They say time heals all wounds, but when it comes to video games, lengthy development cycles are rarely taken as a promising sign. Kingdom Under Fire 2 then, with its twelve plus years in development, has a lot to prove if it wants to see success with its upcoming Western release on November 14. We recently had the chance to play through the opening hours of Blueside’s MMORPG-RTS hybrid and see how it’s measuring up to modern standards.
Kingdom Under Fire 2 preview
Before we jump into our thoughts about the game, it’s worth taking a moment to recap the lengthy journey this unusual title has been on. Announced back in 2008, Kingdom Under Fire 2 intended to expand on the series formula by merging modern Korean MMORPG design with RTS combat. In the twelve years since, KUF2 has been released and subsequently closed on both Asian and Russian servers under a free-to-play model. Suffice to say, it’s been a bumpy ride.
Gameforge picked up the license this year and surprised everyone by revealing that KUF2 would not only be coming to the West in 2019, but also swap to a one-off paid — in their own words “buy-to-play” — model. While it will include microtransactions, they’re purely for cosmetics or to gain different mount models (you gain a mount for free at level 4).
The formerly premium currency used in the Asian and Russian releases is now earned entirely through in-game efforts, with Gameforge stressing that they won’t offer any pay-to-win options. It’s an appreciated approach, and one intended to appeal directly to the Western market. Unfortunately, freedom from in-game purchases can’t compensate for the dreary opening experience KUF2 presents.
The hybridization of MMORPG and RTS battles is clearly the core selling point, and the area that Blueside is rightly most proud of. Levelling up your character and army before taking them into co-operative raids and online matches is certainly a tempting proposition It’s odd, then, that KUF2 decides to frontload you with over an hour of tepid MMORPG fetch quests from the get-go.
Following a flashy opening siege sequence, we were dropped into a ruined township and tasked with helping the repairs. In wearily well-trodden ground this amounted to fetching 10 elk pelts. Next up? Delivering four injured soldiers medicine; clearing X spots of rubble; pressing F three times in arbitrary locations. It was tedious stuff, and sadly things only got worse when it came to combat.
The starting MMO zone was home to a range of creatures we needed to kill, but all of them were oddly placid, letting us run right up to them without a hint of reaction. Giant spiders looked on with disinterest as we destroyed their eggs. Kobolds sat still as we butchered their friends, phasing out of existence when killed only to reappear ten seconds later in the exact same spot. The lifelessness of the world that only added to the mundanity of the tasks at hand.
When we finally had the chance to venture out on a mission and take command of our first squad of units things, thankfully, began to click. The swap to PC has opened the doors to a more intricate control system, letting you direct troops in traditional RTS fashion. Issuing orders and activating the powers of your units through an overhead camera before zooming down to wreak havoc with your Hero for a few minutes feels great and adds a real sense of scale to the battlefield.
Fights are hectic, but kept manageable through a restriction to just three units at a time. You can swap between the command and hero views with a single tap of a button, laying waste to enemies with spells then checking the state of the field as ability cooldowns run their due. There’s a spark of brilliance here, and it immediately begged the question of what KUF2 could have been had Blueside stuck solely to this format and forgone MMO zones entirely.
The bad news (again) is that any glint of something special during our session was overshadowed by a plethora of issues that left us seriously concerned for the imminent release. Sound effects for cutscenes and monster attacks cut out seemingly at random, voiced dialogue swapped between English and Korean mid-conversation, and several in-game menus were displayed entirely in Korean.
The developers assured us that this wasn’t a final build for the game, but just a week away from launch these glaring errors were worrying to say the least. With KUF2 charging for entry, players should expect, at the very least, a working product, not to mention one they can actually read.
If KUF2 still had a year of development to come, we’d be intrigued by the potential shown during the combat missions. Then again, if over a decade hasn’t smoothed out the many kinks, we doubt another year would offer much improvement.
From the myriad fetch quests to the groan-inducingly bad female character designs, KUF2 felt in many ways like a game from the past. There’s definite potential in the genre-melding mission format offered here but, in our test at least, it felt burdened by a dredge of bugs and outdated design ideas from decades past.