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Critical Reception: Microsoft/Blueside's Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, a revamped take on Microsoft's action-RPG series that critics say is "archaic" yet "appealing."
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, a revamped take on Microsoft's action-RPG series that critics say is "archaic" yet "appealing." Though Kingdom Under Fire and its sequel Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes found popularity on the original Xbox thanks to their unique gameplay that blended real-time strategy elements with Dynasty Warriors-styled brawling, Circle of Doom marks a significant departure for the series. Placing more of an emphasis on RPG elements than combat, Circle of Doom has thus far earned equal shares of praise and criticism from reviewers, and clocks in at a Metacritic-averaged score of 53 out of 100. Jeremy Jastrzab at PALGN rates Circle of Doom at 6.5 out of 10, noting that its many gameplay changes were a bold move on the part of its developers. "It takes quite a lot of nerve for a series to be overhauled, but that’s what has been done with the latest Kingdom Under Fire game," he says. "What the developers here have done, is essentially scrap everything that's related to real-time strategy, and have instead opted for the RPG route." "Gone are the massive battles and strategical need and in are the dungeon crawls and the leveling up," Jastrzab continues. "It seems a rather drastic move but at the same time, it could be argued that it does make the game a little more appealing." Jastrzab notes that fans of the series may not find the changes as jarring as they might expect, as Circle of Doom features many familiar elements and characters. Some new features, like randomly generated dungeon segments, may even be seen as improvements. However: "There are a couple of flaws that set back Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom as a single player game," Jastrzab says. "Firstly, the quest design is borderline on shambolic. Basically, you’ll spend most of your time fetching items whose location has been very discretely disclosed. "Secondly, the overall design is awfully archaic. At its core, it’s a very linear game (and not in a good way) and it’s incredibly repetitive." "However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The game is much more enjoyable when played in co-op, and you can have up to four players at once," Jastrzab writes. "However, as a single-player action RPG, it’s really only passable in the grand scheme of things." Game Informer's Ben Reeves scores Circle of Doom slightly lower at 5.25 out of 10. "The problems are clear from the outset," he begins. "Before you are even mindlessly hacking away at mobs of lemming-like enemies, your character is introduced to you via a short, confusing, and poorly scripted cinematic – 'short' being the closest thing to a compliment I can give them. Honestly, the story is all but nonexistent." "Circle of Doom’s combat might have you curling up for a nap too," Reeves continues, "since the game’s featureless move list requires that you carelessly jam on the A and X buttons like it was still 1985. Not that I have a problem with keeping things simple, but this style of combat gets tedious fast." However, Reeves notes that for all of Circle of Doom's problems, the experience nevertheless manages to become engrossing at points. "After you play it for a while the game starts to grow on you – like a parasite," he says. "You get used to dealing with its annoyances, but you know you're not having fun." "The saddest part is that Circle of Doom's problems all seem so frustratingly obvious the first time you see them that it makes you wonder why they were never changed," Reeves notes in conclusion. "I know the development goal for Circle of Doom was to make a game that was pure fun and silliness, and it looks like the final product came close, because it’s laughable." Over at Game Revolution, Nick Tan contributes a report card rating of D. "That the game works and can be played with friends over Xbox Live, sans local multiplayer, is just about the only compliment worth giving," he claims. "You move from one extremely linear environment to another extremely linear environment, defeating group after group of [...] baddies." "Sure, this doesn’t sound that different from an offshoot of Diablo or Baldur’s Gate," Tan admits, "but Circle of Doom almost tries its best to meet only the basic requirements of a monster-basher without thinking over any of its design choices." For example: "The game hardly offers any explanation for why you’re running around in a post-apocalyptic fantasy of epic proportions, unless you consider a lot of scrolling text and cryptic dialogue intriguing," says Tan. "It’s an interesting premise that is left as an afterthought, especially given that you’re almost immediately thrust into combat." "You also have a poor selection of attacks," Tan continues, "which range between using a melee weapon or a ranged weapon, as well as a limited set of abilities that are actually useful." Tan lists numerous other complaints about Circle of Doom's gameplay, and notes disappointment with almost every aspect of the title, save for its interesting item synthesis system. "Much of the monotony could have been alleviated with a bit of fine-tuning," he writes. "Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom follows a straight-forward formula, but somehow, it can’t even get that right." Circle of Doom can be expected to attract some degree of criticism due to its departure from the Kingdom Under Fire series' standard gameplay, but many reviewers claim that its issues run deeper. Critics warn that Kingdom Under Fire fans may be disappointed by Circle of Doom, while others may want to avoid the title altogether due to its problematic gameplay.

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