Kingdom under Fire: Circle of Doom – Xbox 360

Review by Johnus Maximus

In a world where the forces of light and darkness have exchanged ownership of the world in a pact that has existed for eons, a war began when Nibel the Lord of Light decided that no more will the forces of darkness consume and distort his creations. Reneging on his deal, Nibel incurred the wrath of his counterpart – Encablossa, the Lord of Darkness, who promptly amassed his Dark Legion, a horde intent on attacking and destroying the denizens of world ruled by light. A time came where a small band of heroes rose up and defeated the demonic Encablossa. Upon doing so they became trapped in the dark dimension.

This background sets the scene for Kingdom under Fire: Circle of Doom (which henceforth shall be referred to as KUF:COD), where it is the role of you, the player, to choose a hero, and bash, slash, shoot and crush your way to victory over Encablossa and his forces. KUF:COD is the 4th game in the KUF series and is developed by Blueside, and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The game was released in Europe on February 1st 2008.

I’ve had my eye on this title for some time, having never heard of the series before, my introduction came from some E3 footage I downloaded from the Xbox Live Marketplace last year. As a seasoned fan of hack ‘n’ slash games, KUF:COD appealed to me, and with eagerness I awaited its launch. Traditionally, hack and slash type games are a bit like marmite, some love them, and some don’t. Look at the array of feelings over the Dynasty Warriors series, which is soon approaching its sixth incarnation. Many critics cite the unoriginality of repetitive actions and lack of innovation as key factors that stop them enjoying this type of game.

So will there be anything in this title to sway naysayers and have them revelling in the genre that I love?

In short, no.

Despite a few saving graces, this game really offers nothing new or exciting.

When you first start the game, you’re given the opportunity to create a new game file and choose to be one of the five heroes – Celine: Elvish warrior queen, Duane: balding, one eyed ladies man, Kendal: soft talker and general of the armies of light, Leinhart: vampiric samurai prince, and Regnier: partially clothed and partially mutated warrior. At a later point you can unlock a sixth character – Curian.

Regnier fights the demonic sculptors
Regnier fighting off some demonic sculptors

Despite the limited choice of characters, they each have different styles and characteristics that distinctly set them apart from each other and make each gaming experience feel different enough to be engaging. Once you pick your hero, you then have the choice to play solo, or link up with friends/strangers over Xbox Live.

As a first time experience, I think that the solo game is too difficult to really enjoy, I found myself being killed a lot on the first level with all but one of the characters. It gets quite annoying when you are being overwhelmed by the large number of enemies attacking you as you’re getting constantly getting hit either by the melee troops in front of you, or hit with missiles from the archers or mages that like to linger in the background.

You really need to have patience, as perseverance is key to succeeding if you want to start the solo game at a low level. You will be dying and restarting a fair few times.

Take the game online though, and the game gets a lot more fun. You can choose to host the game and let people join your party, or you can jump right in to someone else’s game, providing they’re happy with your character level and don’t boot you. With a maximum party of 4 players, and player levels ranging from 1 to 120, you will find quite a diverse selection of people to play with out there on Live.

Once you have at least two players, the game becomes altogether more enjoyable. The enemies do get a slight increase in their stats to compensate for the extra players, but being able to work together and tackle enemies that would have been too much to handle alone is a lot more fun. After killing a few enemies you will start to notice that quite frequently they drop various potions, lotions, weapons and gold. These can be exchanged easily with the other members of your party, or you can just hoard all the loot and use it yourself.

Each character has five weapon types that can be equipped and customised, and you will find that certain weapons at first aren’t very usable. This is because in addition to having a hit points meter, each character also has an ‘SP’ gauge, which reduces with each swing of your weapon and recovers at a rate determined by your overall level and the type of equipment you’re wearing. So some tactics have to be used due to the trade-off between weapon and armour strength and your characters ability to utilise them, in order to optimise the amount of button bashing you can do.

Fairly quickly you will find your back pack of loot is full, so a trip to one of the Idols will be a necessity. The idols of Death, Greed and Love are found at various points of the game maps, and they are in charge of a designated safe zone where your party can resupply, rest and of course bank all that lovely loot. More importantly though, the idols allow you to use Synthesis, this is the method of combining/upgrading a weapons abilities, a very useful tool.

With such a wide variety of weapons and abilities you have an almost limitless choice in what your weapons can do. Sadly the instruction manual and in game assistance is not very clear as to how to make the most of synthesis, so looking online is probably a good idea, I found some handy hints from the people at xbox360achivements.org

The game doesn’t just offer mindless mashing and bashing, it also has a rich and detailed storyline for each of the characters. Unfortunately it is presented in a way that is really difficult to understand. If you’ve played any of the previous games then it may make some sense, but I the storylines to be boring and vague, and often making very little sense. This makes it difficult to become attached to the characters, as you can’t properly understand their background and direction. I feel that the stories could have been better presented, perhaps with slightly longer introductory cut scenes. The prologue to the game is just a few lines of text scrolling up the screen! So the explanation of the predicament the heroes face in this strange dimension may not be up to standard, but graphically I must say I was impressed the overall look of the game.

On the plus side, the developers have done some great work with the visuals. Each level has a theme ranging from tranquil forest to fiery caverns, and the environment art is of a high standard, which helps give an air of authenticity to the dark, gothic setting of the game. The range of enemies that you will come up against also look really good, well some of them look downright disgusting, but in a good way.

Kendal about to face the Balrog boss
Kendal about to face the Balrog

Should you successfully navigate through all the regions in a level then you have to face off against a big end of level boss, who is usually a lot tougher and requires a strong team to take down. I love games that have end of level bosses, and defeating the ones in this game is very rewarding, as they drop a lot of gold and rare items which will help you on your journey. With 6 regions in the game, there is enough playing to be had to keep you busy for a long time. Also there are a few achievements that will reward you for levelling up every character, so expect a long play time.

A nice feature in this game is the ability to save and exit any time you want a breather. Game developers take heed, not having to wait for a specified point to save can help keep your customers sane!

There are a few things I would have liked to have seen in the game. Being able to create your own warrior would be have been good. Also being able to customise the range of levels of the party on the online game would be good, as having someone join in who is much higher or much lower than you can adversely affect the overall enjoyment. Also having a little bit more storage space for your items would be good, or just a facility for sorting the items you have.

As an overall judgement, I’d go so far as to say that this game is just okay. It’s great fun online, but offline it really does get dull, that and the other negative points mentioned above really hold it back from being a “must-have” title.

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