Ever wondered what it would be like if you could play an RPG (role playing game) with some elements of RTS (real time strategy) sprinkled in it? Or if you could play an RTS with some elements of RPG springled in it? The guys over at ZUXXEZ Entertainment must have asked themselves the same question when developping KnightShift, as it offers offers both RPG and RTS elements in one single game. Many have tried to mix games genres, but few have actually managed to perform such a risky task. Has KnightShift succeeded where others have failed? Read on to find out.
KnightShift is the latest game developed by Reality Pump Studios/ZUXXEZ Entertainment (in North America, Knight Shift has been renamed into “Once upon a knight” by ATARI). For those of you who haven’t heard, Reality Pump Studios is already well known for creating the impressive Earth 2150 real time strategy series.
The story goes like this : once upon a time…err, excuse me, I meant, once upon a knight called Prince John. One day, the power hungry wizard named Valtamand kidnaps him in order to take his place. Just as Valtamand is about to throw a spell on Prince John in order to kill him, Valtamand’s room window opens and the wind turns the page of Valtamand’s spell book, of course without Valtamand even noticing it. As a result, he reads the wrong spell causing the prince to teleport instead. Needless to say that gaining the support and trust from your royal subjects and defeating Valtamand is the aim of the game.
Basically, the single-player is divided in three parts : campaign mode, pure RPG mode and skirmish mode .
The campaign mode is what first time users should start with as it turns out to be an excellent tutorial and teaches you all you need to know before you start your quest. At the beginning of the first campaign you will just control Prince John and only have an ordinary sword as well as a shield to protect yourself. As you keep progressing through the game, you will find better weapons and armor to replace what you currently have. The more enemies you fight, the more experience you will gain. This will in term increase your level and increase your attributes that will make you even stronger. You will have to face along the journey wolves, bears, as well as other wild beasts. Eventually you will come across stronger foes such as archers or even witches. Also, you will get to control other characters just like in other strategy games: you can create teams that can be arranged in formations, you can order them to attack, sneak or sleep. Just like in an RPG, each character can advance through levels by gaining experience and improving qualities like health point, armor, damage, range.
I really enjoyed the cutscenes during the campaign mode as they are rather humorous. For example, you witness the acts of a wizard that appears to have no clue of what he is doing. The cutscenes here are not some boring video sequences the developper added just to fill up some left over space on the disc (that’s the impression I honestly had with some games…), instead in Knight Shift, I found myself laughing at these scenes and really enjoyed the lighthearted humor in them. My only regret is that there weren’t more of these cutscenes (okay, maybe I’m too greedy…)
Knight Shift can also be played from a RPG perspective which somehow reminded me of Dungeon Siege or Neverwinter Nights, but with far better visuals (we’ll come to the graphics later on).
Last but not least, Knight Shift also offers a Skirmish mode which in my opinion can easily face the comparison with popular games such as Warcraft III. The strategic part of Knight Shift is reinforced by the fact there is only one civilization, so you are fighting in equal terms and there is only one ressource (milk), which makes things a lot easier.
As though all this wasn’t enough, Knight Shift also offers lots of multiplayer features (both RTS and RPG), such as a co-op mode allowing you to play with a team mate.
In terms of visuals, Knight Shift deserves praising all the way. Nice character animation, detailed and vibrant backdrops, and colorful spells make this game a real joy to look at. For instance, spells, explosions and fire can produce some neat-looking lighting effects and shadows. Buildings are very neatly rendered, especially the magical ones which have lots of lighting effects.
Knight Shift offers two different graphic modes : HW T&L and Shader depending on your hardware, the Shader mode being available only to DX8 (and above) capable cards.
The T&L mode is designed for slower machines equipped with 2nd generation graphic cards which only support T&L: even in this mode, the game blows away Dungeon Siege or Neverwinter Nights as the textures are very detailed and sharp and the lighting effects are very well done.
Needless to say the Shader mode is a real visual treat, making the whole thing look almost like a “playable technological demo”. KnightShift indeed uses in a very good manner effects of modern 3D graphics cards, most noticeably Pixel Shader effects : water foam, reflective water, animated trees, highly detailed shadows, etc. The water effects are magnificient, even with fish swimming happily inside, a bit like in the Nature 3D Mark test.
Watching your character walk at sundown on a bridge, with the magnificent reflections of the torches on the water and the cloud shadows moving is a real visual treat. Simply put, the graphics literally blow away all popular titles in the same genre, such as Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights, Warcraft III or even the upcoming Spellforce from what I’ve seen of it so far. We’re delighted to finally see pixel shaders put to very good use in a game.
The world you travel in is full of life as well : you can watch birds fly overhead, fish swim through the water of a lake or ducks glide upon its surface. As if that was not enough, the world that you travel upon is just as impressive with mountains, villages as well as other detailed areas that you will come across. The weather changes and the cloud shadows moving are pretty astonishing as welll. Trees also move in the game as if wind was gently blowing through them. Graphically the game is lush, with rich environments and solid character animation.
The gameplay is pretty good – the interface is clear and simple. The sound effects are good and the soundtrack is rich and catchy. I truly enjoyed the sound track which is pretty well done, especially the main menu soundtrack. As we are talking about the main menu, I appreciate the idea of showing some ingame scenes in the main menu through a rotating camera (like Command & Conquer : Generals).
Knight Shift is distributed in Germany by Zuxxez Entertainment, in France by Arxel Tribe and in Northern America by Atari (Atari renamed Knight Shift into “Once upon a knight”). It’s too bad that the same game has two different titles and two different game boxes in different parts of the world, as this will may stirr some confusion (the Atari box being in my opinion much nicer looking than the German “Black Silver” one, but this is just a minor detail).
I think it’s pretty obvious from all the above that we are pretty excited with Knight Shift. The variety of gameplay styles and different options definitely offers something for everyone’s taste. The game basically takes you through a solid RTS experience as well as a separate RPG experience that are easy to get into and even is addictive. With its style, its originality, breathtaking graphics and concept, Knight Shift definitely is a game any RPG or RTS fan should look at. Recommended.
Final Score 91