Microsoft X’07: Hands-on with Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom


[Me again. Looks like I’m spending more time promoting articles than actually writing something here on the site. In the meantime, enjoy CosbyTron’s ‘shops and impressions of KUFCOD. — DMV]

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is the latest entry in the KUF series that appeared first on PC and later on the original Xbox. This title drops the real-time-strategy trappings of its predecessors and dives directly into the fight in action-RPG style. At least… it saunters, somewhat politely, into the fight.

KUFCOD looks quite nice (I know! It SOUNDS dirty, right?!). The character models are detailed and animate well. The lighting seemed particularly nice, bringing out highlights in textures and creating a soft glowing effect. The handful of environments I was able to see varied nicely, but none was particularly unique. A slimy living world level (oddly reminiscent of Oblivion‘s titular sequences), an icy canyon level, a grassy valley level; there didn’t appear to be a cohesive aesthetic in use here.

The level design itself is a throwback to old-school dungeon crawlers. This may not be a problem in a dungeon, but even while outdoors, things feel a bit confined. Regardless of the environment around you, it always feels as if you are walking down a narrow corridor. Even when you are able to see off into the distance, your feet must remain on a thin path.

While this type of level design might be typical for a hack ‘n slash, the developer is looking to break a little new ground with the game’s “sleep” system. When near specific “Idol fountains,” pressing the back button gives the player an opportunity to sleep. While sleeping, you enter an alternate world where you can interact with NPCs to receive quests and get filled in on the story. Hitting the back button again allows you to “wake” and return to the level you had just been working on.

While wandering around an ice-coated hallway, I decided to have myself a little nap. The dreamworld I entered was completely barren, save a lone NPC. I chatted the fellow up, but amidst the noise of the show floor and the pitch of Global Product Manager Duane Colbert at the demo station, I was hardly paying attention to the text. The facial animations during speech seemed to flow pretty well with what little I could catch of the audio (so it did sound fully voiced). While Colbert disagreed with my observation that the dreamworld essentially played the role of the “town” in a more conventional RPG, that’s about the best way to describe it. As far as I could tell, entering and leaving this world doesn’t affect the core game in anyway (which dashed any expectation of A Link to the Past style alternate-reality romp).

So the NPC experience isn’t exactly robust, but then, this game isn’t trying to be Baldur’s Gate. Action RPGs are all about tearing through hordes of enemies and obtaining ever larger Rat Whackers. But I saw no hordes. The guy working the demo dropped me in at save points on two different levels. In both scenarios, I had to wander the level a in search of someone to have a hack at. If I had a seat, I wouldn’t have been on the edge of it — I’d have been assed way back, comfy in the knowledge that I could walk the halls of the Kingdom Under Fire unopposed. Screenshots imply otherwise, so I’m hoping that someone simply had the bright idea to clear the level of enemies to make the experience easier for show-goers. If this is really the enemy density we can expect, someone needs to crank up the multiplier on the spawn points. [Editor’s note: Global Product Manager for KUF: COD, Duane Colbert, wanted to point out that those who had played the demo prior to CosbyTron had cleared many of the enemies on the level. Rest assured, there are plenty of baddies to be both hacked and slashed. – Nick]

When some ghoul would happen along, combat seemed sluggish. There are a couple of attack buttons and the ability to pull your camera in for more accurate strikes, but the character just didn’t seem to respond to my button presses. At this point battle devolved into a button-mash. The combat system certainly has a lot going for it. There appears to be a massive selection of weapons and a solid system of upgrades (there is a Buddha sitting at the center of some levels and speaking with him gives you weapon upgrade options… I’m pretty sure Buddha’s not down with upgrading your mace to do an extra 2D6.. but maybe it wasn’t Buddha.. maybe his name was Eric, and I just wasn’t paying attention).

With a proper influx of baddies and faster, tighter melee play, Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom could turn out to be a solid, if a little cliched, hack ‘n slash. A little more meat in the dreamworld could actually give the title a unique flavor, like when I was a kid, there was a water park near my house. At the snack stand at the water park, they served vanilla ice cream covered with Nerds (the candy, not the people)! And it was awesome! …and that’s what a meatier dreamworld would taste like.

Anyway, that’s a tall order to fill between now and Winter, when the game is expected to ship.