Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns was released in 2001, and though it wasn't a blockbuster success, many of those who actually played it loved it. Its particular take on real-time strategy focused on the strategic control of companies of troops and on eliminating much of the tedious micromanagement often associated with the genre. As such, the game proved to be an innovative change of pace from the conventions of real-time strategy. The sequel, Kohan II: Kings of War, retains its predecessor's unique gameplay while also making key changes that distinguish it both from the original and from any other RTS games in the intervening years. And while some of the changes streamline a slickly designed RTS model even further, they don't detract from this great game's own winning formula.
Kohan II's fantasy setting takes place long after the events of the first Kohan game. Naava Daishan is chasing after the remains of the Ceyah faction, who were the aggressors and losers of the first game. Led by Sebak, the Ceyah survivors escape from Naava's grasp and unleash a dark power upon Khaldun. The forces of humanity are on the brink of annihilation, and it's up to Naava and Jonas Teramun, a recently awakened Kohan with no memories, to unite the races of the land. The storyline is a little unoriginal for a fantasy setting, but it is enjoyable nonetheless, thanks to a few well-placed plot twists. The last mission is also quite fun and suitably climactic, although the game's ending is rather dull and disappointing. The single-player campaign spans 25 missions and should take anywhere from 15 hours to twice that long to complete, depending on your strategies and if you complete optional secondary objectives. At any rate, like its predecessor, the campaign in Kohan II is too scripted and suffers from weak artificial intelligence. Also, it'll be an absolute breeze for experienced RTS players at the default difficulty, and even hard difficulty won't be much of a challenge for the first half of the game. The missions are varied, though, and you'll get to play as each of the game's races at various parts in the campaign. You may or may not enjoy this aspect, because even though this lends some variety to the gameplay, you don't really get attached to any particular characters or their causes.
Kohan II features six playable races: human, haroun, drauga, gauri, undead, and shadow. Each race has its own unique units, buildings, and economic factors, such as reliances on particular types of resources over other types. These economic twists turn out to be what most differentiates the races from each other, because the respective military units are basically functional equivalents despite their aesthetic differences. Each race can also belong to a particular faction. There are five factions total (although not every race can choose from all of the factions) and each of these confers certain benefits. For example, the council faction reduces the cost of buildings by 10 percent. These factions allow you to further tailor the game to your play style, although the factions mainly come into play in skirmish or multiplayer matches since you can't choose your faction in the campaign. Overall, though the game's races and factions don't have a ton of personality to them, the various combinations can make for significant and interesting gameplay differences.
The Kohan series differs from traditional RTS games in both economic and military terms, and Kohan II continues this tradition. For one thing, you don't gather resources in Kohan II. Instead, buildings and mines will provide an income rate for the resources. Gold is the only resource that you actually accumulate. The other resources--stone, wood, iron, and mana crystals--are quantified only by a positive or negative flow. Gold is the bottom line, so if you have a negative flow of the latter resources, you can still recruit units requiring these resources by paying an additional cost in gold. A positive flow of these other resources won't automatically grant you more gold, but some of your structures (or all of them, depending on your race) can be upgraded into exporters where you can exchange surplus resource income for gold. This rather elegant system actually still requires you to spend just as much of your attention on resource management as you would in a traditional RTS game. You can easily find yourself overspending and bringing your gold income down to a trickle. And since gold is required to buy units, buildings, and upgrades, you won't get very far without it. You'll have to carefully manage your income flows by converting buildings to exporters or producers, depending on your needs, in order to maximize your gold.
In Kohan II, military units are handled differently from other real-time strategy games. Units are organized into companies, and you directly control these companies rather than all the individual forces that comprise the companies. Companies have three formation options--combat, skirmish, and column--which bestow certain effects on the company. For example, combat formation decreases the company's movement rate but offers complete combat effectiveness, while column formation gives a boost to speed but cuts combat effectiveness in half. When to switch between different formations tends to be pretty obvious. One issue with the game is that units in combat formation are too eager to fight anything, and they tend to stick to a target once engaged unless they are ordered to run. As such, in larger battles, it's common to see members of your companies automatically attacking buildings, walls, or other low-priority targets when there are more immediate threats in the area. You'll need to micromanage them more than you might expect in a game that alleviates a lot of other micromanagement issues.
A company is destroyed only if every last member of the company is destroyed, but if you manage to keep just one member alive, you can retreat back to a town or fort. These installations have a supply zone where your members will be automatically healed and replenished. It's hard to wipe out a company in Kohan II. Retreating companies will automatically move at their highest speed, so you will have to chase down your opponents to permanently get rid of them. In fact, you'll usually have to spend a lot of time chasing retreating companies, so you have to decide if it's worthwhile to press the attack or to focus your energies elsewhere. Be wary if you let your enemy live to fight another day--companies replenish their health much more quickly in Kohan II than in the previous game, which quickens the pace and has a way of making battles quite interesting. We fought battle after battle over just one city in a multiplayer game because both sides were able to quickly replenish their forces.
