The Kingdom Under Fire series has mostly been comprised of real-time and active strategy wargames, however, the latest installment puts a twist on the basic formula by functioning as an MMO with various RPG elements alongside the traditional strategy gameplay. The MMORPG-RTS hybrid style of Kingdom Under Fire 2 is an interesting direction for the series after 2007’s Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom.
However, despite the 12 years between Circle of Doom and KUF 2, there really isn’t much to recommend the new game. It isn’t a bad game, as it mostly functions as needed, but there’s very little about the gameplay, characters, or world to really recommend it. Add on a by-the-numbers RPG plot and bizarre visual animations, and the player is left with a flawed but functional product.
The hybrid nature of Kingdom Under Fire 2 is as fascinating as it is limited. The combination of game genres and formats leaves KUF 2 as a boring, grindy mess of fetch quests and extermination missions that feels interminable. The constant running between NPCs to exchange approximately one to three lines of dialogue per interaction with occasional breaks to murder a few monsters out in the open world is punctuated periodically by the RTS “dungeons.” These 1-4 player missions are often castle siege or defence scenarios where the player can switch between an aerial RTS mode and hero-based active combat depending on their playstyle and situation.
There are well-balanced costs and benefits to both playstyles which makes the gameplay at least fun. It also helps that switching between both modes is nearly seamless, so you can toggle between the hero-controlled active combat and the more traditional RTS gameplay.
There is also good news for solo players in that many of the story-based multiplayer instances can easily be handled by a single skilled player. Which can save you from having to put up with a slow, clunky party matching system. However, outside of these strategy combat instances, Kingdom Under Fire 2 completely falls apart.
The player advances through the story by doing a bunch of small, pointless errands that plod along through phoned-in cutscenes and boring text chat that is quite possibly the most frustrating form of MMO questing to date. Every time the player interacts with an NPC, they are subjected to the NPC’s static dialogue, before moving into the quest-based chat through dialogue prompts. While this isn’t exactly unheard of for RPGs, the fact that the static dialogue and quest chat are often completely at odds with one another creates for a strange, disconnected questing experience. Considering the fact that the bulk of the quests involve running around and talking with various NPCs, the quest text, static message system, and UI could stand to be a lot more impressive or, at the very least, a bit more immersive.
Meanwhile, the visuals, which will be a draw for some, aim for being high-end, sleek productions, but they often end up as a blurry, glitchy mess that the game engine can’t handle. The character designs are sexualized to the point of absolute ridiculousness right from the start, and the static character movements are so overblown you have to wonder if the animators have ever seen a real human being before in their lives. NPCs and player characters alike will standstill, with every single limb twitching and writhing in a completely unnatural way. From individual finger movements to constant shoulder rolling to bizarre “breathing” animations that move the character’s entire body from hips to shoulders, the animations are beyond the uncanny valley and just end up feeling archaic. As if the designers didn’t know how to convey life in the character models without having them in constant undulating motion.
Distracting visuals aside, from the player character to the various NPCs and villains, every character in Kingdom Under Fire 2 is bland and void of almost all attempts at personality. Considering most of the characters function more as quest-points than interesting NPCs to interact with, it isn’t much of a problem to just ignore the character names entirely and just think of every NPC as a generic character type. And even that is often giving them too much credit. From villagers you save to the rulers of kingdoms, there isn’t a single stand-out character who has any interesting depth at all. Which leaves the player with little to interest them between all the dungeons and level grinding.
Combined with a basic good versus evil plot where the player becomes an integral part in a war against an ancient monstrous enemy, Kingdom Under Fire 2 is the narrative equivalent of sleep-aid. With a similarly lacklustre game world which is the usual fantasy fare of a thinly disguised medieval Europe, there is nothing in the MMO RTS hybrid to entice players into actually paying any attention to the narrative, worldbuilding lore, or characters.
Truly, outside of the interesting hybrid nature of the game, there’s not much interesting about it. The social functions, guilds, and faction war aspects of the game are relatively textbook. The mounts are mostly uninspired, the RPG elements are basic and bland, and the character customization is surprisingly limited despite the number of sliders available on the character creation screen.
Ultimately Kingdom Under Fire 2 is hurt most by its repetitive quest-nature and complete and utter lack of charm, which leaves players with a rather boring product. It doesn’t help that the game isn’t exactly stable and tends to crash easily, leaving you with very, very little reason to log back in once the server kicks you.