More Depth than Expected
You normally don't get to see a lot of a game in a media tour - sometimes it's just the most fun feature and then you're done, and we end up looking around on our own, sometimes floundering around might be the better term as the character you have is probably maxed out and you're tripping over your mucking huke sword trying to figure out how to kill that tiny rat in front of you. I was pleasantly surprised when I logged into the press account and found characters of different levels and classes. Chris Smith, Producer at Aeria Games and Jesse Henning were our tour guides as we were taken for a whirl through the Chinese landscape in the period of the Three Kingdoms.
After being greeted by the biggest boobs ever before seen on a Chinese woman, we were taken through the character creation. One selected between four classes and four characters: Warrior - your usual melee, Fencer - your ranged DPS, Tactician - similar to a buffing cleric and Conjurer - your usual magic user. Each could be a young or mature male or female.
Kingdom Heroes is unabashedly Chinese and I liked the looks of the characters. The physique and gestures of each were chosen well and characteristic of youths and mature characters straight from classical Chinese stories, down to the voices which were there only for flavor. The short phrases they utter will be kept in the Chinese. Customization is simple, you get a choice of faces, hair styles, voices and hair color. Not totally unexpected for a free-to-play game, especially one that features massive battles - the less drawing and rendering the engine has to do, the lower the system requirements.
Character created, we jumped into the game, picked up the first quest and had to run a gauntlet; a dangerous gauntlet of missiles in order to deliver an important military missive. I bobbed and weaved - right into the path of one such missile. Oops. This starting quest sets the tone of the game. It is a nation at war with each other and we would decide which Kingdom to ally with before we got much further than level 5.
There are three Kingdoms; Wei, Shu and Wu plus the NPC faction, the Yellow Turbans. For the purpose of identification in Kingdom battles, the armor highlights are Red, Green, Blue and Yellow respectively. This is also seen in the barding of horses and on the siege weapons. Apart from the names and colors, there is little flavor differences between the Kingdoms. There is little difference between the capital cities or landscape, so feel free to select the Kingdom you ally with based on your color preference. Once that quest is completed and a Kingdom selected, your character respawns in the capital city with his plain armor adorned with new color highlights.
Kingdom Heroes has a minion system - a fully fledged minion system similar to that I last saw in Gods and Heroes. The Warrior and Conjurer can have two soldiers, the Fencer - four soldiers accompany him into combat, but the Tactician, the least able to solo - he carries a fan! - has a complement of six soldiers in his squad, and each character can have three different squads. Every soldier can be trained in a different skill tree (upgraded) and can equip armor and weapons. They will lose loyalty to you - running away or simply refusing to fight if you let him die too often. There are three formations your soldiers can take when you summon them forth: Square - they surround you, Vanguard - they range ahead and Rear Formation - the range behind. The tanks ahead, the range and healers behind. You can set them in four tactical reactions: Surround and Destroy - they will all attack your target, Surround and Protect - the tanks and ranged DPS will attack your target, the healers will heal, Seek and Destroy - you stroll along, they attack everything within range, Strategic Seek and Destroy - you stroll along, the tanks and ranged DPS attack, the healers fall back and heal.
The AI is actually pretty good as I strolled along as a Tactician, idly fanning myself as my soldiers did my dirty work for me. Allowing my character to be hit to see when the healers would start healing. It's not a way to AFK level or grind, I was told. Your soldiers are there to assist, and the character least able to solo effectively received the most soldiers. They will be lower level than you and the MOBs go right for your character. Indeed, they did. They also got easily distracted if there was more than one MOB. The soldiers would attack what's closest and could be lured until they reached the end of their leashes before returning, and could get easily distracted on their way back. AFK grinding = certain death.
The death penalty is surprisingly mild. You simply lose time. Unless you have a revival scroll, you respawned in the nearest city with half your health and had to heal, re-buff and run back. If you did have a revival scroll, you still needed to heal and re-buff. To encourage the use of soldiers in the Kingdom wars, there is no penalty for their deaths.
Kingdom Battles & PvP
The major fun in this game is Kingdom Battles where siege weapons could be deployed. Siege weapons are summoned and manned by players. They move slowly and are cumbersome - just like real siege weapons. Different ballistas, trebuchets and battering rams can be summoned and all require ammunition. Some like the Eagle Chariot I summoned had to change form from movement to firing. Cities are there to be captured and guilds (and unions of guilds) holding them gain standing, vendors and bankers of their faction will spawn and the conquerors are able to set levels of taxes for players using the vendors. It's all about holding territory.
We also attempted naval battle. A player commanded the ship and others manned the weapons, on water, the fog of war is heavy - i.e. the draw distance is short, but the map helped as the GMs manned another vessel and we tried to find each other. We fired our weapons and then got rammed. Releasing the ships weapons, we boarded each other and started taking each other out.
Arena PvP is also available to players. A huge mucking arena to allow for players and minions and guilds to practice combat and coordination, and perhaps the use of your soldiers as well, as there is no soldier death penalty here either.
Depth and Breadth
One and a half hours had never passed so quick and we had only skimmed the top features of the game, not touching on the questing and crafting systems, or the City Construction. Once a city has been captured, it can be fortified. Towers, Cannon and Traps can all be built. There's also quite a bit of sound and music that I found in the music folder, and some are rather orchestral and epic in nature. So this is the quick down and dirty impressions of Kingdom Heroes - it's Free to Play with the usual micro-transaction cash shop items - potions, scrolls, cosmetic, Kingdom PvP, siege weapons, soldier system, mounts, city construction. Quite a feature set with standard controls we expect from today's MMOs. At first glance and hands-on, Kingdom Heroes is really quite impressive. The game goes into Open Beta and unless there are some serious issues, will slide into launch without a player wipe. With 120 levels, I only wonder how grindy it will be... given that the mainstay of the game is really the Kingdom Battles.