Phantagram brought a new kind of battle experience to the Xbox when they created Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders which combines RTS style gameplay, simplified interface and controls with a bone-crushing third person right in the middle of the action melee experience. No longer was the PS2 the place to get your Dynasty Warriors style fix, but now you could command a huge army as well.
With over one hundred characters on screen and a twisted plot KUF: The Crusaders carved a neat slice of fantasy battle action across the console market and did well enough to warrant a sequel.
Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is more than just a sequel, because calling it a sequel isn't truly correct: it's a prequel, only parts of it are tied in to the first game as well. You'll get the drift when you finally get to play it. We got our paws, or I did, on a preview and liked what we saw.
In the first game you played as four characters, these were the prime heroes of the story and each one gave you a unique view into the plotline, interacting with the others as they progressed through the story - it was necessary to play as all the characters to see the whole plot unfurl.
The sub-generals that joined you, like Ellen, Rupert on the good guys side were bit part characters with some cool special abilities, but you didn't control them directly and they mostly did their own thing unless called in via a combination button press (which some said was tricky to pull of in battle).
In Heroes the story has gone back five years, so Ellen is still a soldier in the Ecclesian army and Gerald is a cocky arrogant warrior. It's obvious right from the start that Heroes is going to fill in some of the gaps of the previous games' story and answer a few more questions while adding its own new missions and giving you a chance to cut loose with seven heroes rather than four.
That's right, the heroes from the first game are now sub-generals and you get to play with the likes of Morene and Ellen in the main gameplay modes. But we'll come to that in the proper review, since Heroes is really in its infant stages at the moment - but what I got to play was exceedingly cool and if you're a fan of the first game you're going to feel right at home with this one.
Each hero has unique abilities and these have been expanded upon from the first game, some of them like Rupert's hammer-swing take some timing and there's even a move where you can knock a hapless foe into the air and send them flying as they plummet to the ground.
The battle system has been tweaked a lot and the RTS elements are even easier to control now, the game plans to ease you into these hectic moments slowly compared to the first outing, and that will please some of the games' critics no doubt since that was one of the major complaints against the first title - it was too tricky to command your armies since you really didn't have time to learn much before you were thrown into massive scenarios where you had to learn advanced tactics quickly.
The graphics have been slightly improved and one major improvement yet to come is that the studio plans to make enemy leaders a lot easier to recognise. These differences won't stand out unless you're an eagle-eyed player of course, but it will make it a lot easier to spot who the main bad-guy is and take them down. In the case of the Orcs the leader could be a giant ogre or mounted on a war boar.
There are expanded modes of play for LIVE, it's no longer just a case of hack and slash Deathmatches - which were enormous fun in the first game. There are now 4-Player Troop battles, 6-Player Hero battles and something known as Invasion Mode.
In addition to this there's now a Spectator Mode and the option to watch Replays of completed battles.
If that wasn't enough we are promised 50+ Campaign Missions with Random Mission generators, Custom Mission controls which could well clock into about 50+ hours of gameplay in the core game and keep players happy for quite a long time.
This was early code we tried and tested and from playing it, with all the combination attacks and fantasy battle violence Heroes is shaping up to mash the first game into the ground with Rupert's hammer - there's nothing quite like seeing massive armies clash and knowing there's about two hundred soldiers on screen at the time all beating the pulp out of each other.
With you right in the thick of it, cleaving a way through hordes of enemies.
This is how fantasy wars should be done.
Join us for the review: soooon.