Kohan II: Kings of War is, as its name suggests, the follow-up to the original Kohan real-time strategy game. However, while the first Kohan garnered critical acclaim and a loyal following, it remained something of a cult hit. With Kohan II, developer TimeGate Studios hopes to broaden the appeal of the franchise by incorporating a streamlined and easier-to-use interface with 3D graphics. Nearly a month has gone by since we last looked at the game, and we had the opportunity recently to play the latest version of the beta. It's obvious that developer TimeGate has been spending a lot of time tweaking and polishing, as this new version has advanced quite a bit compared to the earlier one, and we're pleased to say that it's coming together quite nicely.
Kohan II differs from most traditional real-time strategy games in a number of ways. First, you don't really gather resources. Instead, you build certain buildings in your town, and they will automatically generate those resources. You can also "mine" various resource nodes, but you'll also have to defend those nodes against attack. Another big difference is that you do not recruit individual units; instead, you commission companies. Basically, a company is a group of units attached to a leader, which is usually just a default, generic unit. However, you will also have a small number of heroes in your service, each with special abilities and powers. You can attach a hero to a company, and the hero will augment the company's abilities. One hero may boost a company's defense rating, while another will cast powerful spells to cripple the enemy. Both heroes and companies can also earn experience points and gain levels, which make them even more powerful, so it's usually in your best interest to preserve your companies as best as possible rather than just throw them into battle like cannon fodder.
From our experience with the beta, it's clear that Kohan II is definitely a step in the right direction for the franchise. Kohan II retains all the key concepts of the original game, such as companies and supply, but it's also a much easier game to pick up and play. It almost feels like a faster game, as well, as you won't spend a lot of time building up before combat erupts. Indeed, one of the first things you'll need to do is build up a scout company to explore the map and an engineer company to secure resource nodes. In the process of doing so, you'll not only encounter enemy companies doing the same thing, but you'll stumble upon monster and bandit lairs that need cleaning out. These third-party encounters almost serve like the goody huts in Civilization; clear them out and you'll earn extra gold, or a new technology, or some other bonus, so it's usually in your best interest to locate and clear them out before another faction does.
Kohan II's multiplayer suite should definitely provide some wild games, as you can play with up to seven other players in a variety of matches, including free-for-all and team games. A random map generator is included along with some premade maps, and you can never predict where you'll start off on the map. It's tough to say which is more difficult to play against in Kohan II--the AI or human players. We played numerous skirmish missions against the AI and found ourselves on the receiving end of a beating. Even though it's a noncheating AI, which means that the computer plays by the same rules that you do, it's remarkably effective at throwing successive waves of companies at your cities. Your defenders may repulse the first and second waves, but because a city under siege loses its supply (and, thus, the ability to heal friendly units in its radius), your exhausted defenders will usually succumb to succeeding waves of attackers. When you're playing against real human beings, you can occasionally catch a human player off guard. That's much tougher to do against the AI.
Team games are quite intense, as a team is only as strong as its weakest link. Kohan II is still undergoing balance tweaks, but the game feels fairly well balanced at this point, so even the loss of one or two cities can shift the balance of power to a team. Having more cities means that you can generate more gold faster, support more units, and have a safe haven where companies can fall back and heal. When you notice the enemy massing a huge force on an ally's borders, it's usually a smart idea to start sending reinforcements immediately, as it may take a while for companies to get there. At the same time, it's important to keep your own defenses high, as an enemy company can suddenly appear on your doorstep while the bulk of your army is away.
The graphics are definitely showing a lot of progress, and TimeGate has spent quite a bit of time polishing the look and feel of the game. Particularly interesting are the combat effects; you can see giant spiders hurl webs at a unit, which then becomes trapped in place and easy prey for the spiders. And your heroes and spellcasters will light up the battlefield with a variety of combat spells.
TimeGate is currently working to put the finishing touches on Kohan II, but the game is looking good at this point. The Kohan-style gameplay is still a refreshing change of pace from traditional real-time strategy games, and Kohan II appears to address the weaknesses of the original game. Kohan II should be a strong entry into the real-time genre when it ships, which is scheduled for sometime next month.