Kingdom Under Fire 2 is about to declare war on the west. Don’t worry they’re on our side and we got a preview of this upcoming MMO RTS hybrid before the battle begins.
On 14 November Blueside will complete a march westward that has taken ten years and over $80 million. Kingdom Under Fire 2 is the latest game in the long-running Kingdom Under Fire franchise and an epic new direction for the strategy titles. Combining narrative RPG elements, the massive scale of an MMO, and the tactical combat of a Real Time Strategy, Kingdom Under Fire 2 is one of the most ambitious online games to come out of Korea period.
It seems fitting that an epic game would grant us an auspicious start so when publisher Gameforge and developer Blueside asked gamespace to come to take the castle in Trechtingshausen, Germany we donned our best battel armor and took a steel stallion out to Azilia’s aid. Set around the fantasy realm of Azilia, Kingdom Under Fire 2 opens 150 years after the events of Kingdom Under Fire: Dark Crusaders and features the return of the Human Alliance and the Dark Legion. like many other MMORPGs. The game is intensely focused on this RPG opening as the forces of dark and light clash, while you get busy building a new hero.
Like many new launches before it, Blueside’s brand title is an easy entry for MMORPG fans. Flanked by an option to play one of five classes, the character creation section will feel remarkably full and familiar for anybody that’s played an eastern MMO before. A library of options provides players with over 20 parameters for facial features and more possible combinations than I dared try to count. You can check out the character creator peek below but it’s fair to say that this extensive system is as diverse as you’d expect and encourages players to make their own adventure.
The traditional MMO influence doesn’t end there, with five distinct character classes to choose from The Elementalist, Berzerker, Gunslinger, Ranger, and Spellsword all have their own varied and unique gameplay style. We got extensive time with the Elementalist and Gunslinger, which Gamespace revealed last month. While classes like the Ranger and Berzerker aren’t too far from what you’d expect, the Elementalist, Gunslinger, and Spellsword all throw in a twist of their own. While our delicate looking Elementalist might not want to get too near the fight, they bring a massive animal familiar into battle. This fearsome clawed bear acts as the Elementalist’s ally and line of defense when things get too up close and personal.
The Gunslinger and Spellwrod probably diverge the most from traditional RPG class tropes. The Gunslinger, while not entirely unrelated to classes such as Aion’s Gunslinger and Guild Wars 2’s Engineer, falls very far from the glass cannon trope. Instead this bullet wielding mercenary is a line breaker. He isn’t simply going to cut and run when there’s an opening. Instead, the Gunslinger is designed to mix ranged firepower with up close melee combat, allowing him to swiftly make ground and provide an opening in enemy fronts. It’s an interesting idea that brings something unique to the class divide and certainly stands out in gameplay.
The Spellsword class is, once again, something akin to a twist on an establish MMO trope. Taking the concept of a lightly armored assassin class, Blueside added in a mix of magical attacks and extra up close melee martial arts. The mix makes this class look and play like something akin to an assassin taking influences from Blade & Soul’s Kung Fu Master.
Kingdom Under Fire 2 doesn’t just take inspiration from some of NCSoft’s line up in regards to character creation. Combat has some obvious parallels. While getting around in Kingdom Under Fire 2 makes obvious sense, each class comes into its own when the game’s combo system kicks in.
Just as each character looks and feels distinct, classes like the Elementalist and Spellsword handle slightly differently when they enter combat. The basic MMO elements of 3rd person combat still exist, so picking up and going straight for the jugular is easy enough. The normal WASD movement scheme and mouse controls are all in place and the skill bar at the bottom of the screen makes unloading serious damage easy enough. The interplay between the basic combat skills and the limited action set really makes these characters stand apart.
Just clicking buttons randomly is effective enough but Kingdom Under Fire 2 battles are built around an active combo system. Unleashing initial attacks provides an option to follow through with any number of extra attacks, and deliver a significant amount of damage to an adversary. These combos are an obvious element of the game’s vertical progression trees, which is significant in scale, and allow players to vary their own attack methodology. These sort of combo systems can clearly cause a significant barrier to new players. I am specifically thinking of any RTS fans that jump into this title. However, it was great to find that Blueside has included some very direct combo hints on the screen that directly push players towards the button they need to connect with.
During combat, hero characters will also need to manage a resource that is directly linked to their more powerful abilities. The gunslinger, for example, must continue to keep a stock of bullets by stringing together the aforementioned combos or simply reloading at the first available opportunity. With multiple resource mechanics, a wide variety of gameplay styles and a progression tree that allows combat to unfold differently for each player, Blueside and Gameforge have an experience here that is more active than the considered combat of Chivalry. Another MMO RTS style hybrid Conqueror’s Blade had the accusation that it is more arcade than war simulation leveled at it and if you are looking for a high stakes stance based combat experience then this is not going to deliver. The MMO influences, hack and slash combos, and fantasy setting make this a much more fluid and enjoyable experience for the masses.
