Kingdom Under Fire is typically not a franchise that most would consider popular in the United States. First released by the Korean game development studio Phantogram in 2000, Kingdom Under Fire has seen the fruition of four distinct titles. Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom will be the fourth addition and differs greatly from the series's originally established gameplay. Traditionally, Kingdom Under Fire was far more real-time strategy than RPG; however, in attempts to simplify the series for new players, the game was adapted into an action RPG.
Much like most games of this genre, the beginning of the game forces you to choose between one of six distinct characters, each with their own respective strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, each of these characters has their own separate campaign to complete within the overarching story. Unfortunately, the story of the Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is relatively unknown, though the developers regrettably have stated that while the story helps the game progress forward, it will not be a significant feature of the title. What we do know of the story is that it will bridge the gap between Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusades and the next Kingdom Under Fire franchise title.
"Since the game is a self-proclaimed action RPG, combat is an incredibly important element of gameplay."
Since the game is a self-proclaimed action RPG, combat is an incredibly important element of gameplay. Combat takes place in randomly generated dungeons and comprises of typical hack-and-slash fighting with some solid RPG elements thrown into the mix. Two weapons may be equipped at a time, though the player can carry up to six in their inventory. Additionally, each individual character has a pool of more than 50 skills available, four of which may be mapped to the controller at any given time. These choices are not permanent however, as you can change both skills and weapons at whim.
To further add to each character's customization, weapons can be leveled and specialized. For example, a weapon may gain a flaming effect or the ability to be thrown; however, these special abilities must be earned. Periodically while playing the game you will come across small pools of water containing idols representing three phases of the moon. If you sleep at the base of these idols you will enter a dream world where you can obtain the necessary quests for weapon modification.
Characters also grow stronger as the game progresses. As a character gains experience and levels, they gain attribute points. These points may be allotted in one of three main stat categories: hit points, skill points, and luck. While hit points function as they would in any other game and luck is seemingly intuitive in its purpose, skill points are slightly more complicated. While playing, there are only two stat bars visible, a blue one and a red one. The red bar represents your remaining hit points, while the blue one represents your remaining skill points. Each swing of a weapon or use of a skill decreases the skill points available on its bar. Over time, this bar will replenish itself, though the speed at which it recovers is determined by the character being played and the current weapons equipped. The game has some definite hack-and-slash elements in its gameplay; however, button mashing your way into skill point debt will only solidify your doom.
Gameplay isn't simply limited to a single player campaign. One of the major focal points of the game is its multiplayer offerings. Players will be able to play cooperatively with up to four players via Xbox Live. Moreover, players will be able to trade items with other players online. While the online system as we know it isn't incredibly robust, multiplayer features typically add a good deal of replayability to any game. As such, it's nice to see its inclusion.
One of the high points of the past Kingdom Under Fire titles was the grinding metal audio in the background while you play. Sadly, in this latest iteration of the series, the music has taken a slightly different approach. The sounds of metal have been toned down into what has been described by the developers as "slow rock" with a taste of industrial flavor.
Playing every character's campaign is said take 40-50 hours, though it has been stated that it can easily take 100 hour if you complete every side quest. Considering this and the fact that the game has three difficulty settings, players should have countless hours of playtime. The game series may be somewhat unknown, but it potentially could shape up to be a decent addition to the action RPG genre. Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is scheduled to be released January 8, 2008 in North America.