By Dan Zuccarelli . February 26, 2008 . 5:54pm
In getting ready to play Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom I must admit that I've never played any of the Kingdom Under Fire games. Hell, I didn't even realize there were any others. So I came into this game about as fresh as they come. No expectations, no previous experience. I honestly didn't even know what type of game it was.
I did a little research online and found out that the game has quite a following, not necessarily in sales numbers but as a critical success. That's a good start (to me) since I could list out forever the games that were utterly fantastic but sold like crap. So in the interest of fairness and as an interesting way to cover the game, I'll be giving both my impressions and the impressions of the game from people I met on Xbox Live while playing the game online. That's right, I asked people how they liked the game while we were playing it. Not exactly bias free since they're obviously fans, but fun nonetheless.
Booting it up I was given the choice of multiple characters that fit the hack-and-slash model like a slow and powerful guy or a fast but weak fighter. You know the drill. I went with the dwarf-looking one since he has these cool morningstar weapons. After a 10 second opening scene of someone calling out for a woman you're thrown into the action. The running animation is weird looking (like he really had to hit the bathroom) but whatever, if the gameplay was good it wouldn't matter. I hit my first battle, which consisted of 10 lizard-guys circling me and then attacking. Seemed like a Dynasty Warriors type of battle system except these guys take a lot more hits. At one point I tried using the special "dash" move but my character ended up running 3 steps and falling over. Hmm, not very helpful.
It only takes a few minutes to figure out the ebb and flow of the combat, and that the longer I don't use the special attack the better off I am. In fact in the entire time I played the game I decided not to bother leveling up those special attacks, cause it just wasn't worth it. Why? I'll get to that in a bit.
The storyline in KUF:COD takes place far outside the action. You periodically run across these clearings in the dungeons where you can deal with a vendor or go to sleep. That's around the time the game really started getting weird. Going to sleep puts you into this clearing where a Victorian era dressed woman sits on a chair waiting to talk to you. It's all very creepy. In one of the cut scenes I fenced a guy that looked like he just stepped out of a 3 Musketeers movie.
Sleeping is apparently where the story takes place. I can't really comment on the story since I figured you needed to have some Kingdom Under Fire background to understand it, although the guys I asked during our online match and they referred to it as "nonsense" and "inconsequential." I found myself muttering a lot of "huh's?" during the cut scenes. It's strange because they never impact the action part of the game, these scenes are kept completely to the "sleep" sections. It makes the whole thing feel disjointed.
While you're asleep you can also pick up various quests to enhance and gain more of the aforementioned special moves. Completing these quests usually entails you killing a certain amount of enemies, but the problem comes with not knowing what enemies lie ahead to be sure to take the most appropriate quest. You may pick up a quest that has enemies long past and the only way to finish that quest is to backtrack. Likewise you could select a quest with enemies you won't see for hours. There's no guideline or order really, and after trying a few here and there I just gave up on trying to finish these.
Jumping online and playing with others definitely helped smooth over a lot of my problems with the game. It's a helluva lot more fun to hack and slash with others than to do it alone, and KOF:COD is no exception. It lacks offline co-op though, so if you want to play with friends you'll need to do it over Xbox Live.
In talking to the people I played with, almost everyone was a fan of the previous games and all of those felt this was a step backward for the series as a whole. Common complaints included the disjointed storyline and the awkward leveling system. Most agreed it was still worth buying, and certainly get your time value out of it since to attain the most powerful items and abilities in the game you needed to play though it multiple times.
While I enjoyed the time I spent with it while in multiplayer, I don't think I could ever play through the game more than once. It will probably satisfy series fans, and maybe even fans of the action-rpg genre. But for everyone else, you'll most likely want to look elsewhere. The combat here is far to repetitive to entertain most everyone else.