Kingdom Under Fire exclusively returns to the Microsoft platform in its next-generation debut. In a Circle of Doom, Kingdom Under Fire departs from its action strategy roots by gardening them into a new kingdom of macabre violence. With a swift sword to a human shiskebob, Kingdom Under Fire is going down, down, down into a circle of doom.... and the flames are getting higher.
Developer Blueside and their partner in crime, Phantagram return from Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes to tell another tale of good vs. evil in Kingdom Under Fire universe. Taking a page from the Phantagram's first Xbox 360 effort in Ninety-Nine Nights, Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom (KUF:COD) trades in the real time strategy for a more action hack n’ slash role with added elements of role-playing. This will either alienate the original fan base, or make new fans from the re-mixed gameplay. If you where a fan of the series because of its unique blend of real time strategy aspects mixed in with hack n’ slashing then the abandonment of the strategy element might not satisfy your need for diversity. It’s an odd move to make given the success of the first two games, however one I guess the developer believes in.
From the opening logo you’ll hear the loud stomping beats of a strong metal march. This thrashing metal anthem will follow your crusade as you destroy brainless enemies by the hundreds. Circle of Doom is a simple beast that keeps it simple that sadly doesn’t innovate like the previous edition of the game. The major innovative feature about the other Kingdom games was the ability to control multiple groups in a real time hack n’ slash, Dynasty Warrior’s styled game along with micromanagement of a real-time strategy game like Warcraft. In Circle of Doom you have one player going into battle in a linear path without variation in the game besides the enemies you'll face, and even that is a stretch. The combat doesn’t even feel like a real hacker like Devil May Cry, or Dynasty Warriors. Circle of Doom is more dungeon crawler set in a close third person perspective. You could say it looks like Dynasty Warriors but plays more like Baldur’s Gate.
One contributing factor to the loss of a feeling is that the combos very basic and revolve around two buttons for normal weapon attacks and then one other for special attacks. Besides the replenching health and magic, Circle of Doom is light on the buttons. This makes it easier to play and possible a little more accessible, however in this ‘simpler’ approach is less fun. Hacking with a few buttons and pausing well your magic refills is the combat in a whole. What is unique about this real time combat is the use of statistics and numbers. The damage unleashed by your weapons is all translated through health bars on enemies and statistics of your weapons which keeps a more role-playing feeling to the game. This makes me wonder if Circle of Doom wouldn’t have been better if they made Circle of Doom a true RPG with all the mysterious and interesting characters associated with the franchise. That might be interesting, or at least more interesting then this half-breed.
Speaking of the characters I will run over a few of the playable characters you can use in Circle of Doom. Some of these characters are accessible from the beginning and others have to be unlocked which follows the tradition in Kingdom. There are five males Kendal, Regnier, Leinhart, Curian, Duane and one female, Celine. For differences Kendal is low on speed, and has high HP. He is difficult to move around, but makes up with it because he can wield powerful melee and ranged weapons. In comparison Leinhart has fast SP (magic) recovery, levels up quickly and has fast attacks. Leinhart and Celine are recommended for first-timers and novice players. Considering achievements are unlockable for finishing the story with every character, you have a reason to explore the game with the each character. This selection of fast and slow, magic based and melee characters will do the trick, although I’m a little sad that Morene Strident wasn’t invited to the dance as a playable character.
Breaking downing the new RPG elements more you will have your standard hit-points, magic (SP) points and a luck attribute attached to your character. When you level up you can adjust these aspects freely. Giving a boost to your SP is important because the SP meter handles you weapon swings. Each weapon is rated in seconds and points to how much SP it drains in one swing. It’s good to watch the weapons you equip and make sure you have enough points to use them. The general rule is the stronger the weapon the more SP points it will use. Luck is other stat which affects every chance related factor in the game like item drops, better synthesis percentage and likelihood of a status effect to be unleashed.
Going deeper in Circle of Doom, you can also enhance your items through joining it with another item called synthesising. This can attach special abilities to weapon or items making unique and stronger. Customization also comes in the form of learning new skills. These skills are selected in the dream world and two at a time you work on learning them through killing enemies. Once the requirements have been met you have to return to the dream world to unlock them. Like the synthesis both these areas add a lot of customizability to the game and where the RPG elements come from.
Keeping things interesting you can play Circle of Doom alone or co-op with up to four people. The character used in a solo game can be used in a co-op game without limitations. The game does balance the enemies level to the players so don’t expect a easy landslide of slaughtering to start happening in co-op. Co-op is a fun way to experience the game and a good way to gain new equipment when you go in alone. More items are dropped in the co-op mode and item trading is allowed between players. The multiplayer feature in Circle of Doom is a nice feature, but it’s a little underwhelming compared to what it could have been if they tried to merge it with the Kingdom Under Fire of the old.
The Circle of Doom gaming experience loosely tosses in a story mode that revolves around the characters, although in an interesting route you can choose to skip most of the story and just go into head first into the combat. The main story tells a tale of a mix up between the dimension of light and dark. The way it’s presented to the gamer is in static dialog sequences in the dream world between characters that seems as dead as the world it is presenting. For gamers who like a story to draw them into the action you will have to relay on the combat and ambiance the game creates with its graphical presentation. The story, or what you’ll get out of it, is fairly interesting and could have made more of an impact if the developers mixed it directly into the gameplay. Because it’s left out Circle of Doom turns into a dungeon crawler without a purpose.
In the graphics department Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom seems a little lost in the conversion to the new architecture in the Xbox 360. Circle of Doom greatly resembles a last generation game with a few notable improvements in the character models. Besides a few upgrades, there is a lot of tech issues that should have been done away with which include short range pop-up, bad collision detection and frame-rate stuttering. Nine-Nine Nights seemed to perform better on the Xbox 360 then Circle of Doom which is strange since the say development teams worked on the project.
One thing that helps push all the negatives to the side is KUF's ambiance and distinguishing style. Circle of Doom's look stays with the groundwork already built in the Kingdom Under Fire franchise with even more creative design in the enemies. Make sure you turn the “blood” on in the options and then experience slicing up a Clive Barker-esq human flesh on a stick, or track the invisibles as the grumble around your character. The themes are basically reproductions of aspects from other games, however its still fun marching on to see what interesting monsters Blueside has conjured up.
The gaming bricks that built the Kingdom Under Fire franchise into a respectable and creative genre blending game have now been tossed into its own Circle of Doom. The bold move of changing the formula from real-time strategy game into a role-playing game lacks the impact that made the first two Xbox entries successful. The hack n’ slash action seems a generation behind in its gameplay, audio and graphical presentation dulls the impact of its violent blade. Besides being a role-playing game with a story that you can skip, Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom holds the series back in its simplistic nature.
Being a fan of the first two games, followers of the franchise are going to want to discard Circle of Doom from their memories. If you’re new to the Kingdom then you might find some joy in the hack n’ slash action, if you accept the game for what it is. In a strange way, Circle of Doom has it own charm appeal and can be addictive if you don’t mind shutting down you mind and hitting the “X” and “A” buttons for hours. However, even though I had some admitted fun with the new Kingdom Under Fire, I can not recommend it for anything more than a rental. If Blueside wants to build a new Kingdom, I hope they can find the motivation to rebuild the franchise into the groundbreaking and creative game it can be.
Gameplay:6.5, Graphics:6, Sound:5, Innovation:6, Mojo:7 Final: 6.0 / 10