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Kohan II: Kings of War

Developer: TimeGate Studios
Publisher: Global Star Software
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Players: 1-12
Similar To: Kohan: Immortal Sovereign
Rating: Teen
Published: 12 : 03 : 04
Reviewed By: Ryan Newman

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Minimum Req.: P4 1.5GHz, 256MB RAM, 64MB video card, DirectX 9 comp. sound card
Reviewed On: P4 2.5 GHz, 512 Meg RAM, ATI Radeon 9800 Pro

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TimeGate Studios came out strong in 2001 with Kohan: Immortal Sovereign. A slower-paced real-time strategy game, it focused on economic development, city planning, and squad-based combat. The sequel, Kohan II: Kings of War, makes the leap into the third dimension while expanding upon the economic model and introducing new characters into the universe. By maintaining the strong core design of the original, the sequel manages to remain enjoyable, despite feeling like a glorified expansion pack.

After the Ceyah was defeated, Kohan Darius Javidan, immortal and the game's hero unit, took his human allies and settled down into a time of peace. The peace is now coming to an end with the factionalized humans fighting amongst themselves, as well as with the remaining Ceyah and a new threat that is making its presence slowly felt in the land of Khaldun. As Javidan keeps locked away in his kingdom, the other Kohans and their followers attempt to band their shattered peoples together to fight off the new foe. Joining the humans are the Drauga, Gauri, Haroun, Shadow, and the Undead, all of which are playable throughout the main campaign. Each race has its own benefits: the Elvin-like Haroun's structures repair themselves while the Dwarven-like Gauri are more productive at gathering resources. Each also has its own detriments: the Shadow's companies cannot be as large as the other races, while the brawling Drauga have low defense, with the humans as the only race suffering no penalties. To spice things up, there are also factions - Ceyah, Council, Fallen, Nationalist, and Royalist - which, like actual conflicts, contain members of all races, with in-fighting going on between those following different cause, with each faction providing their own bonuses and special units. A shame there couldn't have been a way to fit in politicking, as the situation is ripe for some.

Immediately noticeable to fans of the original is the new 3D engine. Despite looking fairly basic close up, the benefit - and the only one I can think of - is that it is now easier to distinguish the advantages of the environment. The

 

environment is crucial to how units move on the map and, along with icons displaying the exact ramifications of moving troops to a certain location, having objects in 3D makes it easier and quicker to tell whether they should remain or be moved. Pretty much everything affects units on the map, from trees providing cover from arrows, to cavalry getting a bonus to attack on open land, and while it may not always seem necessary to know the details, it also makes life much easier when setting up defenses and attacking from an advantageous position.

Aside from the graphical face lift, the economic model has also been beefed up. What was so interesting in the original was that each city would grow in size, with each size having allotted spaces for buildings to be constructed in, and each of these buildings would offer additional benefits that needed to be balanced against the needs of the kingdom. The upgrades usually involved increased production, more gold, or possibly a military benefit or a middle-of-the-road option (keep some wood and get some gold). So, if a lumber mill was built, it could be upgraded to provide additional lumber, because all resources in the negative would subtract from the income, be sold for additional gold, or a mixture of both. Now, that system has been added upon by an additional branch of upgrades, but these tend solely for the military. The same lumber mill from part one can now be upgraded to increase production, sell more for additional income, or do a little of both, but it can also then be used to upgrade how far archers can shoot, the strength of their shots, and so on. The resources are broken down into iron, copper, ore, wood, and mana crystals, which are automatically collected once the resource-specific building is built. There are also additional deposits on the map that can be harvested once engineers build mines upon them. The economic system is still integral and is one of the more enjoyable parts of the game, but it never feels as important as it did in the original.

