Publisher: Globalstar/Take 2
Developer: Timegate Studios
Release Date: September 20, 2004
Buy 'KOHAN II: Kings of War': PC
A little while back Strategy First brought out what has been hailed as one of the least appreciated games of all time: Timegate Studio’s Kohan: The Immortal Sovereigns. I cannot explain why Kohan didn’t do better than it had. On the face of it, the problem was simple. Kohan used 2D sprites in a day when the jump to polygon speed was being made. That in it of itself doesn’t explain Kohan’s commercial failure. I think it has something a little more to it: Kohan was a game that required real strategy to be employed in a genre of games that claimed to be strategic when really they were micro-managing click-fests. An isometric exercise in twitch gaming. It is a nice thing that the gaming industry is still one where critical acclaim can still get you another swing at the plate, as you can now find Kohan 2: Kings of War on store shelves now.
I am going to approach this review with the assumption that you know nothing of the mechanics of Kohan’s gameplay. Kohan is based around a more streamlined means of resource management. Do not mistake this for simple. You have several resources to manage: iron, wood, gold and khalundrite (a magical ore). These substances are gathered and processed at your various mines and lumber mills and upon each building’s upgrade path you’ll have to make a choice: do you go with the building that produces more raw materials or will you go with the building that sells off its stock to make money. It is a deceptively simple and very strategic decision. Depending on which army you are playing as what style of campaign you prosecute the choice at this very moment will have a dramatic impact on your success. If you want an army of swordsmen supported by battle-mages then you’d best keep those iron-ore and khalundrite stocks piled high while you sell off some lumber to make them dollars. You see, every unit requires upkeep. Infantry requires a lot iron, cavalry requires a little iron and a little wood and archer units require a lot of wood. When you put together a company the various units you cobble together and commission will draw on these stocks. Thus, if you are selling off all of your khalundrite but pumping out mages and clerics then you’ll find yourself managing a very expensive army as you would have to import the resources via gold. Now, sounds like a lot right? All of this is decided in one click. It gets even better: you don’t have to dispatch miners and such to various sites to harvest your resources. The presence of the building takes care of that.
Now, on to battle. Another cool thing about Kohan that belies its truly strategic nature is its company system of command. In Kohan, you do not buy units or build them, you commission companies that are outfitted and trained to be a mix of different units. You have a front-line, flankers and combat support slots. Each company is commanded by a Captain or a Hero and depending on your company’s overall composition you will fulfill specific combat-arms roles. An example of this would be: An Infantry Company can consist of three swordsmen in the fore, two pike-men on the flanks and two archers in support. This company would be pretty balanced in attack and support and be able to fend off cavalry trying to envelop around the flanks. If you wanted an assault company then you’d put together swordsmen up front and on the flanks with maybe clerics in support to keep the men healthy in the midst of a fistfight. Once you invest in bigger cities with more facilities then you can range out into more advanced units but let it be known you have the same flexibility with cavalry and ranged attack units. The only units that do not have this same flexibility are the siege units where one siege weapon with two support troops consists of a single company.
When you get your companies assembled and formed on the field, you’re ready for a fight, but as a giant tree once said, “Don’t be hasty.” You need to be aware of who you’re fighting, where you’re fighting and what condition you arrive. Sounds like a lot? It isn’t. Cavalry receive penalties while fighting in woods and infantry move slower across broken terrain. “Open” terrain, such as plains or plateaus, leaves you more exposed to missile attacks while fighting in the trees will help shield your troops. To further complicate matters you need to keep an eye on what formations your companies are maneuvering in. For instance, you have a cavalry company patrolling your home territories; keeping them in battle formation is slow and someone can backdoor you while your cavalry is not near by (the AI will do this to you too). The best idea would be to keep them in skirmish formation where they can move faster and see farther. If you want to march a few companies from one town to another, putting them in marching columns will make the trip faster. When you want to attack or defend, having your troops arrayed in battle formation will slow them down, but maximize their combat effectiveness. What you are left with is a delicate balancing act that if you can keep your head around then you will be unstoppable, even against the more than aggressive and competent AI routines written into the game.
Speaking of AI, Kohan and Kohan 2 boast the best AI routines in the genre. Even during the single player campaign on normal difficulty you will be greeted by cunning enemy commanders. In the earliest episodes I found myself being probed, outflanked and engaged on two fronts which made the early missions very difficult without being frustrating. Most RTS single player games do not flex any sort of AI. Your armies run into predetermined clumps of foes and they duke it out. Once subdued, you can rest assured that the region is secured and pacified. Not in Kohan 2. Fight over a town and take it; you’ll find yourself beating a hasty retreat as a counter attack will soon follow unless you can consolidate your advance and secure your line of supply. Consolidation is the key because each town renders a radius of re-supply which will heal your units. If a town’s walls are attacked directly then the zone of re-supply is nullified and your companies can be chewed to grit and gristle. Consolidate your positions and fortify your towns and you’ll find yourself fighting with home-field advantage which will be crucial in later missions.
While Kohan 2 shines in the gameplay and mechanics departments, it fails to dazzle in the presentation. The game’s graphics are fine, but nothing eye shattering. The sound and music are both competent, but nothing astounding either. The characters feel as if they are picked up out of the generic fantasy hero bin and the voice acting isn’t terribly offensive. The single player narrative is there, but nothing as compelling as Warcraft 3 or Dawn of War. The overall impression is that of a Lord of Rings rip-off. You have an insidious evil force scheming behind the scenes and using proxy forces to maneuver until true motives are revealed, but you won’t find any mind bending plot twists here. While Kohan 2 departs in the name of originality for its gameplay, it falls into a derivative narrative pitfall. It’s all action and no drama.
On the multiplayer front, Kohan 2 makes for a great time. Not having to micromanage resources frees you up for truly strategic decision making against a real life opponent, but I found online games to be sparse. To counter that, you can build custom battles easily by going head-to-head with one of the game’s built in AI routines. These AI bots are built for specific races (of which there are Humans, Ceyah, Drauga and the Undead and within which there are different factions) and these AI generals know the ins and outs of their specialties. Without pause these AI generals handed me my head on a platter many times and not once did I ever feel cheated, merely out played.
Kohan 2: Kings of War is more than an adequate successor to what amounts to a cult classic. Timegate Studios has worked on what was perceived to be Kohan’s biggest weakness: its graphics. To this end they succeeded, the game looks good now. Kohan 2 is not a watered down version of the game’s precursor either. The mechanics, if anything, are refined and evolved into a much less daunting venture. Even so, Kohan 2 is by no means an easy game to learn and become good at. The meager tutorial missions are hardly enough to reflect the game’s nuance. Even getting your tail whipped a few times doesn’t clarify your mistakes. Where Kohan 2 ultimately falls short is in the game’s personality. While the gameplay is brilliant, the game’s personality is bland. The many features and aspects of this game’s look, feel and universe are retreads of other fantasy worlds already seen and well hashed out. If Kohan’s gameplay had been merged with a new science fiction setting, or if the setting had been made a little more gritty and brutal then you would have a complete package. What you have is a brilliant real time game with true strategic depth dressed in cookie-cutter outfits. That being said, games are about gameplay right?
Score : 8.5/10