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The two Kingdom Under Fire games released only on Xbox have always had a reputation for being difficult real time strategy games that often have gamers stumped at certain points. KUF The Crusaders is the sequel to Kingdom Under Fire: A War of Heroes, a 2001 PC game, which has since changed and altered due to its console status. Developed in 2004 by Phantagram, KUF:TC combined strategic war elements on and off the field with personal hack and slash fighting should your unit come across enemies. In its time it made use of Xbox Live's multiplayer capabilities, which has since been made defunct, to fight against other players troops and characters. PEGI recommends it for persons over the age of 12, despite an abundance of fantasy gore (mostly blood spray, burning and deaths) and the odd expletive in some heated discussions.
PLOT & SETTING
Set on the continent of Bersia, the races and nations of humans, elves, dwarves and orcs are at odds for taking over the land and in some cases locating, chasing, understanding and/or destroying a sacred artifact known as the 'Ancient Heart'. The standard humans are based in Hironeiden, with loyalty to the king and a standard, christian-like religion. Ecclesia is home to more extreme religious humans, blindly swearing loyalty to the Patriarch, a madman twisted in his fixation with the Ancient Heart. The dwarves and high elves however remain rather unknown but are considered comrades to the human alliance. The Dark Legion consist of several orc and ogre tribes in Hexter, led by war-chiefs, these are mostly brainless stooges who only care for their land but pledge allegiance to the darker forces. The dark elves are stationed in Vellond, under rule of vampires and their subjects (half vampires). This union however, is just as unstable as the humans and their religious squabbles, as the elves strive for independence. The map or Bersia consists of several unique locations, some relevant to species, others contested land like 'The Holy Ground'. Most battle fields are overgrown forest areas but some are barron deserts, harsh winter mountainside and the odd castle siege.
Only 4 playable characters to choose from in the beginning (2 at first with the others unlockable) you get half and half for the human alliance and dark legion with 2 humans, a
Pictures of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders (Xbox)
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders (Xbox)
Disc, Manual and Case.
dark elf and an immortal, each with their own unique move set, weapons, armour and story. To start, only two are available as the game requires you to play through a introductory story first rated easy or normal whilst the other two are secretly dubbed hard.
Gerald - (Easy)
A hardcore general of Hironeiden. Dons a feathered set of armour with a cape and equips a one handed straight-sword to adequately dispose of his foes. His campaign is extremely straight forward and more like a tutorial to the game with simple battles and less focus on troop customization. Also accompanied by fellow allies Ellen and Rupert who would later appear in KUF:Heroes. Probably the dullest voice acting among the playable characters with a low, standard, accent-less droning voice which only becomes realistic at one stage when he completely looses his head in a bloody orgy, slaughtering orcs - "Choke on your own dark bubbling blood! I will stick your intestines upon MY GATE! You will rue the day you DARE attack MY country!"
Lucretia - (Normal)
A dark elf wench dressed scantily clad in skimpy robes and jewellery. She uses fast spinning double scimitars. A far more original voice over as most elves in game have heavy European accents, suiting her looks as well as aggressive character. She also makes an appearance in the sequel, this time coming to odds with the ferocious half vampire Morene and the younger dark elf Cirith. Her plot revolves around a relationship triangle with a heretic elf Rithrin, combatting the human hordes and seeking freedom from their dark overlords.
Kendal - (Hard)
Is a legendary warrior in the Eclesian army. Not without his full set of armour, he swings both war-hammer and mace in battle to dispatch the blasphemous enemies of God. Follows the will of the Patriarch and friend of sequel character Walden and his son Thomas. His duty is to be a blindly dedicated servant of Eclesia. A slow hitting beast with a troubling story line.
Regnier - (Hard)
Possibly the most badass character in history, swings a massive great-sword in huge arcs. A bright yellow robe and loincloth, skilfully cover his wedding vege whilst he hides behind a creepy helmet with giant red horns. Although he has unites several orc tribes to rule over, his physical appearance is that of a human with rippling muscles, but don't be fooled as later on it is discovered that he is an immortal. The strongest of all the characters, he demands it as his is the most difficult campaign. Sequel antagonist Leinhart practically becomes his b*tch and offends the mighty Urukubarr by leading troops of his race. Walks through flames and pack a mightily low, booming voice that has to be masked.