The economics come across as less important because of the smaller map sizes. Kohan was really a war of posts: you built your kingdoms in certain spots to choke off the enemy, to be near a resource, as well as to build outposts and captured those belonging to other kingdoms in order to gain similar advantages. In Kohan II, the player cannot build a settlement wherever they want; they now have to build them only on select spots. They can, however, still build outposts. This seems to have affected the size of the maps because they are much smaller than those found in the original. Now outposts, which are important because militia come out to attack passing enemies and it (along with kingdoms) have a re-supply radius that slowly heals armies within its borders, take the predominant role in choking off spots. Since units cannot be raised in outposts, the settlement spots are much nearer to each other now so that units don't have lengthy distances to walk. There are still some large maps, mind you, but I found that, overall, they are in the minority. Because of the smaller size, units are engaged much quicker than before, which makes the game faster. The levels are also very linear, so time spent in one mission is roughly half of what I would spend in the same in the original, sometimes even less than that. This doesn't leave much time for the economy to be fleshed out and, frankly, it doesn't seem all that necessary, as it did before. In Kohan, it was crucial to have enough supplies to keep your resource-draining armies on the field, but now, I rarely needed such a balancing act.

One thing that hasn't changed - thankfully - is combat. Raised in cities, companies consist of a captain and four units, as well as the optional two flanking units and two support units. The main and flanking units are the same, for the most part, consisting of archers, cavalry, and different types of infantry (swordsmen, pikemen, etc.), but some units, like catapults and juggernaut units, are available only as a main army selection. The supporting units are healers, stronger ranged units, and magicians. Like the original, the supporting units can make all the difference, and they seemed a bit stronger now, with magicians setting fire to, tossing lightning at, and poisoning enemy troops. Custom companies also make a return, with the player able to quickly train a group or make a savable company with the flank and supports they prefer, which is handy. Captains or heroes can lead the men, with the heroes being slightly stronger but not controllable, like in WarCraft III or Warlords: Battlecry. I did find that the units were less inclined to listen to me than they were in the original. In both titles, companies can be routed or told to escape. When told to escape, they immediately switch to the fastest formation and head for the hills, but a rout makes them uncontrollable. The formations here are also different than in other titles as they actually have a use; there are three formations, combat, skirmish, and column, which goes strongest but slowest, decreases combat ability but increases in speed and sight, and weakest but fastest, respectively, so an escaping squad that is attacked will likely be decimated because their attacking proficiency is greatly penalized at the expense of speed. But I had a problem with just being listened to in general. Just to disengage a unit so it could attack a target of opportunity, I would have to tell it to retreat, and then try again. This wouldn't be due to numerical superiority on part of the enemy or any reasonable explanation like that; I could have four squads fighting one weakened enemy squad and still fight to tell them to go and attack a nearby portal or settlement building. That was incredibly frustrating, and it required almost constant babysitting of the troops.

When playing Kings of War, I felt like I was playing a slightly inferior expansion for the original, despite the new engine. The graphical update is nice, but it didn't enhance my experience any, and the audio, being of decent technical quality but suffering from so-so voiceovers and repetitious unit responses, didn't really pull me in. The levels were also much more straightforward than before, leaving little room for ingenuity; it was really just strengthening the town closest to the enemy, then launching assaults. Because of the linearity, though, the story is of greater focus, and it isn't bad. The new characters are good additions, as are the new units (which I found to be more different from a graphical than a gameplay standpoint), but it never felt like it was enough. One improvement was the menu and navigational system, with clear icons and graphical representations of things like company movement speed, benefits and negatives of resource usage, affects of veteran status on companies, and so on, being easy to distinguish and just more pleasant to deal with. The online portion is hurting due to lack of players, but even then it's hard to really get into the nuts and bolts of the game because of rushing. I did find the players more helpful than normal, which is a plus for those new to the series, and was common with the original as it garnered a strong following, so there is a natural community aspect that can be looked forward to.


Overall: 7.5/10
The original Kohan kept me up late many a night. Sending waves of companies against unbending hordes of undead, balancing my fledgling economy, and expanding my kingdom were more addictive to me then than just about any other strategy title. Kohan II: Kings of War quickens the pace, making it more engaging more quickly, but the sacrifice was that I just didn't find myself as enamored with it as I was with its predecessor. It's still a solid game, but I found the original to be better. If you're new to the series, I would suggest starting here as it is much more inviting. Despite my preference, those looking for a solid strategy game still cannot go wrong here.

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