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It's never easy being the second son of a young development house. These days, developers can often toil in obscurity unless their first release is an unexpected blockbuster. Comparisons between the blockbuster and the second child are inevitable. I'm a second son, I can relate. So to Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, I make this promise. I will not compare you to Total Annihilation. Now, to business!
Reviewed by the jaded critic
Total Annihilation: Kingdoms (Kingdoms) is staged in the magical land of Darien, which in turn, is subdivided into four realms. Each realm is a loosely based on one of the 4 elements. For example, the realm of Aramon, represented by the element earth, boasts some of the best ground forces and fortifications in the game. Conversely, the realm of Zhon, symbolized by air, is highly mobile, has no significant fortifications, and a considerable air force. Darien was once united under the mage emperor Garicaius. Now his four children rule it. Each of these children, made immortal by their mastery of magic and relics they inherited from their father, rules one section of Darien. Let's see, 4 immortal siblings, each unquestioned master of their own realm.
I don't know about you, but a little sibling rivalry seems pretty natural, given the circumstances. Kingdoms looks pretty good. It's graphics engine uses quite a sophisticated system of thousands of polygons, which can be a blessing or a curse. If you have sufficient computing muscle, you're in for a treat, units look good and are animated well. Terrain is versatile and quite appealing, and a wide variety of graphics options are available. The obvious disadvantage is that most gamers won't be able to enjoy much of it without serious performance drawbacks. Kingdoms, at its best, is a healthy workout for even the stronger computer systems of today. Sound is average. It lies somewhere below memorable, but doesn't really detract much from the game.
The single player campaign consists of 48 scenarios that take place over the course of a Great War between the kingdoms of Darien. In between the campaigns, you are treated to small movie shorts narrating the major events of the war. (Nice touch. Strung together, you could almost watch them like a PBS retelling of an ancient legend.) Because you switch sides from scenario to scenario, you will, ultimately, experience all sides of the conflict. Kingdoms is played almost entirely with the mouse, and a few simple keyboard commands. Real time strategy (RTS) fans ought to be able to jump right in, and if you're new to the genre, it shouldn't be difficult to learn. None of the game's commands cannot be accomplished by a simple point and click. Kingdoms looks good, sounds good, and tells a good story, but, unfortunately, it lacks teeth.
Of the 48 scenarios, a surprising number of them simply aren't challenging, and a few of them are downright silly. Though I don't mind acting out the major events of the war, there are some parts of the conflict that I don't need to personally experience. For example, at one point the kingdom of Taros orders the assassination of Aramon's chief alchemist. For the entire scenario, you have one unit, the assassin. Your only objective is to find the alchemist, kill him, and leave. Needless to say scenarios like these are throwaway, pointless click-festivals. Some scenarios are more challenging then others, but more often the not, they only got me intrigued until the next one (which turned out to be pointless and dull). Simply put, the level design is sadly inconsistent, and that is perhaps Kingdom's greatest sin. It sets a good table, and then puts surprisingly little meat on top of it.
Another drawback is an unexpected lack of features that one would expect from any RTS. For example, when you order your troops from point A to point B, if they should be attacked en route, they will simply continue on course without defending themselves. Of course, they will be slaughtered. Fortunately, this particular oversight is correctable through a patch (& additional command) available from Cavedog. Also, Kingdoms includes a line-of-sight feature that enables each unit to be able to see only so much of the surrounding country. There are variables, of course, such as the type of unit, and the terrain around it. In theory this sounds like a good idea, in practice the VAST majority of Kingdoms units have a sight range that is laughably small. This makes scouting and advanced tactics somewhat difficult.
Additionally, path finding is somewhat lacking. More then one unit can get stranded or confused in carrying out its orders. It is true that this can be compensated for with Kingdoms' simple system for setting waypoints. Regardless, that takes time and effort from the player that shouldn't be necessary. A successful RTS, must toe the line very carefully between giving the player enough options and forcing him to micromanage.
These days, no review of any game would be complete without some attention paid to multiplayer. Sadly, Kingdom's multiplayer is lacking as well. Boneyards (Cavedog's multiplayer site) is still in its Beta stages, and bugs abound. (Not including the bugs that are still in the program.) Mplayer is not much better. Three attempts didn't result in a single game. (Game crashes and computer lockups yes, but never a game.) If you want to challenge a friend, Kingdom's doesn't support direct modem connections (you have to play by IP address). Ultimately, Kingdoms might have been really interesting in multiplayer, but for the moment it is just too much hassle.
Kingdoms might have really stood out. In the fundamentals, it's very promising. It lays a strong foundation, but too many corners got cut. The result is a game lacks polish, and , in the net, is only slightly more entertaining then the average fare. Pity, with a few more months in development, this might have really been something good.
<< Score=80 >>
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