» Kingdom Under Fire: Circle Of Doom (Xbox 360)



Kingdom Under Fire as a series has always been founded on strong strategy elements as well as including spellcasting and levelling, just like you would find in a plethora of other RPG’s. The series was recently revitalised with Crusaders on the Xbox in 2004, which was a great game. Circle of Doom is a bold move for the developers at Blue Side, as the game is basically ditching a lot of the strategy elements and replacing them with a pure action role playing experience. Is the game any good however, or is it just another stagnant limpfisted action based hack n slash?

Kingdom under Fire uses six different storylines, that being one for each character you can take in your game quest, however one of these characters is unlocked later. These storylines are substantially different across the board and offer the player a totally separate adventure, so this is not an afterthought, especially as the playstyles vary from hero to hero. Using different characters ensures you have to resort to using different in game tactics otherwise the game can be almost impossible. Leinhart, who was in the last Kingdom Under Fire game is back and is as fast as ever with his specific game style of speedy sword strikes combined with deadly use of long distant shuriken attacks. The aptly named Duane carries huge weapons, but relies more on power than finesse. These do sound clichéd and I guess they are, but if you can look past this, they do work very well in this game. Well if it was actually any fun to play, that is.

This time around, Kingdom Under Fire is all about action with very little strategy. Sure, you can pick up a wide range of armour and weapons, however at the end of the day you immediately get back into the hack ‘n slashing. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a good slasher and sometimes mindless arcade style games can be fun, however I can’t help but feel so much more could have been made of this game, especially considering the powerful Xbox 360 platform. The game is extremely linear, meaning you wander from stage to stage battling masses and masses of mindless enemies ... it just never ends.

Unfortunately, once again the developers seem unable to make up their minds and have introduced a system of idols. There are three Idols, Death, Love and Greed and they make appearances throughout a level, they act as save points and provide your character with a place to sleep, away from the mindless battles you encounter. Not only do they offer rest, but they offer storage for overflowing items you have in your inventory. Additionally you can Imbue weapons and other items to enhance their abilities. This bizarrely requires you to invest your gold to increase the chances of successfully pairing items for powerups. This is just as poor in execution as it sounds in theory and it is another aspect of the game which I felt was an afterthought rather than a deliberate initial design decision. Surely the tried and trusted formula would be to improve weapons by increasing character experience or assigning experience points?

Annoyingly there is also the “Dream world”, another useless addition to this title which is a ridiculously convoluted section of the game created by an overeager design team. Rather than delivering a traditional style storyline through cinematics or engine rendered cut scenes the character ends up transporting to an alternate dimension so you can speak with characters to progress the story. In practice this relies on you speaking at the proper time to unlock different quips. Then you are presented with barely comprehensible diatribe which is apparently straight from the mind of a mental patient.

All this could be forgiven (barely), if the game played well, however the action is reduced to nothing more than a button mashing slash fest without relying on end user skill. Some of my best fights occurred when I had my eyes closed. You can however pick a character with a ranged attack and stand at a safe distance while launching attack after attack. Occasionally someone would lurch over and start a hand to hand fight, but if you so chose you could outrun them and strike again from distance. On the other hand, wander into some areas and you are instantly surrounded and struck without chance for recourse. A severe lack of gameplay testing plagues this title. Hell, I even liked 99 nights which got slated when it came out.

Magic powers can make or break a game, however once again they often do very little to help in game, certain powers such as “clap”, have as much battle prowess as throwing butterflies at your foes. I found the best way to fight in the game was with a weapon, magic is just useless.

The enemies you face are not well designed, particularly with regards to Artificial Intelligence. Travelling across the lands you meet many enemies who look different, however they all mainly act the same and are clearly using the same algorithms to run. Either running towards you at nearest line of sight or standing back and using air attacks. It is rather embarrassing.

So far it has been pretty much all negative, and trust me with good reason. However, there is one aspect of the title which somewhat redeems the game, multiplayer. The developers have clearly put a strong emphasis on teamwork and playing with your buddies. You can play with up to 3 other people online with the host being the central point, you can even swap items and weapons (much like Dungeon Siege) to help each other in combat. The story is the same as single player but it brings a much more cohesive and entertaining experience with more than one person playing.  Playing the game over xbox live is actually a lot of fun, which is a word I thought I would never associate with this title.

The visuals are relatively well designed and exhibit a decent amount of polish and class. They won’t be winning any awards however they don’t detract from the game at all and the diversity between each world is excellent. While I mentioned the distinct lack of AI programming, at least the enemies look different and the designs are well executed. A wide range of character modelling is also apparent, with grotesque monsters alongside beautifully designed foes. The frame rate deserves a mention as generally it runs well, however in times of heated action it takes a dive, it is noticeable and not really forgivable. I mean if Gears Of War can run without a hitch you would expect the same hardware to run this lesser title equally as well, if not better.

The audio side of the game is a mixed bag, some of the music is powerful and entrancing while the dialogue voice acting is woeful. Imagine a spotty 15 year old kid in a voicebox attempting to sound like a huge demon and this is about the limit the game offers. Hilariously bad.

As much as it sounds like I am painting a totally negative picture, the game isn’t dire and in multiplayer it is highly enjoyable even with the multitude of flaws. A specific group of Dungeon Siege fans might enjoy the game as well, however those of you looking for a diverse game which rewards skilful playing need look elsewhere. Button mashing is the order of the day and when you are fighting creatures with the intelligence of a garden slug, I guess it is all that is needed, however I would have liked a little depth and perhaps even a combo system for chaining attacks.

The game is let down by a stagnant story and confusing dream sequences which constantly irritate and grind on your patience. If you are going to be playing this game on your own then stay away, however if you have read this review and have a few friends you feel would enjoy it with you, then check it out.

Repetitive, flawed and a total button masher.
Some nice designs, and the game looks well. It is mared by frame rate issues when the action heats up.
The music is decent but the voice acting is very poor. Overall very forgetable.
Good fun with a few buddies. About the only time the game is entertaining.
Unless you are playing in multiplayer, not good value.
(not an average)
They changed the game formula and this has affected the overall score as it doesn't gel well. Not recommended unless you like the multiplayer concept.

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