-developed levelling-up structure, and a massive number of units in which to select from. It can be a bit frustrating getting used to the gameplay at first, especially for those who have a lot of experience playing other strategy titles, as the control structure is very different. However, after a few hours experimenting with the combat system and moving your units around the map, Kingdom Under Fire is definitely a fulfilling experience.
Graphically, Phantagram has done a great job with Kingdom Under Fire. The overall graphical detail is remarkable, especially in the character models and landscapes. Textures and lighting are quite impressive, sunshine glares off soldiers armour in battle, and even tiny details such as the bark on the trees is present. The light sources are very well developed; they actually make a very good model of daylight as the sun shines across the battlefield. These graphics actually factor into the gameplay, as archers lose accuracy when firing into direct sunlight, as they cannot get a direct visual on their target.
Kingdom Under Fire is a very strong title graphically, but it's not perfect. For starters, the lack of detailed facial expressions is a letdown. Albeit these expressions aren't completely static, their lips aren't synchronized with the conversation when using the English voiceovers. For a game with a good number of spoken lines, I found this element to be a little disappointing. The only other issue with the visuals is the fire effects. This type of effect is understandably difficult to get right, especially considering many developers still haven't perfected it. Phantagram could have put a little more effort into this segment, especially since setting objects ablaze is one of the campaign objectives used. Besides these few shortcomings, Kingdom Under Fire is a very impressive title visually.
As with the graphics, the audio presented in Kingdom Under Fire is well-developed. The background music is very appropriate for the genre, and mixes very well with the style of gameplay. The sound effects are also well done, listening to soldiers march across an open field, only to raise their swords and yell out a war cry before charging into battle is impressive. These little details really bring the game to life. From the sound of explosions, walls crashing down, encampments ablaze and even that of horses galloping across the field, Kingdom Under Fire offers a very enjoyable experience sound-wise.
The voice acting in Kingdom Under Fire is fairly good, but does have its weak points. The voice acting of the Dark Elf characters could use some improvement, as it sounds like they are trying too hard to put on an accent, or simply not trying hard enough. The voice acting for the humans is somewhat better, but overall it seems that there is a lot of over acting. All in all, the performances in Kingdom Under Fire are better than most other titles, and it's a fairly good implementation overall.
Kingdom Under Fire provides a very deep strategic experience, albeit the gameplay is fairly complex. Fans of simpler RPG or action titles may be turned-away by its high degree of difficulty, but overall Phantagram has done an excellent job in combining the two genres. The gameplay model has a fairly steep learning curve, especially when learning how to switch between units in combat, but after a few hours of experience the gameplay model becomes much simpler to understand.
From the opening scenes, the player is catapulted into a fast paced and exciting game. After you adapt to the complex battle system, the game has a lot to offer. Outside of combat, the player is given the ability to control either a single unit or a group of units, and direct them around the map. When an enemy is discovered and battle begins, players are given control of a single character. The in-battle sequences are easily the strongest part of this game. The combo system alone really shines, especially in comparison to other fantasy titles. Much like Koei's Dynasty Warrior games, each character in Kingdom Under Fire has a slew of advanced moves they can perform, and it's simple enough that even novice players can pull them off with relative ease. While you can simply hack your way through the hordes of enemy units, Phantagram also gives you the opportunity to call in some help. This adds a very dynamic element to the title, and helps in making no-two battles alike.
Kingdom Under Fire offers a wide range of tactics that come into play during battles. Players can bring a wide variety of different units into combat, whether its archers to pound foes from afar or simply heavy infantry for close range sword fights. Another very interesting feature is the ability to change the type of your units. For example, in the first campaign, you are given control of Gerald and his infantry unit. When levelling up, the type of this unit can be changed to Heavy Infantry or even Knights. While you can't change the path of the main unit, mercenaries can be hired, and other units can be created throughout the campaign.
As players progress through the campaigns, different units will become available, along with new strategies and tactics for battle with these units. Along with buying new equipment and upgrading skill, Kingdom Under Fire offers a very well-developed RPG structure, and the in-battle sequences can keep action-fans entertained for hours. The single player campaign is fairly lengthy, and Xbox Live helps extend the replayability of this title even further.
The multiplayer support in Kingdom Under Fire is quite unique. Players are given the ability to take a group of units online and directly compete against others in battle in either head-to-head or team-based combat. While you can only challenge a single opponent at a time, the online play certainly doesn't disappoint. With so many soldiers running around, you'll probably forget that you're only in combat with a single player anyhow. Overall, the gameplay model in Kingdom Under Fire is one of the best elements of the title, and is a definitely a rewarding and entertaining experience.
With a massive single-player campaign, as well as a highly enjoyable multiplayer aspect over Xbox Live, Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders offers a lot of replay value. Even after completing the game, you may find yourself wanting to go back and do it again, simply to try out all of the different units and strategies. While Kingdom Under Fire is not as revolutionary as other Xbox titles, it does offer a very unique gaming experience. An overall solid package with highly entertaining gameplay, Kingdom Under Fire comes highly recommended for any fans of the genre.