Let's just get
one thing out of the way before diving too far into this review, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is a difficult
not that the missions are too difficult or that you're
asked to do things that are too frustrating.
Rather, this game is hard because it's
vague, to the point where you might need to restart once you've figured out how to play the game and what you
are supposed to be doing. But don't rush away from Heroes too fast, because once you've mastered the controls, know how to upgrade your
characters, and fight with the best of them, you'll
find an entertaining experience that will have you going for more than a few
Kingdom Under Fire:
Heroes is the prequel to Kingdom
Under Fire: the Crusaders, the 2004 game that surprised just about
everybody with its unique blend of balls-to-the-wall action and strategic game
play. Like the 2004 game, you take
control of one of the heroes who leads his army into battle against all kinds
of enemy fighters. But this game is more
than just an action game; it requires you to control multiple units – archers,
sappers, spearmen, etc. – and fight on a number of fronts. At first this all seems pretty simple, but
once you've taken control of three or four different types of fighters you will
need to constantly be switching from group to group making sure they are doing
just what you want them.
If switching between groups and managing units sounds
familiar, then it's because those are some of the tried and true elements of
the real-time strategy genre. Even
though it may seem like odd, real-time strategy in not a strange thing for
Kingdom Under Fire, as the first game, 2001's A War of Heroes, was an RTS game for the PC. But Heroes is not your traditional strategy
game, it plays more like a merger between those strategy games and the all-out
action of titles like Dynasty Warriors.
It may seem like a strange combination, but after you've gotten used to
it you'll find that Heroes is one of the most exciting games of the year.
But Kingdom Under
Fire: Heroes is not an easy game to just jump in to. You start with only two Heroes available to
you (Ellen and Walter); as you beat their stories more of the characters will
be unlocked, ultimately allowing you to play through seven different adventures,
each filling in more of the overarching story.
Unfortunately, none of these characters really come with the adequate
tutorial you'd expect from a game as complex as this. Unlike most action games, Heroes requires you
to learn a lot about the control, managing your units, magic, and even
upgrades, all without much in the way of help.
From time to time a box will pop up on the screen providing some hints
and control clarification, but it's hardly enough information for a game with
just a steep learning curve.
If you're familiar with Kingdom
Under Fire: the Crusaders then chances are you'll feel right at home in
this installment. Heroes ends up playing
quite a bit like the Crusaders, which certainly isn't a bad thing since that
was a spectacular game with a lot of great gameplay mechanics. This is really more of an expansion pack,
adding onto what needed to be fixed and leaving the rest well enough
alone. If you haven't experienced the
Crusaders don't worry, you can get into this adventure and have just as much
fun … it's just going to take some work climbing the steep learning curve.
As I mentioned earlier, you have the chance to play through
a number of different campaigns filling in a large story. Unfortunately that story isn't all that
interesting, and seems overly convoluted and poorly translated. These story driven moments groan on for quite
awhile, usually without a great dramatic payoff. Some of these cut scenes are done in the
game's 3D engine (although, their lips do not move), but by and large the
dialogue sequences are presented with a still image and a lot of text. None of this is very interesting, and it is
easily the worst part of the whole experience.
Each character has a series of missions all their own,
generally offering between five and ten main missions (with a few side quests
that are not required, but are still fun to play). That may not sound like a lot, but since a
mission can last for a half hour, you may find yourself working on things for
quite awhile. Some of these campaigns
are no more than a few hours long while others manage to keep you busy for a
number of hours. The good thing is that
the events in the campaigns are often varied, not only with new tasks to
complete but also a number of different locations to fight in. Though you will be doing the same kinds of
things from area to area – seek out a bunch of enemies and annihilate them –
each mission is different enough to keep you going and for it to still be
exciting even when you're about to
The fighters themselves are all different, each with their
own set of unique moves and weapons. At
first you'll be using nothing but broadswords, but as you play through the game
with more advanced characters you'll find yourself using all kinds of
interesting weapons. Rupert, for
example, uses a large war hammer that is able to bat away a dozen enemies at
once with one mighty swing. Perhaps my
favorite is Vellond, a dark woman who uses this insane looking Iron Chains that
can be used to grab an enemy and literally whip him into a group of his
peers. And if weapons aren't your thing,
then the extremely tall Urukubarr and his bare fists are going to be your best
friends. You never get to fight with
more than your one hero character, which means you can move other units but
never fully control their action (though, you can order them to do specific
tasks). The rest of the non-playable
characters are pretty smart when it comes to fighting, so these large battles
are usually as simple as running around looking for people to slaughter. If the battle gets to be too much for you
it's easy enough to retreat and regroup.