Companies in Kohan II include four frontline units, two flanking units, two support units, and one captain. You can mix and match any of your available units, and you're encouraged to do so. An example of this would be a frontline of four swordsmen, a flank of two archers, and a healer and mage as your two support units. Your swordsmen would engage the enemy melee combatants, your archers and mage would shoot from afar, and your healer would keep your swordsmen at full health. However, in practice, it's not necessarily this neat--you may viably swarm your opponent with greater numbers for good results. We finished the campaign by simply recruiting companies with the strongest infantry in the frontline and flank, and using the healers as support. With a couple of pure archer companies in the mix, we were able to mow through any opposition. This is rather unfortunate for the campaign, because it means about half the units in the game are either optional or useless, depending on how you look at it. Of course, multiplayer games do require you to be more careful in your company composition, especially when you factor in heroes and experienced companies.
The immortal Kohan heroes of Khaldun return in Kohan II. Like companies, the heroes gain experience and level up to become stronger. They provide extra bonuses to the company, such as protective shields or healing. Unlike its predecessor, dead heroes in Kohan II do not require gold to revive. Instead, they will automatically revive inside a city's supply zone like an ordinary unit; however, they will lose all experience and start from ground zero--so there's a big incentive to keep your hero-led companies from getting wiped out. Heroes seem more powerful in the sequel. A veteran company with a Kohan hero and a healer can trample multiple foes at once. Our three swordsmen companies, along with Kohan heroes, held off a force three times its size due to their veteran status. We experienced similar results in a multiplayer game, so you definitely want to keep your experienced units alive.
The cities in Kohan II are also handled differently from the first game, and they represent the key locations on each map. First of all, you can only build cities in predetermined settlement spots, which has several impacts on the gameplay. The limited cities, along with the resource mines scattered across the map, cap the income you can generate. Resource generators become much more valuable. You don't have to worry about defenseless or unproductive mines, though; they no longer need to be in a supply zone to generate income, and you can build forts to protect mines and other key points on the map. Forts, like cities, have garrisons of militia that will automatically run out and attack anyone who ventures too close to the strongpoint. They are a welcome addition to the Kohan series, because they buy you time so you can get to a besieged city before it falls. The limited cities also let you know where points of contention will be for the entire game, and it also stops players from building cities to postpone an inevitable defeat at the end of a game. In spite of the fixed settlement spots, you still need to scout the map. Not only can your opponents build on settlement spots, but they also can build forts to block your movement. A few well-placed forts can delay and wound your reinforcements from getting to a besieged city, for example.
Cities are also built differently in Kohan II. Like the first game, you construct auxiliary buildings in order to upgrade your town. These buildings generate resource income and allow you to recruit new units. However, unlike in Kohan, these buildings actually appear on the map as selectable structures. Also, upgraded cities automatically gain defensive walls, so when a city is besieged, attackers must first breach the wall before they deal with the city's militia and other defenders. You can only capture a city by reducing the main citadel's hit points to zero. Auxiliary buildings can sometimes block opponents and can be attacked and destroyed, but in fact, their physical presence serves no real strategic purpose in the game, which is disappointing. It would have been nice to be able to disrupt your opponent's economy by using hit-and-run tactics, but that's not possible thanks to walls. And if you have free reign to destroy buildings, you might as well go straight for the citadel, since the ancillary buildings aren't worth the time. Even if you take a city, all the existing buildings are sold back to the original owner and you'll need to rebuild them yourself. Therefore, the buildings end up being completely worthless from a tactical standpoint, because it doesn't matter if you destroy them and it doesn't matter if you leave them standing.
As with most real-time strategy games, Kohan II offers a skirmish mode for single-player and multiplayer games on LAN and Internet. In multiplayer, you can choose from any of the game's races and assign an appropriate faction. You have a ton of options when starting a game, including volume of settlement spots, bandit camps containing computer-controlled enemies, and even trees. The AI for computer opponents in the skirmish mode is much more of a challenge than in the campaign. The computer will often attack you in multiple locations at once, and it will use diversionary tactics to draw your attention away from key locations. Multiplayer games can be especially fun because of the changes in the gameplay. Battles can go back and forth as you retreat companies and send in reinforcements. If you're playing a team game, teammates can give units and even buildings to each other. This places even more emphasis on race/faction combinations, because if you have a race with a strong resource income, you can give buildings to your teammates to supplement their income. Internet play features a built-in game-server browser. You can check for games and look at community stats for race/faction wins, though a quick-match option of some sort would have been welcomed. Kohan II also features a scenario editor for those who want to create their own maps.
Kohan II's presentation is very nicely done. The fully 3D graphics look great; units look distinctive and animate well, although combat is cluttered and the campaign's cutscenes using the 3D engine can be bad at times. Some of the spell effects, especially the archmage's meteor, are quite impressive. The maps are well populated with environmental scenery and wildlife. All together, it's a pleasing game to look at. Likewise, the game's audio lives up to the quality of the visuals. The voice work is better than in the first Kohan game, and the various sounds of combat appropriately fit the action.
Kohan II: Kings or War had quite a reputation to uphold. Many of those who played the original would agree that Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns and its follow-up, Ahriman's Gift, took a tired genre and did something new and refreshing with it. Kohan II could have simply recycled that formula, but instead, developer TimeGate Studios changed around the gameplay just enough so that it plays similarly to the original yet has so much more to it that makes it unquestionably different. The resulting game has a great design, and it offers plenty of depth and complexity.