Sunday, January 21, 2007

Kingdom Elemental Review

Kingdom Elemental, developed by Liberation Games and published by Chronic Logic.
The Good: Multiple layers of strategic decisions, auto-attack and passive skills reduce micromanagement, victory requires thought and planning
The Not So Good: Left-clicking for selection and commands results in some erroneous orders, buying units usually results in too much unused cash, difficulty may be frustrating to some
What say you? An uncomplicated yet fairly deep tactical strategy game: 6/8

There are two main types of strategy games: games where you manage an entire army or country (like Europa Universalis III or Conquest of the Aegean and more tactical games, where you control and manage individual troops (like Brigade E5: New Jagged Union or Shadowgrounds). The more strategic titles usually offer better individual unit AI (at least you would hope), while tactical games offer less units but more unit control. Kingdom Elemental is a tactical game, where you lead a set of troops against a slew of enemies, targeting specific units and using special skills.

Despite Kingdom Elemental’s small developer roots, the game looks pretty good. Most of the game’s levels are small and involve a small number of troops, so the level of detail can be increased without making your computer cry (unlike Medieval II: Total War). The game is rendered completely in 3-D and the units and environments are definitely above average. The game has a cartoon-like feel to it, and this extends through the exaggerated levels and animated units. Kingdom Elemental won’t be mistaken for real life, but we’ve played plenty of games that have tried to replicate real life recently, so it’s about time for a pleasingly embellished view of fantasy combat. I will say that I was both surprised and satisfied by the quality of the graphics in Kingdom Elemental. The sound is not quite as good, but it still holds up well. The background music is typical of fantasy/medieval games. The sound effects, though humorous (the girly “ow!” of the archer unit is my personal favorite), are too repetitive. I think that most of the voices in the game were recorded by the developer and a couple of his friends, rather than a more polished presentation, but that’s OK. Kingdom Elemental delivers solid graphics and sound that, while not as impressive as other games, still hold up pretty well.

Kingdom Elemental features four levels in the main campaign, each of which contains about six sounds and 2-6 waves of enemies per round. This may not seem like much (and it isn’t), but the different strategies you can employ during gameplay extends the life of the game, along with the initially locked skirmish mode. The basic tutorial, which tries very hard to be funny (and sometimes succeeds), will be familiar territory for anyone who has played a real time strategy game in the past 10 years. The basic premise of the game is to defeat all of the enemies using your troops. Before each round, you are given an amount of cash to spend on recruiting troops and unlocking new skills for your troops. The game’s ten units are unlocked gradually during the campaign, and each unit has three special skills that are either passive or must be actively triggered by the player. Luckily, units that have an available active skill are indicated in the game, so you don’t need to continuously click through all of your units. Kingdom Elemental gives you enough money before each round to field a variety of different armies, utilizing different strategies. You may go for a lot of stout units, ranged and healer units, or any number of combinations, some of which may be successful and some of which may fail horribly in an orgy of destruction. The number of choices is high, and it makes for good replay value. Of course, it could lead to some frustration if you keep picking inappropriate lineups for your upcoming foes. This is probably the best part of the game; once the game starts, it’s just a matter of using skills and picking targets. The game can get pretty hectic with large battles involving lots of troops, but auto-attack and passive skills greatly reduce the micromanagement. On normal difficulty, the game is fairly challenging; of course, you can play on “easy,” but who wants to wimp out like that? Kingdom Elemental features a good amount of variety in the choices you can make and when to use certain skills (and whom to use them on): this makes the game fun to play and a unique and enjoyable title. Plus, the game is fairly easy to control. Other than some issues with selecting and ordering units (both are bound to the left mouse button), the controls are something almost everyone can master, making the game appeal to both veteran and novice players.

Kingdom Elemental is a good tactical strategy game. Although the game is short, the number of viable strategies available to the player makes the game last longer, and skirmish mode extends the life of the game even further. The game could use some multiplayer, but the AI puts up enough of a fight. Kingdom Elemental is a challenging title, but it’s not impossibly difficult, making it fun to beat the game, instead of a chore. Unlike some tactical games, controlling each individual unit is not tedious due to decent AI and micromanagement reduction from automated attacks. Most of the gameplay results from recruiting the right units and picking useful upgrades. The amount of cash given between rounds seems somewhat arbitrary, however, as I’m always left with a large amount of unspent cash (but not enough for another unit). Still, there is enough variety here to appease fans of tactical games.