Although your hero is strong with a mighty weapon you won't
be fighting all by yourself, you will have two partners (officers) next to you
ready to defend you and use magic whenever you call for it. If that doesn't do it, then perhaps the large
army behind you will help you out. Between
these non-playable characters you should have enough back up to take on just
about any type of enemy. Thankfully
there are a number of cool characters to take on, from orcs and elves to flame
wraiths, ice maidens, and flying wyverns.
Each of these enemies have different vulnerabilities and some awesome
moves (including magic). Early on you'll
really learn to hate these characters, but they'll grow on you after you've
spent some time playing on the dark side.
Customizing your characters with new skills and upgraded
weapons also plays a big part in Kingdom
Under Fire: Heroes. In the bases you
can use the experience and money you won from the missions to upgrade just
about everything you and your army could want.
You can add new magic to your characters, buy new armor, and even give
your fighters new jobs. Unfortunately,
like so much else in this game, there aren't a lot of instructions to help
guide you through this somewhat complex area.
It's worth your time to figure it out, though, since it's really the
only way to create the army you want.
There are quite a lot of enhancements for your characters, which means
you will likely have to play through the game multiple times in order to see
everything your lowly fighters can do.
Customizing your character isn't
limited to your hero and their immediate infantry, in the bases you are able to
hire new characters and back them with all kinds of cool armies. There are archers and mortars that help you
from long distances, sappers to set traps, and even people on horseback looking
for a quick fight. The great thing about
these different types of armies is that it always seems like there was a lot of
attention put on balancing them out.
Before long you'll see how
pitting the right group of warriors against the right group of baddies will
make the fight a lot easier, adding a lot of strategy to the action.
Not only are these different armies useful in battle, but
they also tend to have some useful special abilities exclusive to their
group. For example, if you're a human
archer you will be able to set fire to objects (and enemies) thanks to the
special flame arrows you can select and send flying. Depending on the character you play as (and
whether they are human or part of the dark legion) your armies will change,
this also changes some of the abilities they have. Using the archers again as an example, if you
were to select the dark elf archers you would be able to add Elemental Boost to
your arrow instead of the traditional flame.
Both sides have interesting characters you'll want to experiment with
and customize to perfection.
In game the control feels pretty smooth, even when you're
controlling multiple armies at the same time.
The game is pretty user friendly once you get used to it; you can control
multiple armies at the same time with no more than a push of one button, as
well as switching between the different groups using your L and R triggers so
you can command them separately. When
you're actually in a battle the game turns into a full-on hack and slash action
experience, one that has you rushing around a large area looking for people to
try out your multi-hit combos on. At
first it will be just a few armies in the melee with you, but as you advance
through the story you'll quickly discover that there are some truly epic
battles, the likes of which you only see in movies like the Lord of the Rings
and Alexander. Although the characters
have a lot of moves they are often kind of hard to pull off and not all that
effect when you do, so much of the action is nothing more than repeatedly
pushing one of the two attack buttons until everything is dead. This does feel a little repetitive after awhile, but
thankfully there's more to do than just button mash each battle.
When you're in these action sequences the game tends to feel
like Koei's Dynasty Warriors series, only with more of a medieval theme in
place. But even if you've completely
burned out on the Dynasty Warriors gameplay, there is still enough in Kingdom
Under Fire: Heroes to keep you interested.
