Reviewed: November 12, 2005
Released: September 20, 2005
Microsoft has apparently decided that no niche market is too small to fill, and for once we can thank them for their every hungry corporate coffers. Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is the follow up to Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders, though I think this is actually a prequel. (And there goes all my cred with the die-hard fans of this series).
At any rate, you have two sides to choose from in this action/RTS title, and plenty of enemies lining up for their beatings, so what are you waiting for?
If you are familiar with the last Kingdom Under Fire title, you have nothing new to expect from the controls really, which is good because all of the things that were right in the last installment have stayed the same, and you donít have any new, ďimprovedĒ additions to muck up the works either. The bad news is that if you happened to miss the original get ready for a steep learning curve on the sequel.
There is no tutorial to speak of, at least not that I went through. Fortunately the first stage is pretty user friendly so you have plenty of time to figure things out, and honestly most of it isnít that crazy. It may be a little counter-intuitive, but once you get the idea it mostly falls into place.
Aside from lacking a tutorial, the game progresses through a series of missions where you control squads of men on the field of battle. So far, so much youíve seen before. The difference comes in when those squads close in with the enemy. At that point you get control of the commander of the unit and can go about killing individual enemy troops. While it is good to bathe in the blood of your enemies, itís also time consuming.
Instead of killing the enemy to a man, you can find the leader of the enemy unit and slay him which will then break the unit and give you victory; less casualties all around, but for the same exp. What could be better? Well, possibly slaying your enemies, driving them before you and listening to the lamentations of their women, but unfortunately there is no gloat button in this game, so youíll have to skip it.
Random Cimmerian references aside, after securing victory on the field of battle itís time to do what every RPG fan loves: level up, manage your characters, and buy new toys with the spoils. Thatís right, your captains gain exp in battle which can then be used to level up, or buy certain skills. These in turn not only affect your captain, but also the effectiveness of the unit. If you decide to specialize in frontal attack power you can turn the unit into pikemen or, eventually, heavy cavalry.
So not only do you get to level characters, but there is also a ďtech treeĒ of units that you can get depending on the skills of the commander. Of course there are strengths and weaknesses to all the units, so be careful what you work towards, because it might leave you in a tight spot come later battles.
The camera is easy to control as well, with only one problem, which is I think deliberate. No matter how you adjust the camera you are always tightly focused on your unit, which provides a great feeling of close quarters fighting when you run into another unit. This isnít such a good thing when you are trying to maneuver across a field though and position your troops effectively. The closeness doesnít impair you terribly, but it does make you feel very restricted.
Graphically this game is very similar to its predecessor, so itís a little behind the current times, but still good looking despite showing its age. The environments are beautiful, at least until the fields are torn up by marching feet, the forests are set ablaze to flush out hiding infantry, and the castle walls are pounded down to make way for your advance. All the while storm clouds gather, rain pours down heavily, or the sun shines with no concern for the endeavors of such small and busy creatures.
What is mildly disconcerting is that whenever you see a character involved in dialogue they look like they are chewing gum forcefully, or are about to spit out that wad of chew. Aside from that though the character models are very well designed with nice individual touches, except of course in the case of the faceless soldiery. The do make up for what they lack though with great AI combat while you are off trying to kill another officer, there is melee everywhere around you all rendered just a hectically as you would expect.
As for special effects, youíll have to wait a little before you start to see any, but once you start teaching your captains spells and lighting up your arrows the sparks do fly just fine. With massive forest fires, ogres and giant scorpions that toss men like pieces of a rag doll physics demo, and plenty of thunder and lightning your campaign is sure to at look like a spectacular defeat.
You knew a sequel couldnít out do the original in every respect, and here is where KUF: Heroes finally looses ground. The voice acting is generally pretty good, though I did like the voices of some characters better in the original. A lot of the lines are delivered dead pan though, and somehow I just donít find an opponent menacing if heís not really into it.
The actual soundtrack is pretty good though, and they kept with the heavy metal themes, so while your men make fillets out of the enemy you have some crazy big haired rocker flailing away on his axe somewhere in a sound studio. Zeppelin eat your heart out. Though I wouldnít do it too quickly, because none of these tracks are good enough to receive air time, or even fan playtime outside of the game context; but thus far itís as close as youíre going to get to Viking raiders singing the Immigrant song as they start to raid a hapless coastal village.
There are seven campaigns to this game, each with itís own unique story tying into the overall plot, so while one character gets you familiar with whatís going on, another will tell you what happened to that commander after you bested her (yes, they do let women lead troops in this game) on the field. There is plenty to keep you busy until the wee hours of the morning, and if that isnít enough you can always pop onto Live and see if you can give anyone the shakedown.
This is a solid follow up to KUF: The Crusaders and a welcome addition to the collection of any RTS fan. I wouldnít go so far as to say itís a must have title, but it is a nice change of pace from most of the games currently out on the market.