Kingdom Under Fire II Review – Far Better Than it First Seems
Kingdom Under Fire II19th November, 2019
Let me tell you a short tale that has absolutely nothing and somehow everything to do with Kingdom Under Fire II. This is a tale about my history with MMO's, the ups and downs and the in-betweens. It's also why this review of Kingdom Under Fire II is going to seem split because this is a game that manages to encapsulate the highs and lows, with an extra high on top of that.
I began my life in MMO's watching The Legend of Mir on the UK TV channel Game Network. That was also, as you may guess, my very first MMO. From stopping playing that around 2002, I've played a good 5000+ hours in World of Warcraft from around 2004 to late 2009. During that time I was also a fan of Guild Wars, which I bought at launch, as well as all of its expansions and also the second game. Other smaller highs came through reviewing an updated and improved Black Desert Online, loving a post-Tamriel Unlimited Elder Scrolls Online as well as a post-A Realm Reborn Final Fantasy XIV, the latter are both titles I purchased upon launch.
On the other hand, I've also played some average or at least decent MMO's, as well as some downright bad ones. Updates to Elder Scrolls Online, such as Morrowind fall into the former category, as does Secret World Legends, Star Trek Online and Defiance (I loved the show though). On the lower end of the scale, you have titles like Blade & Soul and Devilian, the less said about titles like Tabula Rasa, Firefall, Darkfall and Matrix Online, the better.
These are just the ones I remember. So anyway, what does all this have to do with Kingdom Under Fire II? Let's have a look.
Part of it is that I'm completely worn out when it comes to traditional (dated) quest mechanics. These being the constant backtracking and other downright pointless quests that are designed to waste time. I mean this literally. Some here must have been designed with time-wasting in mind, dragging out what's happening. I had a quest chain which had me running between four or five people, repeatedly talking to them, picking up items that were quite literally sat next to them. To say I got angry at this point is an understatement, I was swearing at the game for being so blatant at its lack of consideration for my time.
What is even more infuriating is that the game never actually grows out of this, nor does it seem to have anything that offers variety or flavour quests to simply offer mindless entertainment. Yes, even the side quests are designed in the same way. The problem then is that you have to do them since it would take an insane amount of time to level up through the killing of enemies. I made a note of looking a few times at different levels and it always seemed that with scaling experience gains and requirements, you'd always be looking at between 700 to 1000 kills going that route.
I suppose that wouldn't be such a bad thing if it wasn't for the time it'd take. Actually, thinking about it, if they would double the experience gained I'd barely ever touch any quests due to how fun and engaging the RPG combat mechanics are. It genuinely feels something like a Dynasty Warriors game, letting you hack and slash your way through hordes of enemies in action-oriented combo-based combat, with traditional MMO elements like button-pressed skills added in.
Fortunately, you'll find yourself actually progressing through the levels pretty quickly, if only because of the sheer abundance of quests that are so close to each other. They never actually require a massive time investment, despite the sense that it's taking a long time due to the boredom. At least it lets you get to the part of the game that is genuinely excellent.
This would be the strategy element of Kingdom Under Fire II. So yes, this is a hybrid of an MMORPG and MMORTT. They say RTS (real-time strategy), but I'm precise (read: pedantic) and it's actually an RTT (real-time tactics) game when it comes to the strategy side of the game. The best way to look at it is that the dungeons, raids and whatever else you'd find in a regular MMO have been replaced by a sort of Real-Time Tactics game mode. In these, you control your hero and a number of squads.
How many you control naturally depends on your level and the level of the area you are fighting in. At any time you can only actually control a maximum of three units plus yourself. You are able, however, to select up to eight units to compose your army. This is because larger battles have a resource that allows you to rotate as you may need to or, should a unit die you can call in reserves. With the huge variety of units available, it offers a great sense of tactical flexibility and really helps to make these battles even more engaging than they originally feel like they would be.
What is really impressive about this mixture of RPG and RTT hybrid is that, with very few exceptions, seamlessly move from the overhead strategy view where you're controlling your character as well as your other units. There are very few games that manage such a seamless move between two different styles, particularly where you move from overseeing a huge battle to actually being in the thick of it, swinging your sword at the hardened ankles of a giant scorpion or getting tossed through the air by an ogre.
It's the variety of units and the flexibility they offer, particularly surprising as I've played many full strategy games that don't have this level of variety. Here you've got infantry from spearmen to crusaders or your very own ogres, a selection of ranged units from wizards to archers, riflemen or mortarmen and even your very own creatures of war, such as a giant scorpion, ogres, armoured beetles or more. You can even get tanks or bombers.
All in all, there are said to be over eighty different units within the game. Your personal barracks can only contain a limited number of units, all of which can be levelled and ranked up as well as 'dedicated', which is essentially trading them in for resources. With so many units, you've got the opportunity to mix and match, work out which you prefer, but you will be sticking to the same core team of eight towards the end, if only due to the fact that it would require too many resources and time to level and rank up an even bigger roster.
I mentioned that you have a cap in your barracks, this can be expanded. In fact, your barracks and personal bag space can both be expanded using Cubics. Cubics can also be used to purchase items in the in-game store, such as booster packs, Region and Troop Visionstones (used to rank units up, potions, repair tokens, skill books for units, cosmetic items and even more. For that matter, you even have to use five Cubics to talk in world chat. "What are Cubics? Are they a premium currency?" I hear you ask. Well, magical talking bottle of beer, they are but they aren't.