Familiar Faces Familiar Places
Kingdom Under Fire 2 doesn’t just learn from other MMORPGs during combat. The game’s first 15 minutes introduce a wealth of items that are almost instantly recognizable to fans of the genre. Anybody who has ever played an NCSoft title before will; feel at home. I have already pointed out a few of these inspirations but take a trip into the game’s subsystems and the UI looks strikingly similar to Aion’s systems. This is far from a problem for me. The character stats, combo screens, crafting, mount, and item shops are all simple enough for anybody who has ever picked up an MMO and the parallels make Kingdom Under Fire 2 feel like an old friend. While this isn’t a surprise, considering that the game is Korean, it is a great allegory for our wider experience. Opening with a series of narrative fetch quests, chasing down elk, and ferrying the odd parcel, the game does not reinvent the MMO experience but adds a new take on it as things open up into the later game.
The Front Lines
Like character creation, game content takes a veritable side step as your character levels up. We managed 15 minutes with our Elementalist in Kingdom Under Fire’s instanced missions. This stage provides players the option to roam the skies in an airship, picking a series of solo, group, or raid level encounters to drop into. Crashland in any of these and you might find the allies of Azilia, your chosen faction, facing off against the Dark Legion or fending off a raid by the Encablossians, the game’s newest antagonist faction. These missions range from sieges to open plain encounters. Gameforge confirmed that when players progress, these RTS style missions become more and more relevant in your journey while the traditional MMO questing system begins to fall away more.
This is also where the Real Time Strategy element begins to shine. You can check out 15 minutes of RTS gameplay below but there are plenty of options when heading into battle. At level 12 we only got to drag in a couple of battalions with us but Kingdom Under Fire is not short on options. The MMO elements of the game allow players to recruit and upgrade as many as 80 types of troops, topping up to 120 after launch. Stepping into an encounter that allows players this flexibility means a change in the way that combat occurs. Rather than simply smash and grab loot, these types of scenarios have more in common with Total War than something like Command & Conquer. The strategy in Kingdom Under Fire involves bringing the right tools to the battlefield to see off the waves of orcs that might want to take down a local village.
Switching into a top down view at the touch of a button provides a good overview of a battlefield and moving troops around at a basic level is relatively intuitive. The control scheme is a loose point and click system that doesn’t lean too heavily into troop formation or resource management. At least, it wasn’t obviously asking us to do so at this stage. Instead, the AI does an adequate job of attacking whatever you ask it to. In addition to a battalion’s opening salvo, each group of combatants carries a range of specialist skills. Much like the game’s hero characters this limited action set allows players to unleash game changing moves on opponents if wielded correctly. We found it a little difficult on our first tour of duty to harness this, but the potential for some epic combat is definitely there.
The Real Time Strategies implemented in Kingdom Under Fire 2 are, much like the move towards a more action oriented combat scheme, focused around a balance that a wide range of people can engage with. If you are looking for an in depth online strategy with troop by troop management and a rich variety of battlefield systems then this might not be as fulfilling as you expect. For an MMO player with an on off relationship with Total War: Warhammer, Kingdom Under Fire 2 was easy to pick up and play while showing huge promise and a ton of variety when the large scale combat really opens up.
Kingdom Under Fire 2 isn’t without its potential issues. As a Korean title, it is burdened by gender locking. We addressed this with Gameforge and they responded confirming that while they are aware that “it is an issue, especially within the MMO community” and given the upcoming launch they “would focus on perfecting the gameplay at this time”. That doesn’t mean this is permanent by any means but it is something players will have to decide on for themselves.
Likewise, we didn’t get a chance to see PvP, and while guild systems are incoming in the future, Gameforge wouldn’t be drawn on the likelihood that these epic battles will extend to territory wars. So, for now, Realm vs Realm style combat seems to be something you’ll have to stick to other games for. Even if, and when, this we’re going to be keeping an eye on how Blueside’s own in house engine performs. It was great with one and four players but when the game gets 6 player dungeons we can only hope it holds up just as well.
Despite some reservations, Kingdom Under Fire 2 is a standout game in the MMO marketplace. As the most expensive MMO in Korean history it can’t afford to be anything else. My hands on time with the game was a generally pleasant experience and it left me wanting more. I may have made a few comparisons to games like Conqueror’s Blade but Kingdom Under Fire 2 is the fantasy title that the former game could have been. Unhindered by historical accuracy and taking a more fantastic approach the Korean developer behind this title has crafted a game that you should absolutely get ready to drop into if you want to do more than simply spin to win. In short, this is no ordinary MMO. You can keep an eye out here at Gamespace for more on Kingdom Under Fire as the 14 November launch date approaches. Players looking to pre order can get in now on this buy to play adventure at the official Kingdom Under Fire 2 website.