Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders Review — A Tactical Blunder

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is a hybrid hack-and-slash and real-time tactics game that first released in 2004. It's solid but feels dated.

These days, it's tough to have a surprise release, but developer Blueside seems to have done it with a PC port of the 2004 cult-classic Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders. Releasing 16 years after its initial Xbox drop certainly qualifies as a surprise.

The Crusaders is a game that I was aware of but never played on its original release, and I was excited to dive in and see what this port was all about.

However, don't expect some massive remaster here with all sorts of newfangled options. Besides a few quality of life upgrades (like supporting modern resolutions), this release of Kingdom Under Fire is the exact same game you would have played almost two decades ago.

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders Review — A Tactical Blunder

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is a combination of two different genres: hack-and-slash action and real-time tactics. Initially, the game might seem rather shallow, with the tutorial missions lulling you into a false sense of security. But there is a lot to think about as you lead your armies into battle.

Once you encounter a foe on the battlefield, the action zooms in, allowing you to take control of the leader of your forces, slicing your way through the opposing army in third-person action.

The hack-and-slash sections will be familiar to anyone who played games from this original time period as it was an extremely popular genre in the early 2000s. You have a few different attack buttons, a block button, and a few specialty attacks. You can chain together some combos and seek out elite foes to turn the tide of battle, but these sections are relatively mindless and get boring fairly quickly.

The tactical sections are pretty ambitious considering Kingdom Under Fire is originally a console game (and it still very much plays like one). You adjust your army's formation on the fly, counter enemy troops, utilize flanking maneuvers and sneak attacks, and even use weather patterns to your advantage. You can also upgrade your troops between missions; upgrades that are certainly necessary but don't generally make enough impact to be all that exciting.

All of this is done with an Xbox controller. There is an option to use a mouse and keyboard, including a near-constant reminder about what key to press to pull up an overlay, but after a few goes at it, I gave up. This is a game made for consoles, and even the voiceover tutorials reference which Xbox button to press.

Death Metal

All of this action is set against the backdrop of an extremely generic fantasy setting with extremely generic characters. Early on, your army consists of Generic Goodman, Sexy Sword Lady, and Beefy Dumb-Dumb. They lead a troop of identical-looking soldiers against other groups of identical-looking soldiers. The first army you fight is a bunch of ladies in thong armor, because of course, it is. And many enemies spout one-liners and say they're "surprised" without sounding like it.

Production values for video games were very different in 2004, but there are a lot of issues with Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders that remind you exactly when this game was made, and why things have changed since. 

When zoomed out, characters look fine. When zoomed in, well, dear lord. Anytime characters speak, their mouths move in bizarre slow motion no matter what they are saying. Their eyes are black pits. Characters clip in and out of one another with abandon.

It's hard to criticize a game from almost 20 years ago by saying, "It looks bad." But it just does.

If you just scrolled down to the comments to write, "Because the soundtrack is badass, dummy," then I must admit that you are correct. Kingdom Under Fire has a very awesome heavy metal soundtrack that plays almost constantly. Credits, battles, cutscenes, it doesn't matter: this is a game that sounds like how the cover of a Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook looks. 

Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders Review — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • Awesome soundtrack
  • Surprisingly deep tactics
  • Was (probably) technologically impressive in its time?

Cons:

  • Hack-and-slash gameplay gets bland
  • Generic stories and characters
  • Has been surpassed by many other games
  • Straight port leaves a lot to be desired

It feels like the PC port of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders could have benefited greatly from a bit more remastering. It seems like a game that had some fine ideas back in the day, but both genres it tackles have moved on to bigger and better things in the time it has been away.

The hack-and-slash sections lack the variety to stay interesting, and the tactical sections are impressive for a console game but feel clunky and hamstrung on PC.

2004 me probably would have loved sitting down at a friends house and cracking some skulls in Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders. If this is a game that you fondly remember playing, the PC port will undoubtedly hit some nostalgia buttons. For everyone else, I just don't think you'll get too much out of it.

Check out the soundtrack though: it's bangin'.

[Note: A copy of Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders was provided by Blueside for the purpose of this review.]

Our Rating
5
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders is a hybrid hack-and-slash and real-time tactics game that first released in 2004. It's solid but feels dated.
Reviewed On: PC

Contributor

Jordan has been gaming and geeking since he was a wee lad. He is a freelance writer and content creator, contributing to SVG, Looper, and Feast Magazine, among others. Check out his stuff on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCExyOMK798p7mCXwSayD2hg/featured and Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/jojotheninjagaming.

Published Mar. 6th 2020

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