The real-time strategy genre is a pretty forgiving and solid formula, but that's not to say that it might not need the occasional kick in the pants to mix things up a bit. Thankfully, though Microsoft's upcoming Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes isn't necessarily a strict RTS title, it borrows heavily from the strongest staples of the genre. To get the best flavor of what this one is all about, envision taking one partWarcraft III and one part Dynasty Warriors. Include some multi-player courtesy Xbox Live, and the mix is promising indeed. Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is a title that looks to deliver some solid action-oriented gameplay, complemented by the zest of an RTS.
Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is a sequel. While the first one passed a bit under the radar, the second iteration is definitely getting a much bigger push in all respects to make sure it fosters a much more accepting release. Continuing on from where the first one left off, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes follows the paths of seven different heroes split between the forces of good and evil. The focus of the gameplay and story is centered on the progression of these characters, which in the single player campaign are unlocked as the game progresses. Each hero is fleshed out with their own personality and abilities, which compliment and solidify both their role in the storyline as well as what they're best suited for within the context of the game battles.
In regards to the battles and game progression, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is set up similarly to most RTS titles: players are assigned a mission and some objectives. While the focus of the game is on the heroes, at the start of each mission players are supplied with an array of support troops. These are made of standard foot soldiers, archers, and even cavalry. The in-game experience consists of two central modes of play: tactical mode and action mode. While in tactical mode, players move their heroes and soldiers around the map by positioning them in strategic locations and trying to best coordinate a game plan. Then there is action mode, which consists of the actual conflicts in which the hero and the troops actually engage the enemy. It's in action mode that you are able to take full control of the hero character, using their specific strengths and special abilities to thin out the ranks of your enemies while being supported by your armies.
Taking a page out of the standard RPG formula, the experience the heroes gain on the battlefield can be allocated to level them up by beefing up their stats and abilities. Character upgrades are all done manually by the player, so playing the same hero twice might not foster the same results both times. In addition to being able to upgrade the games' heroes, players can also purchase and allocate upgrades for their soldiers, such as buying them better armor or more effective weapons. The better equipped your troops are, the better they can assist you, whether it be in the form of simply staying alive longer or being able to support you with healing and ability boosts during combat.
The strategic elements of the game look to be balanced quite well. Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes allows for the implementation of a wide array of tactics, but does not look to be so complex as it is overwhelming when things really get nasty. Elevation and landscape lend to the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of your troops, so positioning archers on a hill will give them the advantage over troops stationed at lower elevations. Additionally, the world is interactive as well, so it's possible to lure enemy forces into a cluster of trees, only to have it set on fire from afar by your archers flaming arrows.
One thing Phantagram is really excited about is the multiplayer component, and with good reason. If they can pull it off, Xbox Live players will definitely have a unique and entertaining title to add to their collection. The multiplayer action allows up to as many as six different players, for a total of three versus three matches. The gameplay for multiplayer is the same is it is in single player, and with the leveraging of voice support it really sets the stage for a ton of cooperative strategic setups. Each player will control their own hero and armies, so setting up and deploying the right strategy in a cooperative manner to take out the opposing side will be an incredibly crucial part of gameplay, not to mention the fact that a solid online cooperative experience is a scare item these days.
This multiplayer features three different modes. The team battle has players splitting the troop resources up evenly and simply trying to annihilate the opposing team in a strategic arena pretty much identical to the single player campaign. Hero battle mode is a straight up hack and slash approach, with players going at it in the name of all out brawling. The third mode, invasion, is set up with players cooperating to protect themselves against a steady onslaught of enemy troops. Keep in mind, all of this will be going on while you are issuing commands to your troops and coordinating with fellow players, so the Live component of Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes sounds like it can offer up some pretty gratifying online play.
Well-done cooperative play in any game is always reason to attract some buzz, so it's great to see it getting so much attention for Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes. Online cooperative play is just icing on the cake. In addition to the Live implementation, Phantagram looks like they've fleshed out the entire game to a degree that it provides for a solid single player experience as well, so anti-social gamers have no reason for concern; this game definitely looks like it can offer some quality game time for everyone. Bottom line: if you're looking for an interesting twist on some classic real-time strategy conventions, definitely give this one a close look when the final release goes retail in Fall 2005.