TOKYO--Though it wasn't on the TGS show floor, Korean developer Blueside was in Tokyo talking about its recently announced Xbox 360 game, Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. Fans expecting another real-time strategy extravaganza in the vein of last year's Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes will need to hang tight for a bit longer--though the sequel to the popular Xbox games is in development for the 360, it's going to be a while before it's unleashed. In the meantime, Blueside is putting together an original action RPG set in the KUF universe and featuring a number of familiar faces from the series. Though the trailer on Xbox Live offered a tasty glimpse of what to expect, we met with Blueside in Japan to find out more on the promising game.
Circle of Doom is set in the wake of the Xbox games and follows six characters on their individual journeys, which you'll discover are inexorably tied together. The cast revealed so far includes the elven beauty Celine, seen in the trailer; armored warrior Kendall, who can also be seen slashing his way through the trailer; the dark legion's Regnier; and Curian, a wandering warrior looking for some direction. The remaining two characters are being kept under wraps, and as with the previous games in the series, they must be unlocked by playing through with the others. Each character will be able to use five or six weapons, and these can be enhanced with more than 50 abilities and equipped on any arm, any way you want--more on why this is an interesting feature in a bit.
The core gameplay of Circle of Doom is an action RPG style of play that mixes good old-fashioned hacking and slashing with light character customization elements. The game has all its bases covered when it comes to the basics, so you can expect plenty of magic and weapons. Where the game takes a unique turn is in its character-leveling system. As you progress through the game, you'll earn points that you'll distribute in one of three areas: hit points, luck, and skill points. Hit points are just what you'd expect: The more you have, the longer you'll last in a fight. Luck is tied to the quality of the items you'll get from defeated foes, so higher luck means better chances of finding swank gear to use. Skill points are what you'll use in the game to perform actions. For example, you may start the game with 100 skill points and swinging your weapon may cost 30 skill points, meaning you'll be able to attack three times in quick succession before having to take a brief breather. As you bulk up your skill points, you'll be able to perform more intricate and powerful actions.
Though the customization may not sound too deep, the system will lend itself toward a user-friendly approach that will let players shape their characters to specialize in the archetypes you'll need for group play. So, for example, a player can dump all their points into HP and equip shields on both arms to be an ubertank, able to resist tons of punishment. Other players can dump points into the skill branch and equip their weapons to become damage-dealing specialists. In addition, the various skills you can equip will come in handy and enhance whatever you specialize in. The masochism skill (no, we're not kidding) can be tied to certain items that can be equipped and used to replenish your skill points in a pinch. So, for example, if you're in the heat of battle and run out of points, you can quickly stab yourself for a quick boost of points. Another skill, insurance, gives you money every time you're stabbed, which can be useful.
Obviously, the customization will come in handy for group play as we mentioned, and Circle of Doom will offer full Xbox Live support for four-player co-op. Also, the team is aiming to support downloadable content such as new maps and accessories.
The visuals in the game are taking a funky approach that's blending the gorgeous detailed medieval look with a slightly goofier sensibility. On the one hand, you have the classic-looking characters like Selene and a creature we saw called a golem, which looked like a distant cousin to the colossi from Shadow of the Colossus--a cross between a traditional giant and a tree. On the other hand, the art team is having fun creating creatures such as the skulker, a psychotic-looking character that falls somewhere between a jester and a clown, and the flesh spear, which is probably one of the most bizarre creatures we've seen in a good long while. We were given a sneak peek at animation tests for the characters, as well as a look at some of the major environments in the game, which the team is attempting to make fully interactive and destructible. Besides the obvious cool factor of busting anything around you, this feature will be a useful element of the experience, as you'll be rewarded with items when you go on a spree of destruction. Of course, breaking objects and finding loot is a core component of any self-respecting action RPG.
Though we weren't able to see the game running, we were told that the orchestral music heard in the trailer offers a taste of what to expect from the game's score. This time out, the team has opted to pass on the awesome metal music from the previous KUFs due to this being a different style of game. That said, the team expects to have the next RTS fully rocked out, so metal fans shouldn't despair.
Based on this early look, Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is shaping up to be a promising entry in the KUF series. We're curious to see what the dev team does in the action RPG genre given its work on the RTS front. Fans of the series will want to keep an eye out for the game, which is currently slated to ship in Q2 2007. Look for more in the coming months.