Kohan II: Kings of War
Past month lots of games were released as it is common for this time of the year. Especially real-time strategy games, like Kohan II: Kings of War. One thing you can definitely say about Kohan II is that the gameplay differs a lot from other games in the genre. Read on to find out if ‘different’ gameplay equals ‘better’ or ‘good’ gameplay.
The medieval fantasy setting of the game lets you play in the world of Khaldun, where a struggle between good and evil is escalating once again. The singleplayer campaign offers a series of 25 missions (which take about twenty hours to complete). The story kicks off with old enemies showing their faces again (or their masks:)). What looks like a small danger in the beginning will soon evolve to a world-threatening conflict. During a couple of missions (a complete chapter actually) you take on the role of the bad guys in order to create a nice switch in the storyline. After that it is back to the ‘save the world’ part with our valiant heroes. As you might have guessed the campaign is pretty linear and a déjà-vu feeling often overwhelms the player. Mission objectives are for 90% of the ‘destroy this, destroy that’-type. The sidequests on their part also don’t guarantee much variation; killing dragons, mobs and freeing people will only be rewarded in the mission itself. Still, Timegate holds one’s attention with the storytelling. Even the sober in-game animations don’t spoil things here. And a campaign is a nice start to meet/play with the six different races (although the Shadow clearly deserved more playtime).
But how does it play? Well, everything starts in the cities. On each map there is a limited amount of cities (or places for a settlement to be built upon) present and the more you conquer of them, the more troops/buildings you can create (buildings which are placed within city walls on predetermined spots). A city produces gold, definitely the most important resource and at the same time the only resource that keeps rising/accumulating at a certain ratio. The other resources like wood, iron, stone and mana are aquired through the placement of specific buildings in a town or through the building of mines on resourcespots spread over a map. These last four resources are important for the creation of your army. For example: with a score of +8 for wood you can create a large company of archers. Once ordered, the woodscore is brought back to +2 and it will stay like that until the company dies (it jumps back to +8 then) or until you place more buildings/mines to get more wood. If such a score gets negative, you’ll get a penalty on your goldupkeep. Nearly every map contains neutral forts/temples/monsterlairs which can be destroyed or conquered for a gold/resourcescore bonus or a new unit.
Your army is divided in companies which can be put together at cities. With most races a normal company consist of a captain (a hero or a tad stronger normal unit), a frontline, supporting flankunits and a small backing rear for healing/more fireworks. Every company gets a special role, infantry, cavalry, archer or siege. Each role has its advantages or preferred enemy role (cavalry tend to be a pain in the ass for archers). You can alway mix things up quite a bit but don’t expect some ultimate supercombo’s to show up. The control over a group of units is nearly non-existant. They clearly fight on their own and choose for themselves which units of a hostile company they want to hurt first. The player can do nothing but watch or give the order to retreat (which will happen quite often). Trying to place your units on the right terrain before a battle occurs could help too, they even dig in (entrench) and get bonusses if they stand still for a long time (too bad that’s not heavy visualised).
Experience is gained also (by every unit) so you better watch out for your veteran companies. Remarkable in comparison with other recent fantasy RTS’es is the fact that heroes are not that strong. Yes, they are better than normal units but they die quite easily. They can be resurrected (after a short time) in a supply zone without their experience then (normal units ‘keep’ their experience when dead). Next to experience and the influences of the environment there is also research available at some buildings in order to improve statistics of your troops on the field. All these tactical novelties seem to have not much impact though or better said; it’ll help but it shows too little on the screen. And with superior numbers, a balanced army and enough outposts there are already enough things to gain a victory.
Quite irritating is the fact that you can’t give much orders other than retreat when your companies are chasing or fighting enemies. They keep a bit too much occupied. Don’t wait till a company of yours retreats on its own from a heavy fight because then there is a chance they even venture deeper into enemy lines with not so pretty consequences.
As mentioned before, outposts are essential for defense and attack. These are forts which can be built (by a special worker company) on nearly every place on the map. They can hold a small garrison and provide a supply zone for your troops just as cities do. Supply zones resurrect fallen units and heal wounded ones when the company enters the zone. Outposts loose their supply zone from the moment the garrison leaves the fortress though (which seems to happen every time enemies want to attack or just pass by). These fortifications form a magnificent buffer and a necessary extra line of defense for the always weakly defended cities. If you thought that it would matter if you put 10 archer-companies within the citywalls then think again, only militia-archers can apparently fire arrows over a city wall. That said it’s advised to go out and explore during a game and build as much cities as you can since you aren’t really able to build as much fortifications as you’d wish (outposts take down scores of certain resources other than gold). Cities/towns also loose their supply zone but then only when the enemy really begins crushing the walls.
The six races (Humans, Haroun, Gauri, Undead, Shadow and Drauga) are heavily influenced by the fantasyraces everyone’s used to (the Gauri are a bit dwarflike and the Drauga were clearly inspired by orcs). But the voices, atmosphere and the looks are all properly executed for each side. In the gameplay part they can be distinguished through the need for particular resources (f.e.: Undead and Shadow need lots of mana while the elf-like Haroun need much wood), the possibilities of their building units, a lower or higher statistic here and then etc.. These are small differences which might be too small for some people but in combination with the different graphical presentation I didn’t feel there was much missing. If you want even more subtle differences then there are still the factions. Before a skirmish/online game you can choose which one you want to play. Royalists, Nationalists, Council, Fallen, … they all give little extras to some aspects of the game.
The visual pleasure is not so advanced as we have seen in most RTS’s this year. Everything is very colourful, lively built and the spell effects are neat too but you can’t ignore the low number of polygons and the monotone unit animations. The performance at times can’t also be ignored. When playing against multiple adversaries on large maps things start to slow down and hickups occur (the game was played on a PIV 2.6 Ghz with 512 Ram and a Radeon 9600 Pro). It improves when playing for a time though. What comes out of the speakers is well above average, only some hero-voice acting felt a bit over the top. The beautiful music makes you forget it pretty fast, even with not too many different songs. Multiplayer offers more pleasure, our crew had a blast with it, too bad there were not so many other games active when we went online. A random map generator and a map editor should keep one busy enough after (or before) the campaign is finished. Single, unique maps from Timegate weren’t available, it seems it’s up to the community to provide enough enjoyable custom maps with the map editor.
Conclusion: Kohan II: Kings of War doesn’t cause a new revolution nor does it form a new standard in the RTS-genre. Yet it does offer a remarkable addictive gameplay and enough options to keep you busy for a while. The fairly unique concept of the previous games has been preserved and it certainly deserves as much attention as the age-old known gamemechanics which get constantly recycled in most RTS’es. This game is shortly put the decency itself, nothing more and nothing less.