When Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns came out in 2001, it brought with it a breath of fresh air to a stagnant RTS genre. With its emphasis on strategy over micromanagement, it pretty much spoiled all other RTS games for me. Now, the long awaited Kohan II: Kings of War is finally out and Khaldunites everywhere are wondering how it stacks up to the originals. Two generations of men have passed since Darius Javidan awoke and led his people in the fight against the Shadow, since the Dark Saadya Ahriman was defeated, and his Ceyah forces broken and scattered to the four corners of the world. Little do the inhabitants of Khaldun realize that a greater evil is stirring… At first K2’s graphics looked like a pretty good mix of Age of Mythology and Warcraft 3, but after a little gametime I realized that this assumption just didn’t do the graphics justice. The environment in K2 is actually surprisingly immersive. Little touches like the shadows of clouds floating overhead and a herd of native beasties cruising on the periphery of the fog of war really make the land of Khaldun a living world. Unit models are much more distinct than in Immortal Sovereigns and the animations are very polished. Spell effects are downright magnificent. Kudos go out to Zach Forcher, Ricky Pina, Tom Woods, Phillip Morales, Jessie Rolan and the rest of the TimeGate art team for giving us plenty of reasons to not mind the necessary low poly count of the models. While many of the sound effects are carry-overs from the last game (definitely lends some of the old-school Kohan flavor), an area of vast improvement over the original lies in the voice-acting and soundtrack. Sure, a few of the actors ham it up a bit, but overall it’s pretty good quality. The orchestral soundtrack provides a nice aural backdrop that nicely enhances the fantasy aspect of the game. As a web designer and usability nut, I’m really pleased with the controls and interface of the game. The UI is a little bit larger than I would like – covering roughly a third of the screen- however, it is very streamlined and intuitive, with multiple ways to accomplish the same tasks depending on your playing style. I particularly like the way the Kohan and regiment interfaces are now perpetually on the screen in the top left corner.
Can I just mention how nice it is to not have to worry about whether Johnny Peon is harvesting enough berries? K2, like it’s predecessor, exchanges excessive micromanagement with –gasp!- strategy. Economy is once again very hands-off, and cities have been expanded to include actual buildings within your city walls. I was concerned about settlement spots being fixed in place rather than strategically placed by settler companies, but was delighted to find an autoplacement toggle in the map set-up screen. Kings of War uses the company system again, adding two flanking slots and a wider range of units. I find that this system makes me value my units a bit more, and the company limit which is influenced by the amount and size of your cities requires you to choose your company structure wisely.
The 25 mission single player is moderately enjoyable. The plot is definitely more compelling than K:IS was, switching perspectives among the 6 races and 5 factions every few missions, and focusing on the disenfranchised Ceyah and their transformation into the Fallen. It serves as a nice primer to the various unit types and game elements. For the most part, The missions weren’t too difficult, and I started to wonder where the famously difficult Kohan AI had gotten off to. After roughly 2/3 into the campaign, I caught my first glimpse in the form of a Fallen Kohan who thought it was neat to teleport out of battle a mere sword stroke away from death. After two and a half hours of touch-and-go, it was very satisfying to finally hear the piercing shriek accompanied by his demise.
Even so, the campaign may as well be a long tutorial compared to the majesty of the multiplayer and vs. AI skirmish modes. The several AIs to choose from are just plain nasty . The only time I have been able to beat one so far was in an unfair 2 humans vs. AI match the other night. Multiplayer is just as fun and addictive as it was on the first Kohan games, and is sure to engage veterans of the previous games as well as first-time players. If you find yourself online, keep your eyes peeled for members of the dev team, as they have been known in the past to get addicted to their own game!While I don’t see myself playing through the single player campaign again, I have no doubt that multiplayer and single player skirmish maps vs. the AI will ensure this game stays on my hard drive for quite some time. Players can also make their own custom maps and AIs (in a rare move, the manual actually has detailed instructions on how to use these tools), and the ability to watch and save films of previous games can give the devoted player a way to study other’s weaknesses and observe how tactics play out without the fog of war present. Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns had a fiercely addictive multiplayer, and Kings of War retains much of that same feel.