Phantagram's Kingdom Under Fire is a new gaming experience which blends elements of strategy and action together on a grand scale. There hasn't been too much pre-press for Kingdom Under Fire, you could say it's flown under the radar. With all the news about the Halo, Dead or Alive, and Grand Theft Auto follow-up games, you might have missed out on this breathtaking title from Microsoft. Is Kingdom Under Fire Microsoft's sleeper hit of 2004?

The Game
Kingdom under Fire (KUF) is a brave new fantasy strategy game from Phantagram Studios which places the gamer at the heart of the medieval world called Bersia. Kingdom is a very ambitious and classically focuses on the oldest of rivalries, good vs. evil. The story has all the elements of you could want in a fantasy tale with some standard Tolkien characters. You will see orcs and elves, you'll hear the word "immortal" and "Altar of Destruction". Besides all the characters and backstory the best part about the storyline of Kingdom Under Fire is that you can choose which side to participate in. Either light or dark, human or beast, with each side offering different storyline perspectives.

The most impressive aspect of KUF is the scale on which battles take place. In any given battle you can have hundreds of characters engaged in an all out war. The combat isn't just about all out slaughters with swords clashing against swords, there is also a fair amount of strategy involved in engaging in war, and being victorious. This includes using different units to fight off enemies, troop formation, laying traps and sun direction. Kingdom Under Fire has a few surprises up its sleeves and proves to be interesting and surprisingly deep.

It's suggested that embark on your first journey as Gerald, a human. Gerald is the only campaign labeled 'easy' and take it from me the easy can get hard at times. There are also three other campaigns, one labeled normal, as the Dark Legion's Lucretia; then they have two hard difficulty selections using the good hero Kendal, or evil Regnier. For this review I managed to make it though Gerald's missions and have gone a few hours into Lucretia's. There is a huge amount of replayabilty in KUF, even if you have no troubles with the missions during the campaigns.

My one major complaint with the gameplay aspect of KUF is that some of the missions are too linear, and to be successful you have to stick to the original pre-made plans. In this respect KUF isn't a true strategy game and doesn't allow the player to have enough freedom. The tactics the game lays out are well thought out and sensible, but you're not required to think on your own which is the basis of any strategy game. I must admit even though it really started bothering me that I had to proceed by one point to another, I don't think I could of passed half the missions without some great tactics like setting forests ablaze or using effect baiting techniques. Not all the mission structures are so tightly knit, but most of them are. The best instances of the game are when you have to use your problem solving skills to best conquer a situation. Overall with over a hundred missions that vary in goals, you will find your share of ones you like or disliked.

Off Kingdom Under Fire spec sheets it boasts over 50hrs of gameplay, not including the ridiculous amount of time you could spend online. There is so much packed into KUF that you will know you're getting your moneys worth. The gameplay will be a little difficult for some players and the camera takes a while to get used to, but if you overcome the learning curve of the game you will be taken sedge by Phantagram's masterpiece.

Graphics & Sound
Graphically, Kingdom Under Fire has its strengths weaknesses. The good side of the graphical tale is KUFs sense of scale by character numbers, and by shear size. Kingdom Under Fire boasts that it can support up to 150 on screen characters at once modeled with 3'000 to 5'000 polygons, and it's all true. KUF looks amazing on the grand scale and the characters although not totally polished are presentable. While I'm talking the characters in the game, I have to mention how increditbility cool they are. Even if I wasn't bias towards the almost nude female warriors, the concepts and designs are top notch and rival any fantasy book. The level of detail on the fighting equipment such as the catapults are inspiring with eagle block heads and detailed wooden wheels, all the little touches have been added. Although I was impressed with the graphics and the cinematic flair there are allot of problems with the camera and the games text can be a little too blurry at times. KUF also doesn't support HDTV, so on the big screen you will get more jaggies and wont look as good.

Pure metal is a perfect way to describe the bone crushing rhythms in Kingdom Under Fire. The metal mayhem soundtrack is perfect for marching into the battle and beating the life out of your enemies. I'm actually surprised on the musical choice instead of using the old standard medieval pieces. Using heavy metal as the background really adds to the overall tone of the game. Other aspect of the audio are well done, the weapons sound great and keep the littlest details in like the ropes pulling back on a bows. Besides Gerald's in his sad attempt at anger, the voice acting is good and really starts to shine when you get the self-centered women together in Lucretias campaign. Overall the graphics and sound complete the package and make Kingdom Under Fire something that has to be seen to believe.

Kingdom Under Fire is a truly innovative game which offers something new to the gaming experience. The first innovative aspect in KUF would have customizable units. All the main characters and supporting units are customizable in regards to their equipment (armor, shield, weapon), where the main characters differ from their ability to gain new skills, and apply experience points. The main characters (or generals) directly affect the support units and they will gain from your generals boosted stats. You're able to delegate how you spend you exp points, giving boots to melee, range, magic and other skills. Other skills compromise of magic skills and others like scouts or gunpowder; its overwhelming at the start just how much can be changed. Needless to say this greatly increases the replay value of the game and strategies you can use.

Kingdom Under Fire also innovates with some great online play. Players must gather experience and can challenge other armies to battle. The best thing is to stick with it until you get a strong army and try to play people on the same level. This way the online play will be the most fun. Also included with Xbox Live is the future ability to download new missions, which will extend the life of the game even more.

Lastly, I have to mention how the game is played in its entirety is a new concept, blending the strategy, army building, and real time fast action together fluently. Kingdom Under Fire breaks the mold and hopefully others will follow.

If I had to get bit by one vampire it would Morene Stident! Although she's a little moody, she has the mojo!. Actually even without the Morene's seductive outfit KUF would have the mojo. Kingdom Under Fire really takes you into the field of action and makes you work for your victories. It's awesome to be in control of these large battles just like in the movies, ala Bravehart. The whole design is cool and the tunes rock! Regnier has to be one of the coolest villains in a game. No teddy bears and ice-cream here. The mojo is easy, Kindom Under Fire is one of the coolest games this year, cemented in mojo.

Kingdom Under Fire is Microsoft's hidden gem, and Phantagrams masterpiece. If you are at all interested in this game pick it up, it will be worth the purchase. Kingdom Under Fire is grand, fun and challenging. Kingdom Under Fire is the Microsoft Xbox sleeper hit of 2004, don't miss out.

Gameplay: 8, Graphics/Sound: 8, Innovation: 9, Mojo: 9. Final: 8.5

  • 1000-unit epic battles with up to 150 characters in one battlefield scene.
  • Players can lead troops into battle or fight the enemy themselves.
  • Wide character selection from two main races and 4 sub-races.
  • Up to 15 types of troops under each main race to choose from.
  • Cinematic look and feel captured by excellent 3D scaled art.
  • Diverse functions such as magic, bridge building, and setting traps may be used, depending on type of troop.
  • Accumulated experience in leading a troop can be used to change troop type and install new equipment.
  • Additional mission downloads through Xbox LIVE and upgraded character download services forthcoming.

Kingdom Under

Oct. 2004