Touring the battlefield of Kingdom Heroes

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Touring the battlefield of Kingdom Heroes
I was very excited when I was invited to take a tour of the new MMORPG Kingdom Heroes, made by Aeria Games, one of my favorite publishers. When I first read the details of the game, I pictured players controlling hundreds of soldiers at a time, without ever considering how the game could possibly run with more than several players (and their armies) on the screen. Instead, each player controls between two and six soldiers in his "army," and once I saw how quickly these smaller groups add up on the battlefield, I was convinced that Aeria made the right decision.

The game is set in the era right after the Han Dynasty, often considered to be the "Golden Era" of Ancient China. The trees and buildings, and especially the water, are rendered beautifully. It's a wonder that the game runs with almost no graphical lag, even during battles (more on that later).

There are four standard classes to choose from: the Warrior, the Fencer (a ranger type), the Tactician (a cleric/buffer type) and a Conjurer (mage). You can pick from several hairstyles and faces, and can make your character child-like or adult. Of course, being an Aeria game, you can pick from several crazy hair colors as well.
The first thing you see after logging in is a calendar that lists the current or upcoming events, something that works really well in other games I have seen. I imagine as players get used to the schedule, they will tire of the pop-up, but it was nice to see a developer create tools that help new players participate in daily and weekly events.

Finding quests is easy enough, thanks to the minimap. The best feature of their quest helper is the auto-walk feature that, upon right-clicking, runs your character to the NPC or area you need to visit next. I've been noticing more games using this feature, and while I would prefer to walk myself to where I need to go, it is very handy for those with mobility issues or for someone like myself that suffers from a very bad case of tennis elbow. The fewer clicks I need to make, the better.

"I enjoyed (and wasted entirely too much time) making my entire group of six soldiers (which included a giant wolf and eagle) dance along with me, sometimes doing what looked like yoga or Tai-Chi. "

After making my character and going through a few quests to help me familiarize myself with the game, I was asked to run some supplies across a raging battlefield. It turns out that the siege weapons and explosions going off around me were typical of what happens during a siege battle, and a new player could even die in the area if he weren't careful. It was pretty exciting to be swept into action that early in the game.

Once you finish the basics, you are rewarded with your first piece of armor. Soon after, you will declare your allegiance to one of the three kingdoms, and your armor will be trimmed with whatever color represents your choice. It will be easy to recognize fellow faction members by their red, green or blue colors.

Your customizable army

The Warrior and Conjurer classes, being the easiest to solo with, get two soldiers to control. The Fencer controls up to four and the Tactician (my favorite) controls a mighty six! As I said earlier, it might not seem like a large army, but multiply your smaller group times twenty of your closest faction-mates and you will understand just how quickly an army can appear. I enjoyed (and wasted entirely too much time) making my entire group of six soldiers (which included a giant wolf and eagle) dance along with me, sometimes doing what looked like yoga or Tai-Chi.

You can train your soldiers and even add armor and weapons to further customize how they perform in battle. You can also change their class and teach them skills. If you get tired of a particular soldier's smart-guy attitude, you can trade him to another player as you would a piece of equipment. You start out with three basic army formations and learn more as you level. Careful, though: choosing the right formation will be the difference between winning and losing, since each one gives different buffs to your army.

Kingdom wars

After making my small army perform, we moved on to a siege battlefield. I took control of a giant catapult, with my teammates jumping into awesome transforming ballistas, using a vehicle spawner like you find in Planetside or Tribes. We were going to reenact a Kingdom War, a twice-weekly world event that makes several cities across the map open to attack. Groups of players will want to take over the cities by bashing down walls and gates, and then destroying a statue that rests in the middle of the city.

Once a city is taken, the controlling faction can secure additional revenue from taxes. They can customize the city by adding different defenses and can even donate their own money to further bolster the city's fortifications. As I watched the statue crumble in the city I was attacking, I could only imagine how fun the chaotic blur of hundreds of soldiers would feel.

Battle at sea

The Naval Battle system works simply, by first spawning a ship to control. I spawned a faster attack craft and jumped on as pilot, and was joined by my teammates who manned the giant crossbows and catapults attached to the deck. When we found our enemy, though, it was obvious that we were greatly outgunned, and soon the "health" of our ship dropped to zero. In a last ditch effort, we boarded the enemy ship and attacked directly. Of course, I lasted but a few minutes.

The best thing about the combat is how intuitive it was. Anyone who has played an MMO, and possibly PvPed, will have no problems knowing what to do. The controls work how you would expect them to and targeting and shooting siege weapons feels powerful. Even piloting a ship is kept simple, allowing players to get into the action of the game without bothering with clunky controls. But the ships will change over time, as players battle and open gates between the three kingdoms. As the gates are opened, the game moves to the next period, and the look of the world will move forward as well. A player might come back to the game to find different-looking ships or siege weapons than before.

After the battle

Overall, the game feels like you would expect. WASD movement is standard, camera controls work "normally" and I found no mistranslated texts that seem to pop up often in imported games. To me the real fun comes in all the details, from customizing your soldiers to the myriad skills that a player can learn and teach his army. I was surprised at how huge and chaotic a battle felt, even with only eight or nine participants. I cannot imagine 50 or so players squaring off against each other, each sporting several soldiers!

So, go over to the official site and register. If you can get in some play time this holiday weekend, Aeria are promising a special quest that, upon completion, will raise any player to max level! It sounds like a good way to see the endgame, a sort of try-it-before-you-buy-it, but with huge swords and siege weapons.
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