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Under Fire: The Crusaders
Score: 8.0 / 10
If you’re a real-time strategy buff, you’ll
already know that Kingdom Under Fire’s first incarnation appeared on the
PC, which received lukewarm reviews from the critics. Kingdom Under
Fire: The Crusaders could probably be deemed the official sequel (though
nowhere on the packaging or manual does it state there was a previous
game). There is still a strategic element to consider but role-playing
and action aspects have been stirred into the mix. It’s a good effort at
combining the elements and succeeds on several fronts but the complexity
is sure to stymie some gamers.
The bulk of the game is spent running around the battlefield engaging in
skirmishes, which are all part of larger confrontations. Admittedly
there is a Lord of the Rings feel to it all but Crusaders allows you
control over the camera and the battles are less scripted. Mayhem,
described the battles pretty well. There are literally hundreds of
figures swarming the field of battle, in various weather
conditions, without a hint of slowdown.
It’s the first game in a long time to coax a “Whew!” out of me after a
really pitched encounter.
An enemy group can be cut down rather quickly if you can pick out the
leader and vanquish them. For some groups finding the leader is simple
because they stand out in some obvious way, like being mounted, but all
too often I was left running
around the group seeking out the leader.
Across the four campaigns, to help your character you have a couple of
“lieutenants” that can be pressed to your aid. When you’re not charging
around the field in various formations, your NPC troops can look after
themselves most times but it should become regular practice to use the
lieutenants to thin the enemy crowd. To order the lieutenants around
your hero must earn Skill Points by attacking enemies. Though the
controls for combat are straightforward, when you’re required to switch
between multiple combat groups while fighting these pitched battles
frustration starts to creep in. Having archer support is great but
flipping to them mid-battle to get them into a better position… well,
there’s a reason most real-time strategy games take place from an
overhead perspective. It’s just easier to track events on the
battlefield. It gradually becomes easier to deal with this as the game
progresses but in the initial stages it’s overwhelming and might force
the casual player to just give up.
Between battles you have the opportunity to plan for your next foray by
distributing experience points you earned on the battlefield amongst
your troops and/or buying better equipment. Developer Phatagram is a
miserly bunch when it comes to XP and gold. It’s definitely another
level of strategy getting your soldiers in fighting shape with limited
resources but it can be agonizing trying to choose wisely.
It’s also during this down time that you can listen in on what your
troops are gossiping about. More importantly, this is the time you can
save your game since there’s no saving allowed during the battlefield
fights. (This save system will produce gray hairs as you attempt the
longer and more difficult battles since it can mean replaying battles
from the beginning if you fail in your objectives.)
One-on-one multiplayer battles over Xbox Live really boost the shelf
life of Crusaders. You’ll probably get your money’s worth from the
campaigns as long as you’re not expecting a 100+ hours role-playing game
– the multiplayer is gravy. Maybe not as chaotic as two-on-two
multiplayer (which the manual erroneously stats is included) but there’s
always the chance it will be included in a sequel.
It’s a trite phrase that’s been used so often the tread on it has been
completely erased but Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders can be a
rewarding experience if you’re willing to put in the time to really get
a grip on the controls. After some initial frustration, which I’ll admit
was high, it’s really a game worth playing for the epic feel and chaos
of open-field warfare.