I donít play campaign mode in RTS games. Itís interesting, but since Age of Empires 2, I really havenít gotten into specific campaigns, which is why I never much got into WarCraft and Age of Mythology. Sure, I played Rise of Nationsí Conquer the World mode, which could be considered a campaign, but thatís much more open-ended than traditional campaign modes. I like being able to play under my own parameters, at my own pace, and most campaign modes in this genre are very restrictive in that sense. In most of the RTS games that I purchase, I look to make sure it has some sort of random map feature, which not only increases the longevity of the title, but also opens up more opportunities to explore strategies and techniques. What does all this have to do with Kohan II? Well, besides the fact that Kohan II is a game primarily meant to be played in campaign mode, nothing, nothing at all.
Kohan II plays out over a series of lengthy missions following the Kohan, an immortal race that has finally found peace. After spending generations fighting, the Kohan finally eliminated their mortal enemy, the Ceyah. To ensure that this peace was ever-lasting, the three great leaders of the Kohan got together and decided to go out on a hunt to kill off the remaining Ceyah. Though they were weakened and without a leader, the remaining Ceyah are still a threat to the Kohan, and they must be eliminated. Of course, fighting an already weakened group of enemies isnít necessarily entertaining, even if the old proverb states that a cornered fox is more dangerous, or something like that. As expected (for you), an unexpected enemy emerges and challenges the Kohanís quest for peaceÖ
Kohan II is a lot different than I expected. I knew from the get-go that the game was combat-oriented and there was little city building or resource gathering, but at first it was extreme. I didnít like it a bit. I didnít like that I couldnít choose my own settlement spots (I admittedly still donít, but I tolerate it much better) and that selecting a building to build caused one to constructed somewhere randomly in my boarders. I also didnít like that I couldnít create individual units themselves, but squads of a particular unit, and only a few groups at a time. I found this all very frustrating, slightly annoying, and mildly irritating.
Then I actually got into the game. My opinion turned around, nearly 180 degrees. The fact that you can only create squads opens up all sorts of potential opportunities. Where other RTS games stress resource gathering so that you can create massive armies that just get demolished and destroyed, Kohan II actually requires you to use the units available to the best of your abilities. Sure, this is hard at first, but once you get over the initial challenge, you begin to see some of the excellent strategy options available to you.
When I first started, Iíd do what I did in pretty much every RTS game: take my big ass army (in this case, 4 or 5 squads of 5 units, so 20-25 units) and rush my enemies. This worked fine up until about the fourth mission or so of the game, and then I started getting my ass handed to me. Then, instead of charging in, I decided to try to employ actual strategy. A lot of the time, my units were getting flanked after my rush and werenít able to run away when the going got tough. When my units did get the upper hand, the enemies would run away, leading my troops usually to another squadron of fresh troops that would eat me alive. This is when I started flanking the enemy from the get go. Not only does it give you the upper hand because youíre attacking your enemies from behind, it gives them little room to escape, especially when you completely surround them.
Of course, being way too cool for them, I skipped the tutorials, which of course would have remedied a lot of my problems.
Kohan II also works well because the gameplay is varied. Sometimes you will be invading with a small group and be required to kill an enemy fortress. Still, other times will require you to build up your own fortresses before you can make an attack. The enemies donít sit around and wait for you to attack them however, often times if you take too long theyíll build up their troops and youíll be on the defensive side of things. Wait really long and theyíll have all the technologies they can get and youíre done for.
With no micromanagement, Kohan II is all about fast combat. In a game like Age of Empires, youíd never dream of sending your low-ranking militia men into combat before you upgraded their armor at the blacksmith and upgraded their class. Not so in Kohan II. Those who do not strike their enemies fast do not last. On one of the earlier maps, you start off with a small fortress, with the mission requiring you to take control of an enemy encampment in the east. I started out building up (not quite aware of the major tip I gave you earlier in this review), exploring through baby steps and slowly amassing a fortune so I could research other technologies. This did not work. Soon, armies from both the north and the south portions of the map were attacking me, and finally, I was destroyed completely. After that, I set out from the start of the game to take over one other enemy encampment, and utilized both to generate income and research technologies. At the same time, I constantly attacked the nearest remaining encampment, forcing the AI to spend more time rebuilding armies.
In many ways, I liked the lack of micromanagement. You still harvest resources like gold and stone, but thereís no more peasants mining them, you just use engineers to build a building on whichever resource and thatís it. Itís generated automatically, and from then on itís use to maintain your troops. Each unit needs certain amounts of resources to be maintained, and if you donít have them, the cost of the resource is taken out of your gold supply. Buildings are paid for out of your gold supply as well, so collecting resources is a small necessity if you want to build up your city.
Building up your city however is not nearly as exciting as it is in other RTS games. Am I the only one out there who actually likes coming up with positions for buildings and castles and such things? The only one who likes the challenge of protecting villagers so they can gather up the vital resources? I canít believe that Iím the only one who does. None of these really hamper the game, but they make the game much more combat oriented, which coupled with the level design and the limited settlement spots, make the game feel too linear.
Yeah, you heard me; the levels themselves are too linear. Far too often, paths are blocked with mountains and rivers to guide you along a path to lead you to your enemy. I didnít like this so much, but I assume it is necessary since the game employs cutscenes to tell the story, but I felt like there could have been a little more freedom. Fortunately, an excellent, easy to use editor is included with the game (bringing back fond memories of StarCraftís editor in some regards), which allows even the most novice players to design their own maps with complete freedom.
Kohan II really shines graphically. Sure, it canít hold a candle to Rome: Total War or anything like that, but it looks damn good. An impressive number of units are displayed on the screen at any given time, and there are lots of nice particle effects. The camera swivels around horizontally for full 360 degree views of the fields, which is also a great touch. Voice-overs accompany most of the cinemas, and each actor sounds surprisingly interested, not bored like a lot of the actors in this genre seem. As for the music, itís your traditional orchestra stuff, nothing too fancy but it gets the job done.
In the end, I must say that Kohan II is up there along side Rise of Nations: Thrones and Patriots as my favorite RTS game of this year. While other games coming out might be flashier and bigger and badder and all that crap, what it really comes down to is good strategy and in that aspect Kohan II really nails it. Any RTS fan should add this game to their collection as soon as possible.