Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom
Doesn't live up to expectations, sadly.
Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom sees Blue Side take the series in a new direction; RPG elements and a single main character fighting hordes of monsters has gained favour over the strategy of previous KUF games. This is a bold move by the creators to mess with a system which has been successful so far for the series. Unfortunately the idea holds up far better in theory than it does in this poorly executed practice.
Circle of Doom seems to have been put together by different people working on different aspects which all just fail to mesh together properly. No aspect of the game is broken in and of itself, but playing through the game is akin to eating breakfast made by a four year old, consisting of cereal mixed with jelly babies and covered in brown sauce. The testers may have ironed out any real gameplay bugs and glitches, but it seems there was no one in control of overall design to make sure everyone had a clear idea of how the final game should play. If there was, the main man has an extremely long attention span and no desire for anything innovative whatsoever.
The graphics designers who have done an excellent job with character creation and environments. Each of the playable heroes has a distinctive fantasy style and attacks which are well animated, if repetitive. Tank characters, such as Regnier and Kendal can wipe out hordes of enemies with a few swings of their massive swords. Nimbler characters such as the elven princess Celine and half vampire Leinhart can soften up enemies with arrows and spells before picking off struggling survivors with their swords and lightning strikes.
The plethora of enemies waiting to meet your steel are also well designed, although a single character design for each race's soldier classes looks a little unusual when a dozen identical flopping, naked, obese zombies try to have a pile up with you on the bottom. There's also the opportunity to turn on the gore in the option menu, where each swing of your sword is an explosion at the ketchup factory. Given the game's grotesque cast of enemies, it's heart warming to see them spill their bodily fluids like extras from a Troma movie.
The gameplay is a simple bash X to attack affair. The developers inform me if I hit X at the right time I could do a combo, however mashing X as fast as possible seemed to work just fine. Shooting monsters is done with the left trigger (to aim) and pressing your shoot button. You can allocate your special powers to the other buttons, and if you need to block in the midst of a crowd you can't. Instead you'll have to wait until your stagger animation finishes after every beast surrounding you has had his turn poking you with a stick.
After an hour of gameplay you can be entitled to wonder why you are systematically exterminating this carnival of freaks. Unfortunately you'll have a much longer wait before the game gives you anything resembling an answer. Circle of Doom has one of the most convoluted story lines I've ever seen. Finding refuge at sanctuaries located sparsely through the levels, the story unfolds in your dreams when your character sleeps. The only serves to further distance the player from the game, and it happens at such a slow pace you'll quickly give up caring.
Your mentor in the dream world also offers you quests, where you can gain new powers. Unfortunately the quests all entail going back to the game world and killing a preset amount of specific monster classes. Often the monsters you will be required to kill will be on a level you haven't reached yet; there is no way to know what the requirement will be to learn a new power until you accept the quest. The corn kernel atop this speckled turd of game design is that even when you do finally earn a new power, some of them do nothing at all.
The idols at the sanctuaries serve as shopkeepers, allowing you trade unwanted goods and buy potions and equipment. Much of the game is focused on synchronisation, melding power ups with weapons and armour to create your own slayer's ubergear fashion show. Online score boards show which player has dealt the most damage with their weapon, however as the top ten people all have the same score I guess there is a limit as to just how powerful your Sword-of-Untold-Bleeding-That-Never-Stops-Hurting-Everything-In-The-World-With-The-Same-Move +1,000,000 can get.
The single minded sludge through level after level may appeal to some hardcore gamers determined to max out their characters with the most stupenderiffic sword the world has ever seen, but for the sane(r) gaming public KUF:COF quickly wears thin. It is greatly boosted playing with others over Xbox Live (sadly co-op is not an option locally). At least you can chat to other people over the internet to alleviate the monotony.
Online play is also a good way to quickly build up new characters, as you will split experience for monsters killed if you hit them. Stay back, fire off a few arrows, and let the level 120 powerhouse steam in and do the killing. Thankfully most of the online community will be happy to tell you this and they may even be nice enough to throw a few powerful weapons and armour your way.
Sadly, even this wasn't enough make me feel that my playing this game had any sort of purpose except to anger me into this review. Some will enjoy KUF:COD, but even the most diehard dungeon crawler will appreciate their other dungeon crawling games all the better for having played this. Circle of Doom is at best a miss-match of ideas which do not jell, at worst a brain numbing way to waste your entire life..