A Kingdom is once again under Fire
The fantastical land of Bersia that the previous game: Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders introduced players to, is back. For those of you eager to discover what exactly the first game entailed I've provided a helpful link to the previous review:
Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes takes place in varying time frames, before the first game and during it. It chronicles the lives of heroes. From the ambitious and dangerous: Leinhart to the fire-tempered young Ecclesian: Ellen. Old favourite characters like Rupert and Morene return but this time as a central focus, expanding the hero choices from four to seven in this instalment.
I won't say anything else about the story apart from it will answer some questions from the first game, and pose many more.
If you're used to the previous title then it will be fairly simple to leap back into the game and start playing. But do not despair, if you're a new player to the series then KUF: Heroes has been optimised for a better experience, the difficulty levels have been altered and the control system has been tweaked - especially in regards to the actual battles themselves.
The mechanics of moving your men, positioning your units have been kept the same but a lot of the game menus, interfaces and so forth have been simplified for the new player. You can still move one unit of troops via the line-of-sight marker or you can open the mini-map and issue move orders from that, the cursor changes depending on the context of the action so that you're never stuck wondering what to do in a battle.
When the action hots up and you come under attack you get full direct control of your main story character, you are able to unleash devastating secondary and primary attacks using your generals who's actions are now mapped to the white and black buttons, while your own character's special moves are based on button combinations (B+Y for example) and both types of move use SP (Special Points or Skill Points).
Each unit will have access as well to special abilities, bought from the 'town or city' menu in the Single player side of the game. These can range from fire arrows to spells and other abilities; some of them are passive and affect certain things like the morale of the men.
SP is built up by killing enemies and those are the basic mechanics of the game.
At the end of a mission you'll get some gold, some experience and you can use these to outfit your main hero, your generals and your units with new skills, armour and equipment.
The control system is tighter than the first game and the moves are a lot easier to pull off, once again however the developers have ticked a few people including me off by not allowing for an option to highlight the enemy general or make them really stand out, so where you could be having fun slaughtering masses of enemies - you're left wandering around at the near end of the battle looking for an Orc amongst some other ragged Orcs who might have a fur coat on or a horn different on their helm.
This doesn't really bother me all that much but I can see where novice players will get fed up and go to play Dynasty Warriors 5 instead.
The game engine produces nice quality graphics, lush and full of life. The skies roll above in a pleasing manner and you get the trademark bloom that gives everything a nice 'glow and shine'. It creates vast landscapes quickly and cleanly and the various mission areas are once again brought to life with a suitable level of detail, the most important factor being that there are no noticeable glitches or frame-rate judders, or at least there were not when I hammered at this game for ages.
There are hundreds of enemies on screen at one time; the limit of about one hundred from the first title has been well and truly exceeded as the game engine delivers close to double the original figure while displaying special effects, weather and so on.
So, on a graphical front, if you dig fantasy and mighty (Lord of the Rings) style battles then you're going to love the look and feel of this one.
Mission and Area design
The mix of attack, defend and scouting missions from the first game is back and the whole thing offers 50+ missions in total in the Single Player story. For the first time: there are also Random Missions and Custom Missions where you can set up a quick battle and decide how you want it, with numerous features to experiment with.
The Area design of the game varies from mission to mission, some are in lush hills and dales while some take place is frozen landscapes under harsh conditions. As in the first game the weather and various elements like the sun, make for interesting tactical tools. The sun blinds enemy archers as long as it is behind you and so on.
There's not much more I can say on this subject. The Area design is a make-or-break part of a game like this that tries to combine RTS with 3rd person battle sequences and thankfully they got it right this time around too.
The models in KUF: Heroes are good ones, just like in the previous game. There seem to be a few more polygons in them this time around and they certainly have taken some time to add a little more detail to the individual seven heroes and their generals, leaving a little bit of detail out on the other units and troops since they're only there to be slaughtered mindlessly in droves - huzzah!
The scanty-clad nature of the evil warrior female troops is back, especially with Morene's costume. This seems to be par for the course now in most fantasy style games and a couple of female gamers at Games Xtreme commented that at least Ellen was dressed in full armour, that being a nice change.
All in all however the models in the game are up to and better than the previous and the brute-Orc warriors look even nastier with the new additions, spikes and dangerous looking armour/weapons.
Here's where I am caught between a rock and a hard place, you'd think that having been told about the lack of lip synching from the previous game they'd have redressed the problem with the new one. You'd have thought that wouldn't you? Well, sadly they left things as they are - minor gripe really but one that draws you away from the characters and leaves certain ones looking like Camels chewing or preparing to spit.
The rest of the animations, movement and combat are spotless and flawless. The new combat moves that add to the heroes' arsenal are excellent, especially where Morene uses her blood tendrils to whack an enemy trooper around the battlefield and slap them into the ground.
The pathfinding in the first game has been tweaked and overall the AI is a lot better, it's still a run-and-smackdown style of game and the enemy don't seem to use much in the way of advanced tactics at all - they don't really need to when they often outnumber you 4-1. What's there of the AI does its job well and that's all we really want in this kind of game.
There are no complaints here at all, the sound is solid and the clash of steel mixed with the screams of battle works perfectly. It brings the fantasy fight to life and when the battles are not raging there are often light ambient sounds to draw the player in. The rustle of armour as your troops move or the clamour of horse-hooves as your cavalry hammers across the battlefield.
It varies from good to terrible but that happens to be par for the course again in games like this. The emphasis isn't really on the story or the voice; it's on the hammering of the enemy into the ground and not worrying that the hard looking Paladin sounds like he's really a flounce-fairy armed with a dishmop.
Ok. Now I have to take serious issue with the music in the game, there should be some nice stirring orchestral pieces to gird the armour and sharpen the sword of battle. Not this grinding heavy clamour that sounds like ten-thousand cats being strangled with piano-wire. Instead of Lord of the Rings, we get Clamour of the Bins...
Bad developers! No biscuit!
If it's not vocal it's instrumental and I use that term loosely, while some might love the modern industrial or almost 'Death Metal' music style in the game it totally turned me off and I usually like this kind of thing.
The chances are if you don't like Single Player games then you skipped right to this section. So what's in it for the errant LIVE player then? Well there are some new modes, a Spectator option and an optimised LIVE experience. You can also play the original four heroes from the first game over LIVE so that gives you eleven characters to use.
Troop Battle: You have an army and you fight it out, hostile to all there is little room for friendship on the field. Kill or be killed, that's your only option.
Hero Battle: You don't have an army, go at it with up to five others and see who has the strongest blade or the quickest thumbs.
Co-op Battle: Team up, do some trouncing and be the victor!
LIVE play is fun and armchair generals are going to love this while, while the hardcore 'Death match' style player is going to spend all their time crowing about their victories in the Hero Battle and be too scared to take on a real army.
KUF: TC was an innovative game that broke the RTS and action boundaries much in the way of the Dynasty Warriors series, except it went one better than that and added troop control and unit support to the mix.
It added a massive and twisted story told through some incredible and very difficult gameplay. The rewards were there if you preserved through the game and the gameplay brought you back for more and more. The sequel redresses several problems, shifts the difficulty and opens the series for more new players - it succeeds a lot better than the original game and feels a whole lot friendlier.