Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom (KUF:CoD) is the first of the Kingdom Under Fire (KUF) series for the Xbox360. It is also the first for the series to move away towards a "pure" RPG type game, leaving its action/RTS roots. KUF:CoD is set in a time after the Xbox game, KUF: The Crusaders, when the Encablossa War in the land of Bersia has ended. At the beginning, the Lord of Light, Nible, and the Lord of Darkness, Encablossa, made a pact to take turns to rule the world so that harmony is maintained. However, Nible, at the end of his latest turn to rule, decided not to relinquish power over to Encablossa because he could not bear his creatures being warped and tortured when Darkness took power. A war between the two lords started and Encablossa lost. When the war ended, the heroes of the war went missing. What happened to them?
This is what you get to find out in KUF:CoD. In order to see each hero's story, you have to play as each of them. Initially, the game offers five possible heroes to start with: Kendal a religious Ecclesian General, Regneir a resurrected hero gone bad, Celine a beautiful elven warrior (and the token female character), Duane a narcissistic gun toting knight and Leinhart a half vampire. If you play and complete as Celine, the sixth hero, Curian an orphan king, is unlocked (incidentally, Celine is Curian's love interest in KUF).
KUF:CoD's intriguing characters and stories should have been the compelling reason to replay the game multiple times. Unfortunately, its delivery of the stories appears disjointed and hard to follow, seemingly as a result of trying too hard to portray a sense of mystery and importance. The official website is potentially trying to warn us of this when it states, "Circle of Doom also delivers a complex and twisted story plot in a very different and new way. However, players are not forced to understand and follow the story.". The last sentence seems to want to say, "Don't worry about the story".
Similarly, KUF:CoDs attempts to be mysterious in its quests can sometimes make the gameplay unnecessarily puzzling. For instance, in the Hall of Arrogance, after climbing some stairs an invisible barrier prevents you from moving forward in a narrow candle-lit passage. A message, intended to be the clue, states: "When the light is gone, you may find the end of arrogance". You could either take it as there is a puzzle to be solved here, or, to go in another direction. Eventually, after trying every possible thing, you would just have to go in another direction but it would require fighting through about six sub-levels before you knew that you had done the right thing.
The game has many interesting weapons, armour and items, some of which can only be used by certain heroes. For instance, a 3-barrelled mini-gun that only Duane can use or a dual-blade boomerang for Regneir. Weapons that have empty slots can be upgraded by filling the slots with enchantments. Alternatively, they can be upgraded by the game's unique feature called synthesizing, which is essentially the merging of two weapons to a new one. Armour and items can be similarly synthesized too. In addition, you can get rid of unwanted or contradictory enchantments in a weapon by synthesizing it with an item (i.e. potion). The mechanics of synthesizing is complex and time consuming but can be rewarding and is certainly a nice touch to the game. If you are not careful, synthesizing can be a dangerous activity due to the save mechanics of the game. There is only one save slot (per hero) and saving is done automatically after speaking to an Idol and you need to speak to an Idol in order to synthesize. So if you made a mistake when synthesizing, you don't have a chance to reload your last savegame because as soon as you quit speaking to the Idol so that you can reload your last savegame, your last savegame is overwritten (saving your mistake).
In other RPGs, armour usually determines the chance to hit (or to be hit) but in KUF:CoD, armour adds Hit Points (HP) to the hero. This means that all attempts to hit will be successful in reducing HP. This simplifies the combat mechanics but does have a slight implication on how the game is played. As there is no means to block (except for Kendal) or avoid damage because of good armour, you would have to either hit your enemies before they can complete their attack (e.g. hit a skeleton bowman before it can fire or hit a wizard before it can complete its spell casting) or to run out of range if you want to avoid any damage. This isn't really a problem and healing potions abound.