Kingdom Under Fire II, as I covered earlier, has been in development for ten years and has gone through multiple variations over that time. It also has regional variations. The version in the east is a traditional Korean MMO, where it's free to play and a huge amount can be purchased by through a premium currency. That would be Cubics. Here, they are given to you as a reward in a number of quests, for the usual attendance rewards, etc. I imagine it would have been too much of an overhaul to actually remove the system completely, so they went for what seems to be the next-best option.
There is still a premium currency within the western version of the game, this being diamonds, which for the moment can only be used to purchase cosmetic items. While I was at an event for the game earlier this month I was told that the aim is for diamonds to only be used for cosmetic items or potentially something to speed up advancement, nothing pay to win. I can't actually attest to this because while the cosmetic items are there to be purchased, the diamond store for non-cosmetics has not yet been populated at the time of this review going live.
Knowing the fact that you can move from a strategic view right to third-person where you can start personally hacking away on the battlefield, you would expect the game to have some issues or at least have to compensate for this with inferior visuals. Particularly as these are battlefields where you quite literally have hundreds of units fighting each other while fireballs rain down, giant scorpions launching rocks into the fray as well as other massive creatures that tower over, sending smaller units flying to their death. This isn't the case, a fact that still surprises me. Particularly when playing online with or against other people in some pretty huge battles.
Kingdom Under Fire II isn't the best looking game in the world, not in any sense of the word, but by no means is it unattractive. Character models are well detailed and the use of colour, lighting and the general flashy nature of combat keeps the game looking good. Now, there are aspects that show the aged nature of development. Particularly, this is the UI, clunky, looks dated and does not scale at all to more modern (read: ultrawide) resolutions. At least the game works with them, not leaving it stretched or with vertical black bars.
I do have an issue with the fact that you can't actually move the UI or rearrange it to you you'd prefer. At least no obvious way anyway, which leaves me with a bar showing my built-up combat runes in the middle of the screen. Another issue I have with the game is that the localisation is poor. Some text just smacks of google-translate, such as "Cannot learn the skill at once" in place of "Cannot learn this skill when you have learned". I can appreciate a few slight mistakes in the tens-of-thousands of words within the game but in core mechanics? Not really.
Also, I'm still seeing Korean when comparing equipment. I was also seeing it when I was trying to level up my soldiers and it wouldn't let me, I believe because they would have been a higher level than me. I don't actually know if I'm right, but I was level 22 and trying to level up my Crusader unit which was also 22. All I saw was some Korean text pop up. I've seen some Korean popping at least a few times per hour throughout my 50+ hours with the game, so it's hardly something that should have been missed during QA.
So, what do I think about Kingdom Under Fire II? Well, I honestly would have absolutely loved a single-player or simple co-op story-oriented game with this combat system. One where the MMO questing was just thrown right out of the door. To be fair to Kingdom Under Fire II, it can be played as a single-player game with very few exceptions (larger battles, etc). Most battles can simply be completed solo, something I very much appreciate. Surprisingly, I've enjoyed playing with other random people here. Likely due to the immense fun I've had by wading in personally while others do the same.
Blueside and Gameforge have made a massive gamble on Kingdom Under Fire II, $80 million+ spent over the ten years of development, the age does show in parts but so does the care and time spent in others. I can't, in good conscience, recommend anybody purchase the larger packages right away - there are three, costing £24.99/$29.99, £44.99/$49.99 and £89.99/$99.99 respectively - because you can always upgrade for the bonus content if you're enjoying yourself.
Kingdom Under Fire II is genuinely one of the hardest games I've ever had to judge and I've yet to answer the question that started this section. Yes, I suppose I do actually like the game. There are some interminably frustrating aspects but these are well countered by one of the best combat systems I've ever encountered in an MMO, one that combines surprisingly well with a very engaging and fun strategy system. Sure, it's clunky and even boring during parts but I'm more than inclined to say that the good outweighs the bad. I know that I'll be playing more of it and if somebody had told me that at the start, I would have had them sectioned.
Copy provided by the publisher.
Kingdom Under Fire II is one of the most internally divisive games I've ever played. Some parts are genuinely fantastic while others are mind-numbingly horrible. The third-person character combat is up there as one of, if not the best I've ever encountered in an MMO. On top of that is a fun and engaging strategy element, one where you can seamlessly move between commanding your troops and yourself, to fighting on the front lines with them. However, the MMO part in-between the fighting and strategy is interminably boring, showing a dated sensibility and more time-wasting than could ever be reasonably expected. I genuinely thought I was going to hate it, going by the start, but I now genuinely, almost begrudgingly, like it and against all odds I will be playing more.
- One of the best and most engaging combat systems ever featured in an MMO
- Strong and varied strategy mode that you can jump in and start hacking away at enemies yourself
- Runs great with a surprisingly smooth transition between third-person and the strategy overview
- No pay-to-win nonsense
- MMO aspect is dated and interminably boring
- Way too much backtracking and literal time-wasting
- Can take too long to get to later areas that really show off the games great aspects
- Localisation is shoddy, with the game also still showing Korean in fundamentally core aspects of the game
- UI is clunky and too dated and doesn't let you customise it at all