Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns emerged a few years ago as a unique real time strategy title. Unlike most strategy titles these days, the developers created their own story backdrop without the use of licensed characters or franchises. Kohan are immortal generals that lead (mortal) armies into battle. They can die in combat but they can be resurrected, albeit they lose all of the experience they gained during their previous life. Kind of like the Highlander television series, there are good and bad immortal leaders.
The Kohan franchise also revamped the combat system. No longer are you sending hundreds of units haphazardly into battle. In some strategy titles, you could easily just set a rallying point in the middle of someone else's base, get enough resources and just keep pumping out units. That's not a viable strategy here. And the sequel, Kohan II:
Kings of War, exacerbates that. Each unit created from the barracks is a company. A company is led by an officer, which you can substitute with a Kohan hero character. The core of the company can be composed of any troops you pick: ranged, melee or mounted units. You can assign supporting units to the company. A mage, cleric or an elite archer like a ranger, may provide extra power. Or you can do away with supporting units to make your company cheaper to produce. You can save these custom combinations in a game to save time producing them in the future.
Kings of War penalizes homogenous armies. If your entire army is composed of cavalry and you rush them into a wall of defenses, chances are they won't last very long. A few well-balanced companies will be able to survive much longer. Should your troops make it back to cities and towns under your control, the company will recharge. Existing troops will be healed. Replacement troops will be raised.
It's this interesting concept that made the original Kohan franchise a sleeper hit. Kings of War expands on this by making more races available, although all troops will still be divided amongst the siege, ranged, support, melee and mounted categories. They just happen to look different. Some races will bring lumbering beasts and spirits as siege weaponry instead of a catapult.
It has been several years since the original Kohan was released, so
Kings of War brings plenty of gaming to the table. There are twenty-five missions that cover Nationalist forces chasing the Ceyah led by Sebak to eliminate them. Then the hunters become the hunted once the undead are unleashed and all the surviving races head towards Royalist lands to find the hero from the last game, Darius Javidan. It seesaws a back and forth but it lets you try your hand at all the races, including playing the bad guys.
Kings of War continues the resource model from its predecessor. The main currency to be mined is gold. But the other resources have plus and minus modifiers on them. Everything starts out neutral but as you build things that require maintenance, they drag down the ratio. You can claim resource mines later on to help keep them in check.
Alternatively, you can pay gold in lieu of a resource as part of the cost of upkeep. Each race leans more heavily on a specific resource than others.
The story in Kings of War is told through in-game cinematic sequences.
These sequences feature voiceover work, some of which are professional, some of which sound amateur. None of the characters really grow on you, until about Darius Javidan whom I knew from the game before. Why the story doesn't center around him instead is a mystery since the newcomers don't make much of an impression except the bad guy Melchior who develops throughout the campaign.
There are some disconcerting elements about Kings of War that prevent it from becoming an undisputed hit. Every mission, no matter how the story is told, involves killing everyone else on the battlefield. There was maybe one stealth mission, and a few gauntlet (no building) type sequences, but in the end, you just have to kill everyone. Timegate was imaginative with its original Kohan formula. The sequel tweaks some of the gameplay but the objectives really need a bit more creativity to them, especially through twenty-five missions.
Also, the game stresses on effective use of units and the preservation of Kohan heroes who gain experience and can be the backbone of a well-led army. So why, I found myself asking, can't I bring over at least a company of my crack troops from the previous mission if they manage to survive the battle? I'm not sure but the absence of this makes leveling up your officers and troops in a campaign mission somewhat frivolous. You'll lose all of it next time anyway.
Finally, Kings of War has a multiplayer component that covers all the bases. You can mix artificial intelligence with human players a la the model pioneered by Warcraft. Unfortunately, it's missing co-operative play, something that is slowly becoming a norm in the real time strategy genre. Considering the storyline, which talks of alliances between races and such, it couldn't have been too hard to cede some parts of your initial forces to a friendly human player.
Kings of War comes with a new graphics engine that enables the artists to create more detailed character models. I like the fact that the troops react accordingly to different formations. The cavalry units gallop smoothly. While the forts and citadels look a bit cartoonish, the use of bright colors (except for the evil races) gives Kings of War a different look and feel from your usual swords and sorcery strategy title.
Timegate doesn't try to rock the boat with Kings of War. They enhance the unique strategy game approach the franchise had before. For the most part the mechanics still work here, and there are few titles on the market that try to emulate its company-centric military approach. Kings of War, however, suffers from a long campaign that revolves around very similar objectives. It is also diminished by the inability to keep the results you've tallied during a mission; namely the veteran status of your officers and soldiers. Had the ability to transfer troops been available, it would have provided more continuity to the story. Fans of the Kohan franchise will want to check this game out, at the very least to get a glimpse of the story and the new races, but whereas the predecessor was a must try for all strategy fans, Kings of War fails to reach that same mark.