If I asked how many people have ever heard of the first Kohan, I could probably count the number of responses on one hand. Kohan: The Immortal Sovereigns was one of those underdogs that slipped by everyone’s radar despite its graphics and gameplay. It won some awards, including strategy game of the year, but barely anyone heard of it (including me). Kohan II gives you much of the same as the first Kohan, as well as the standard offerings that come with almost any RTS title, singleplayer, multiplayer, and a skirmish mode.
Singleplayer is based around two particular Kohans, the seeker Naava and the solder Jonah to battle against the rising threat of the Ceyah, a nasty little force which caused all the problems in the first Kohan. You play across a 25-mission campaign against the forces of evil, and while it is pretty much a breeze at first, the AI ramps up the difficulty when you hit midway through the story. The story itself is written pretty well, though the cutscenes aren’t exactly the greatest. The voices and overall animations aren’t exactly on par with other games in the genre.
As you romp and pillage through the campaign, you will get to interact with the six playable races in Kohan II, the Drauga, Gauri, Haroun, Human, Shadow, and the Undead. The Humans are pretty much the balance of the races, while the Drauga are a civilized beast race that are more about taking the fight to the enemy. The Gauri are a physically powerful race that comes from the mountains, where the Haroun are a lot weaker but make up for it with powerful mages. The shadow is pretty much what you would expect them to be, demons and monsters and the like. The Undead are, well, a bunch of skeletons that have bigger armies with no worries of morale (honestly, if you are already dead, why would you be scared to die again?). Even though you have these six races, there are also 5 factions that you can ally yourself with, though not every race can join a particular faction. These factions allow you to further tailor your style of gameplay by adding bonuses and a special faction unit that you can use.
One thing you will notice right away is that you don’t control individual units. Instead, you control several units and group them into companies. These companies can be customized any way you want, from the captain or hero leading it to the support units bringing up the rear. Once you build the company you want, you can save it so you don’t have to recreate it again. Also, when you recruit a company, its leader is produced immediately, but the other solders are slowly added. The good news to this is that even if there is just one unit left in a company, if brought back to an area where it will be in supply, the entire unit can be restored without any additional cost. The only time you spend money on a company is it’s initial recruitment. After that, everything is free.
Kohan II also delivers a slightly different way to manage your resources. First, you don’t actively collect them. The buildings in your cities as well as any mines you create produce your resources. You will have multiple resources to keep track of, but only gold is actually hoarded in the traditional sense. Every other resource is tracked by having a + or a -. When you recruit a company, it costs a particular amount of gold first as well as one or more of these resources. Say you have +10 in iron. If you create a default swordsman company, it will drop down to +8. Only when the entire company is defeated is when your +2 iron will come back. Now, it is possible for you to go past what you can support in a particular resource, but you now you have to start dipping into your gold coffers to cover the deficit. This makes a strategy in itself in to putting not only the best units in the field, but also the best units that you can maintain without going broke.
Your empire is also controlled a little different than any other RTS game. You really don’t manage the inner workings of your towns and much of it is automated for you. Each town can only control a certain amount of buildings, and those buildings decide which units can be produced. Units can only be produced if the requisite buildings are available in the town you are recruiting them from. Say two towns have the ability for a swordsman company, but one has a shrine instead of a market. That means the town with a shrine can build a swordsman company with the option of having a healer as a support unit, where the other town just makes you money a little faster. Also, building your actual structures is automated (you can turn this feature off though), as well as your cities walls. Each town gets it’s own defenders that come out when threatened. The only thing you can control is how aggressive these defenders are, nothing more. While they don’t exactly beat back the enemy, they are there to hold them back long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
While the singleplayer will keep you busy, it’s the skirmish and multiplayer that is going to make you want to come back for more. The computer AI is very intelligent, and will use some tried and true tricks to defeat you. Quite often, the computer will send a massive force and assault a town, just to get your attention. Meanwhile, it will send a smaller force, maybe a siege engine or two, to another town or to another side of the same town, and smash your walls down and gain entry. To face an AI that knows when and how to strike makes it a challenge every time you sit and play. Multiplayer isn’t too much different, where human opponents or allies adjusting to the battlefield on the fly.
All of this has some downsides however. Despite all of the different choices Kohan II offers, most of it is cosmetic. You will find that every race has pretty much the same unit, and the differences are minimal. It is disappointing the human swordsman do exactly the same thing that the Gauri swordsman, with just minor differences in stats. To add insult to injury, most of the units available are pretty much useless to you. You will find yourself using the same units over and over for the simple fact that they get the job done.
The biggest let down however, was that Kohan II just didn’t feel fun. It has everything to make it a great game, but playing it just felt slow and boring. The story (and the fact that I am reviewing the game) was the only reason I felt compelled to play through the campaign. The gameplay was just boring. Your companies, when engaged with the enemies, will be on their own. The only way you can gain control of them is to have them retreat from the enemy. This sometimes isn’t a viable option because your units will normally be easy pickings if retreating from an enemy who is still pretty strong. Also, if a company suffers a lot of damage pretty quickly, it’s moral will falter, and the unit will rout until it feels safe. It’s a good concept, but more often your fractured company will rout to more enemies.
The last negative that I found with Kohan II had some problems actually running. This game was tested on two machines of the same configuration for the exception of their processors and motherboards. One is a P4 2.6Ghz, and the other was an Athlon 64 3400. On the Athlon, Kohan II suffered severe lag, especially when scrolling through the map. During intense large-scale fights, the game would reduce to a crawl. On the P4, on the same settings, it still had some performance issues, but not nearly as bad. Instead, I received a fatal error about once every few hours where I would have to reboot my machine. Not many games have graced these two systems and managed to bring the blue screen of death on a somewhat consistent basis since windows xp was installed, but Kohan II is one of those few.
As far as every thing else, namely the video and audio, Kohan II doesn’t disappoint. During everything but the cutscenes, your battles against the enemy are very stunning and impressive to watch. The spell effects add some nice variety to the picture. The sound effects are what you would expect, and surely do not disappoint. The music is decent, but not exactly the greatest and I found myself either ignoring it or turning it off.
I was really disappointed in Kohan II. All of the aspects of a great game were there: Good graphics, good sound, great AI, and compelling story. However, the fact is that the gameplay really wasn’t fun at all. The skirmish and multiplayer modes are a lot better, but even these seem to be boring after a few rounds. Couple this with the excessive lagging or the occasional crashes, I can only recommend this game to those that are fans with the series or the curious gamer who has no clue what Kohan II is about.