A great deal of the excitement comes not from the button mashing you do
in battle, but rather making sure you have the right troops battling the right
enemies and people around to keep the magic flowing. I won't say the game play holds up all the
way through the game (it does get tiring doing the same moves over and over),
but there's enough excitement going on around you to keep you from even
noticing these minor problems.
In battle the game looks stunning, especially when you have
hundreds of characters on screen at once.
With all the characters attacking at once and some truly impressive
magic being flung around it's easy
to be impressed by the game's
visuals. Occasionally the frame rate
will get bogged down a little (especially when the larger enemies hit the
screen), but the overall frame rate is good enough for what they are trying to
accomplish. When you're out of a battle and just exploring the map it's easier to notice some of the ways they were able
to fit so many people on screen at one time.
The levels themselves, while large, aren't
especially detailed. Don't get me wrong, they still look good, but as you
run through it you can see how they used the same trees, textures, and
backgrounds to achieve their goals.
There is also a thick layer of fog not too far in front of you making it
hard to discern things in the distance.
Thankfully this isn't that
big of a deal since you'll just be
looking for a new enemy (or another army to group up with) and will be using
your map for that. Once you're in a battle you'll
have a hard time remembering the problems you had with the graphics engine.
In most of these medieval-style role-playing games you get a
lot of dynamic music to put you in the mood.
Well, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes
features dynamic music … but it's certainly not the type you'll hear in a Lord
of the Rings game or a Dragon Warrior sequel.
Instead of orchestras and brassy horns we get hardcore metal. Now I'm not a big fan of heavy metal, but I
have to admit that these songs really do a great job of conveying the urgency
of these battles. While playing the game
I realized that it's not the heavy metal I'm not a fan of, it's the constant
barrage of screaming that usually accompanies the music. Heroes presents these songs in their
instrumental form, which ends up fitting in quite a bit, even if at first it seems
horribly out of place. Some people may
never warm up to the game's soundtrack, but it's nice to hear music that tries
to be a little different.
Once you've grown weary of playing the seven campaigns you
can jump into the game's most impressive aspect, its Xbox Live mode. An online mode is nothing new to the Kingdom
Under Fire series, the Crusaders featured an extremely limiting mode that
showed signs of promise but came up a bit short in its delivery. Heroes, on the other hand, delivers in a big
way. Instead of simply being one-on-one
like the 2004 game, this new Kingdom Under Fire is all about the three-on-three
action. Now you can battle in a
three-on-three melee, a leader combat variation (that features you fighting
with only your leaders), and a three player invasion mode that has you battling
against computer-controlled enemies.
This last game is by far my favorite, a game I've been addicted to for
quite some time. The great thing about
Heroes is just how much variety its online mode has, when you've grown tired of
doing one type of thing you can switch it up and still have a lot of fun.
Don't have an Xbox Live account? Don't worry; you can try out these modes by
setting up a custom game in the main menu. This is also a great way to train
yourself for the real deal, especially since most of the people currently
playing online are cutthroat. If you do
have an Xbox Live account not only will you be able to play with your friends
(and strangers), but you will also be able to download new content. As of this writing no new downloadable
content has shown up, but at least that door is open for a time when somebody
might have something new to offer the hopeless addicts.
Under Fire: Heroes doesn't make it easy on you, it's a game that
requires you to do a lot of experimenting on your own before you get the handle
on how to play and what to do. But once
you've trained yourself the game quickly becomes one of the most unique and
exciting games of the year. Despite its
similarities to other genres, Heroes manages to carve out a unique style that
will have you coming back for more … just as long as you can get past the steep
Action packed gameplay? Check! Hardcore heavy metal soundtrack? Check! A great online mode that keeps you coming back for more? Check! A seriously steep learning curve? Check! Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes has a lot going for it, just as long as you have the patience to figure it all out.