There are 2 sides to gameplay, the first being the world map side, a birds eye view of scattered locations, maneuvered by dragging a cursor. Its here that we get most of the dialogue ranging from situation reports to fuming arguments. You also get some choice in major locations with 'Operations' for discussing tactics and what to do next with superior officers, 'Barracks' to improve or change your troops and 'Pub' for recruitment of officers and eavesdropping. The Barracks are particularly important as with each battle you gain gold and experience points to purchase new traits, weapons, armour and abilities. The battles themselves start of with an analysis viewing the battle map, choosing your troops and the odd spirited rallying cry. In the field, you switch between your chosen units, moving them around the map to find and complete your objective which is usually search and destroy, defend postions and allies or scout ahead and pinpoint enemies. The game makes use of all its units with archers/longbow-men, cavalry, axemen, sappers, artillary, spearman and your standard infantry, most of which can be upgraded to 'heavy' or of knight or paladin status. There are also support units for select missions - giant scorpions, storm riders (hawks), bomber wings (large airships), dirigibles, wyverns and swamp mammoths. Should your main character commence battle with an enemy troop, the camera zooms in and you swing your weapon away to help out the slaughter with A as strong attack, X as swift, B as counter/block and Y a special. Special moves are displayed during load times so you learn while you wait. The better the move the more SP it uses (a metre that rises with positive attacks and diminishes with the use of abilities and spells). Combining A and X or B and Y buttons summons your lieutenants to aid in the battle at the cost of 200 SP. Should you get in trouble or loose your cool, you take damage to the troops life bar (it has to segments green: healthy, and red for injured. The red bar can be replenished but when its gone, its gone for the rest of the battle - basically like a death count. Use spells to your advantage like healing magic, elemental attacks (meteor, blizzard, thunderstorm etc). Formation can also be changed, with wide and closed, the former for better defence but slower movement and the later the opposite.
Problems are that it is often trial and error based, seeing which method doesn't wind up with all your men getting annihilated, fiddling around riversides praying not to turn into porcupines from endless waves of archers. Its also a bit clunky, as troops don't always go in the chosen direction, blindly stumble into mine fields and fire or somehow get rinsed by arrows despite being under cover of trees or facing the sun.
MUSIC & VOICE ACTING
Fromt the start I noticed there were the odd glitch in speech - The word 'Patriarch' was never spoken. After researching it I learned that the spoken word was originally 'Pope' but quickly removed before launch as it may have caused offence to religious people, namely Catholics. Gerald and General Hugh are the only actors who let the team down which is unfortunate as Gerald is a main character and Hugh needs to motivate his men with long winded speeches - which sounds like a grumpy guy reading straight off a scrappy piece of paper with no conviction at all. The music is all instrumentals with emphasis on guitar heavy shredding riffs. The world map theme however is more reserved and uses acoustic guitar with the odd drop d riff and loud drumming. As you can imagine, the heavy metal music is an ideal backdrop to fighting hordes of enemies.Having played both KUF games on the original Xbox, Its clear that 'Heroes' was more updated and made better use of the system, being able to reassign skill points, having better voice acting, varied music and slightly better stories which unfortunately always have poor endings. In fact the only benefit to completing the game is unlocking a new character, as the ending videos are short lived and at times random with no leeway for any hypothesis. However despite this, the scenarios are varied, dialogue interesting and combat system fun and original. It takes some time picking up the controls and way to strategise, but if you bear with it you'll reap the rewards, revel in the improved sequel and generally become a better gamer for your struggle. Official Xbox Magazine rated it 'Elite' at 8.9/10 and Xbox Gamer a 'star game' with 8/10 for a score.. at the time theres no doubting it.. its an original, quality, challenging game.
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