After the surprise success of Total Annihilation, it was hard to see how Cavedog would manage a successful follow-up. Sadly, they didn't.
TA: Kingdoms was a massive commercial flop, most people see it as a big contributing factor in the death of Cavedog, which folded soon after releasing the expansion pack for this game.
TA: Kingdoms was a massive departure from the RTS mainstream, in that its focus is on melee combat, in a magical, medieval setting, rather than a science-fiction setting with firearms combat. Most units are melee, with only a few archery and mage units backing them up. This would have been fine, except for the defenses.
The defensive structures in TA: Kingdoms are, to put it simply, ridiculously powerful. Just three or four defensive towers will crush any enemy assault utterly, making the game unbelievably unbalanced and the battles exhausting and drawn out. The walls also tend to unbalance the game, in the same way they did in the original TA and for the same reason. The walls are not units, they are built directly out of the game's resource (mana) and, as such, are unbelievably difficult to destroy. In fact, melee combat of the sort the game is trying to portray is exactly like this. A castle siege was difficult to win for these same reasons. Melee units were incredibly vulnerable to defenders' weapons and the castle walls were very difficult to breach once the attackers got there. The only difference was, the defenders never had TA's infinite resources.
The game's resource, the magical energy known as mana, is collected at sacred sites (Stonehenge) by using lodestones to funnel the natural energy into your power store.
In this game, there is no need to wait for the Tiberium to grow back, you don't have to go and hunt for another gold mine and you don't need to kill the enemy to gather their souls. You just have to wait for the power to roll in.
Because of this, TA: Kingdoms is a game of defense. Your units can't breach the enemy walls, and the defenders will never run out of supplies. It is very much a waiting game.
Despite this odd slant in terms of the pace of the game, gameplay is actually rather engaging, if you like that sort of thing. TA: Kingdoms' single-player campaign is unusual in that you play as all four sides at once. You play the bad-guys as they crush the unprepared defenders, you play the same defenders as they try to get a message back to the king, you play the allies who attempt to come to the aid of the two main sides. This works to an extent, all of the sides are well-thought-out, the plot works well, and you really do get the idea that every battle matters. There is only one single flaw which spoils the campaign. Unfortunately, that flaw is one of the sides.
While three of the sides are well-balanced, well thought-out, easy to use and quite enjoyable to play, Zhon, the most "innovative" of the sides is completely useless, ghastly and awful.
Zhon doesn't use buildings. Its units are summoned by other units who cast summoning spells, this prevents you from giving standing orders to units, and makes their section of the game very difficult to control. Also, Zhon units have incredibly low levels of hit points, much lower than all of the rest of the sides. This is because one of Zhon's two buildings heals all nearby units. While this sounds useful, in practice, the units die too fast to be healed. Basically, Zhon gets flattened every time. They don't have walls, they don't have any power or any range, and they are, in a word, awful.
If you can put up with the incredibly slow gameplay, the awfulness of Zhon, and the strange detachment you have when you're fighting all four sides in one campaign, then TA: Kingdoms is a reasonably enjoyable game. If not, well, it was the game that destroyed Cavedog. Enough said.Reviewed by: Frosty840