- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

• Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders from Microsoft for Xbox. (Rated M: Content suitable for ages 17 and older, $39.99.)

Owners of Bill Gates’ powerful entertainment console who are entranced with the types of sweeping battle scenes in “The Lord of The Rings” will find hands-on satisfaction through an exhilarating third-person adventure paying homage to a time when might, magic and monsters ruled.

The game takes place in Bersia, a land that continues to simmer in conflict since its last world war, 50 years before. The Dark Legions are on the march again, and the sacred Holy Grounds are under siege.

A player can take control of one of four races of warriors in a fight that mixes hack-and-slash combat with real-time strategy elements.

That means commanding multiple types of troop garrisons to specific points on more than 60 interactive maps. It also means accomplishing missions while moving within rich, three-dimensional environments that, in the midst of battle, feature up to 150 characters fighting on screen at one time.

To call the action overwhelming is an understatement.

Imagine castle sieges, flanking opponents to bring them to a quicker demise, sending out scouts to collect information, opening a dam to flood enemies riding boars, using a band of spearmen to cut down a charging cavalry and even worrying about the sun blinding your archers.

Now add the close-quarters, very bloody combat element as the player swings a massive weapon at hordes of ax-wielding orcs, cuts down scantily clad evil elvish amazon archers, takes on massive scorpions and can call upon the help of powerful underlings when in trouble.

I am exhausted just writing about it.

My calling led me to control the mighty Gerald of Hironeiden — primarily because of the big label “Difficulty: Easy” under his character’s statue. His trusty and brutally efficient friends Ellen and the beefy Rupert accompany him on all campaigns and lend deadly accurate assistance along the way.

Gerald’s successes turn into a mounting collection of gold coins and experience points, which translates into yet another phase of the game.

When back at a camp, the player must use his coins and points for upgrades. That can be as simple as purchasing new armor for his archers or buying a stronger sword or as complicated as visiting a pub to economically persuade mercenaries to join his cause.

About the only part of Kingdom Under Fire that took me away from the immersive action was a totally out-of-place grunge-metal soundtrack that made me yearn for anything composed by John Williams or Howard Shore.

Players will eventually be able to enhance their virtual experience by downloading new mission packs, weapons and armor while tracking their performance via an Xbox Live component (broadband connection and subscription required).

Kingdom Under Fire delivers a devastating blow to a player’s spare time through its addictive mix of genres.

• “Xena Warrior Princess: Season Five” from Anchor Bay Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home-entertainment centers. (Rated TV-PG: Contains content that parents may find unsuitable for younger children, $79.98.)

While on the topic of epic struggles of good versus evil, the legendary sword-wielding female warrior who made a name for herself on syndicated television returns via a 10-disc collector’s-edition set that does her ancient Greek legend proud.

The 22 digitally remastered episodes, scene-specific cast commentary tracks, photo galleries, and director’s cuts of the episodes “Motherhood” and “Animal Attraction” will certainly overwhelm even the “Xena” fan as he works through the first nine discs. However, that 10th disc makes the set a special breed.

Contained within the silver platter, an encyclopedic resource gives viewers hundreds of entries about the show and its production found via interactive menus.

For example, under the section Chronicles, areas devoted to plot synopses, mortals, creatures, gods and treasures provide text, a photo and often a video clip based on the topic.

Additionally, viewers can play a multiple-choice trivia contest and meticulously scrutinize production drawings and storyboards from all of the season’s episodes.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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