Total Annihilation: Kingdoms Review

For PC

By Contributing Writer Mike Bean

Rating: Good
  Total Annihilation: Kingdoms shows a lot of potential, but this potential 
was never fully realized.  It's still a solid game, but it's nowhere near 
as good as it could have been.
   First of all, Kingdoms' graphics engine uses 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, with good-looking and 
well-animated units.  The obvious disadvantage is that most gamers won't be 
able to enjoy the graphics without some serious performance drawbacks.  
Even on a fairly fast system, Kingdoms' performance is often sluggish.  
   The single-player game consists of 48 scenarios that take place over the 
course of a Great War between the four kingdoms of Darien.  In between the 
campaigns, you're treated to very watch-able, short movie clips narrating
the major events of the war.  Because you switch sides from scenario to 
scenario, you will experience all sides of the conflict before you beat the 
   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, and your only objective is to find the alchemist, kill him, and 
leave.  Scenarios like this are pointless and boring click-festivals, and 
they take place all too often in Kingdoms.  
   Some scenarios are more challenging then others, but more often the not, 
a scenario that intrigued me was followed by a scenario that was pointless 
and dull.  The game design is sadly inconsistent, and that is probably the 
game's greatest sin.  It sets up a nice table, and then it puts a 
surprisingly small amount of meat on top of it.
   The Artificial Intelligence is also somewhat weak in Kingdoms at times.  
For example, let's say you order a group of your troops from Point A to 
Point B and give them no further commands.  Now, if they are attacked on 
their way to Point B, a logical course of action would be for them to fight 
off the attack and then proceed onto Point B.  Instead, the stupid AI makes 
them try to keep moving toward Point B without defending themselves, which 
usually results in them being slaughtered. 
   The path-finding AI is also poor, and it frequently causes multiple units 
to get stranded or confused in carrying out their orders.  It is true that 
this can be compensated for by setting waypoints, but that takes time and 
effort from the player that shouldn't be necessary.  A successful real-time 
strategy game must be carefully balanced to give the player enough options 
without forcing him or her to micro-manage.
   Kingdoms includes a line-of-sight feature that enables each unit to be 
able to see only their immediate surroundings.  Of course, how far a given 
unit can see depends on the surrounding terrain and the type of unit.  In 
theory, this sounds like a good idea, but in practice the vast majority of 
the game's units have a sight range that is laughably small.  Some units 
can see things a decent distance away from them, but most of the units are 
in serious needs of some contact lenses.  The limited sight of most units 
makes scouting and many other tactics much more difficult than they should 
   Kingdoms' multi-player game might be good if you could get it to run 
without any problems, but Cavedog's Boneyards service is still infested 
with lots of bugs.  Playing the game on Mplayer is not much better, with 
computer lock-ups and game crashes being the norm rather than the exception.  
If you want to challenge a friend head-to-head, you'll be disappointed to 
find that Kingdoms doesn't support direct modem connections.  Kingdoms 
might have been really interesting in multi-player, but at the moment it's 
just too much hassle.
   Total Annihilation: Kingdoms possesses most of the fundamentals for a 
great real-time strategy game.  It lays a strong foundation, but too many 
corners got cut in the game's development.  The result is a game lacks 
polish and is only slightly more entertaining than the masses of average 
real-time strategy games on the market.

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