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Developer:
Phantagram
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: XBox
Release Date: September 20, 2005

by Jason Ferguson




Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is the sequel to last year's hit, Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders. The game gives us a better look at the lands of Bersia, and features a variety of improvements over the original, including new units and more playable characters. Filled with intense action and deep strategy, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes takes the series to the next level!


The story takes place five years before the events of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders, and follows the stories of seven different heroes. Bersia is in chaosÖ dark elves are rebelling from Vellond, humans are crossing into Hexter, and the orc tribes are at war. The game gives us a glance at the backstory to many of our favorite characters from The Crusaders, such as Leinhart and Morene. It offers gamers the opportunity to learn more about these characters and the events leading up to the Encablossa War.


The game has plenty of improvements and new features, however many of the changes are subtle. In many ways, Heroes feels more like an expansion rather than a full sequel. Actual gameplay has remained virtually the same, with some minor changes here and there that you probably wonít notice, but will appreciate if you do. You use strategy to move your armies throughout the battlefield, casting magic spells and outmaneuvering your opponents. Once you enter combat, though, gameplay becomes an action-packed hack and slash! Itís in many ways like the Dynasty Warriors series, although, in my opinion, with much more strategy and depth. A resizable min-map makes exploring the area and finding foes easy, and the controls, although somewhat complicated, work extremely well.


Missions can have an array of goals, from killing all of your enemies to destroying an object. In combat, if you manage to hunt down and kill the officer of a unit you can take down the entire unit. Youíve got several different options in combat, including attack, special attack, and an evasion ability. Your unit will also have up to two officers aiding your general who can perform special moves to help you out.


Missions themselves are epic, fun and at times even impressive. Battles are often massive, including hordes of soldiers and requiring lots of strategy. Choosing the right units to take with you, as well as managing your units during the battle, are key to victory! The only real problem with this is that there are sometimes so many units on the field that itís difficult to tell which unit is yours and which units are hostile. There were problems with this in the first game as well, but not to the same extent. This time around you end up fighting a LOT of battles against units of your own species (elves vs. elves, etc.), making things extremely confusing.


You gain experience based on the number of kills in each battle, and you use this experience to level up the skills of your officers. The stronger your officers are, the stronger the troops following them will be. All units, including officers and troops, can also be equipped with powerful items. You can teach your officers a variety of skills, from scout to heal. If their skill levels meet the prerequisites, you can upgrade your units to a more powerful class. For example, if your officer is strong with holy magic, you can upgrade units from knights to paladins. The system works very well and allows you to build up an army and customize them however youíd like!


There are a wide variety of units in the game, and they differ depending on which side you are playing on. The human forces consist of units such as knights, soldiers, paladins and catapults. The dark legion has units such as orcs, ghouls and wyverns. The game features several elemental units that were not featured in the previous game, including the Thunder Rhino, Ice Maiden, Flame Wraith and Earth Golem. These units are extremely powerful, but have very high prerequisite skill levels, forcing you to spend a lot of experience to use them.


Along with the variety of units, the game also features seven distinct heroes. These are characters that we were given a brief look at in the previous game, but didnít really get to learn too much about. Leinhart, for example, was among Regnierís officers and Rupert served under Gerald. The previous game featured four different officers and a campaign for each. This game features a campaign for all seven heroes, increasing the gameís length significantly!


Probably the biggest improvements seen over The Crusaders are with online and customized play. You can play 1 vs.1, 2 vs. 2 or 3 vs. 3 on Xbox Live, and new content will be available to download. There are also several different gameplay modes for multiplayer, including Hero Battle (3 vs. 3), Invasion (3 vs. AI), and Ladder Matches to rank the best players in the world. If you canít play online, then you can create your own customized game to play. You start off by choosing a hero (Gerald, Regnier, Morene, etc.), then choosing your units and setting your enemy settings. This allows you to create whatever kind of game you want, leading whatever units you want against whatever foes you want!


The gameís graphics are good, but not really noticeably different than the previous game in the series. Units are well detailed, and move with an impressive amount of realism. Spell and lighting effects are done very well, and can cause battles to be a splendor to look at. Environments look good, but they lack much variety, and can get a little bit old after you fight battle after battle in a virtually identical battlefield. Unfortunately, the game has slow load times, so expect to have plenty of time to run to the bathroom, grab a snack, and take a brief nap. Fortunately, the load times donít come up very often at all, so it wonít be a regular occurrence, but when they do come up youíll be waiting for quite a while. The camera generally works well, but from time to time you'll struggle to rotate it, or waste time searching for someone. In the heat of battle, these few seconds lost can cost you the game!


The gameís music is an interesting mix of hard rock tracks. It might seem like an odd match at first, but when the massive battles start and youíre hacking your way through armies of orcs, the music will fit right in. The voice acting isÖ ok. The previous game didnít have particularly good voice acting, and this one is no different. Voices are dull and uninspired, and the dialogue is almost painful at times. The voice acting is tolerable, but I suggest you just read the subtitles and ignore them. During combat, when there aren't long, drawn out conversations, the voices are significantly better.


If you enjoyed Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders or are a fan of RPGs and strategy games, then needless to say, you have to play this game! It builds and improves upon the previous game in a variety of ways, and ends up being one of the most enjoyable strategy games Iíve ever played on a console.


Final Grade: 85%




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