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Knights of Honor (KoH from now on) is a new game produced by the same house that brought you the two aforementioned games. Anyone who has played one or both of these titles will agree that these games rate amongst the top of their genre. Well, KoH goes even further than both Anno titles ever did. Black Sea Studios has been working hard on this game and the presentation we were given was impressive to say the least.
Now, Knights of Honor is a RTS game (Real-Time Strategy). The main objective of the whole game is more or less to conquer the whole of Europe in �Real Time� with the whole continent as your battleground. As a ruler of one of the many countries or realms that are available to you (at the moment that�s about 150!), you will be using diplomacy, espionage and off course war to attain supremacy and rule Europe as its emperor. As the title reveals, the game is set in the Middle Ages and it gives you the option to start your campaign from a selection of 3 different timeframes (Early, High or Late Middle Ages). Or you could just opt for a quick historical scenario and/or battle.
The first thing that strikes you is the 2D angle. In these days of pure 3D action, Black Sea studios opted for a �simple� 2D approach – something that might seem strange to some of you, but while viewing the game in action, I could honestly say I didn�t feel nor see the need for a 3D game world. The vivid graphics and the extent of the world map make the game look appealing and lush without the need of 3D wizardry.
The map displays modern-day Europe and a part of the eastern region and Russia. In other words, it is massive. You can scroll from England to Russia in one movement but it will take you some time and you will cross all relevant countries and factions while doing this. According to Sunflowers it just might be the largest such map used in a RTS ever!
The grandeur and sheer largeness of KoH might have posed a problem, but the developers have solved this with a minimap and a handy �heads-up view� with colour coding for each faction providing quick access to all areas.
As Napoleons descendants will tell you, conquering Europe isn�t an easy task. The amount of options to a would-be emperor of Europe are very extensive. In previous empire building games (Medieval Total War, Shogun, Caesar, etc) you had a few diplomatic options at your disposal but KoH raises the bar in Diplomacy and Spying to an unseen standard. At the moment we saw the preview, there were over 15 diplomacy options alone in KoH and then we haven�t even touched the more then 40 espionage options.
Because this element is quite new and unexplored, it might be good to focus on this Diplomacy feature, how does it work? In short: a Diplomatic action comes down to secretly or openly proposing a series of suggestions to an opposing king. Trading realms, proposing cease fires, the hand of one of your daughters and/or alliances in exchange of gold. Easy you say? Well, dealing with other kings and Rulers is not that simple because they will react according to your own characters fame, strength, their own personalities and alliances with other countries. So it�s a gamble, but a calculated one.
Espionage can assist you in your diplomatic efforts too. Evesdropping, intellectually influencing foreign rulers and local factions to do your bidding or the assassination of another souvereign are amongst the possibilities. You can even send your spies to steal gold from the treasuries of other rulers! But be careful because your enemy has spies too and they might inflict the same to you or even do some counter-espionage. But above all: beware! Because invoking the wrath of a king when you have been exposed can wreak great havoc to your diplomacy efforts.
So you have your diplomats and your spies and your daughters to marry out, but what about the War element, you ask? Well do not despair my friend. Since this game is set in the Middle Ages you have a large assortment of archers, swordfighters and special units at your disposal. These units are lead by Knights (hence the title of the game) who you can recruit for your cause. Mind you, you can even bribe them to do you bidding as a diplomat.
Knights are without a doubt the most important unit in the game. Not only will they lead your army, but you also need them to govern your realms and provinces. Using their special skills, they can even grant special bonuses to your troops if they lead an army.
Knights act as your right hand and can perform a multitude of tasks for you: they can be used to prepare ambushes, patrol a certain area or mange provinces when assigned to their capitals. But be careful, because like all noblemen your knights are demanding and might not always be happy about you and your rule so you will need to keep the happy or you might have a rebellion on your hands.
You can also let them roam free on the land doing their own thing all over the map or accuse them treason and thus eliminating those knights that have become a threat to your realm.
When building your army and empire you will need all kinds of resources. There are the basic ones like lumber, food, iron, gold and stone for building but other �resources� are just as necessary! Like �goodwill� from the church (piety), which can be acquired by building monasteries for instance. Another good example are the �fame points�. These can be earned by doing great deeds like conquering nations or freeing prisoners. These fame points will be used to upgrade your knights� special abilities and hiring new ones. Piety will be used for� aah sorry, we cannot tell you guys that�yet.
Trade is another vital aspect of KoH. You can completely ignore it if you choose, but it can also give you a lot of added benefits, particularly if you are able to obtain certain combinations of recourses. Silk for instance, it can only be obtained if you have a harbour and import it. Other resources are only produced or found in certain areas in Europe. These valuable resources are called �kingdom advantages� and whilst not vital to the gameplay, they can be a great help in your mission to dominate Europe, granting bonuses to your cities, population and knights.
But this is an intelligent game! There are various factors to consider. Decent European harbours were not widespread in the Middle Ages so you will have to defend them if you want to obtain their precious trade and exotic good or use them to transport troops overseas.
Another important resource are your villagers, because these people are a versatile lot and can be used to increase the production of nearly all recourses. And as an emperor it is important to keep your folk happy because their happiness plays a role in the speedy convertion of villagers into soldiers for your conquering armies. Yet, once again caution is advised, because people regenerate slowly and cannot be squandered lightly.
Cities are an important key to victory in KoH. The ownership of a capital could mean owning the province and they in turn act as important recruitement centres for your army. As in other games, adding additional builings in these cities creates even more powerful units.
Battles in KoH can be fought under a multitude of circumstances: you can besiege cities, try to starve them out, assault them, fight other armies in an open field or try to ambush enemies. A cool feature is that it is now possible to call for reinforcements during battle if you happen to have other knights in the neighbourhood.
When you start to fight, you basically load a minimap that is created with the precise data of the circumstances in which your army is at that moment (ambush, assault, castle assault, castle defence, etc). The battle itself is also displayed in 2D and the troops you command act like units instead of individual soldiers making it easy to command larger armies, insuring final victory over the city/army/rebellion you are currently fighting.
The sort of soldiers you can create is similar for each realm. But what is really nice is that there are �special units� that replace their more ordinary version of unit type. The Teutonic champion for instance will replace the normal swordsman. Each country can produce their particular special unit, providing they have the right buildings in their cities. A couple of other examples: England can produce excellent longbow men, while France can create Templars and Spain can use Camel riders. An excellent feature that adds just that little �more� to this already impressive game.
Open battles are quite straightforward: you try to manoeuvre your troops into a good position and then fight it out, but you can also assault castles where you have to break through walls using trebuchets or defend a city manning the walls with archers and defensive catapults.
Now this being an RTS game and spanning the whole of Europe you will not be able to fight every battle yourself, as a king you can only fight one battle at a time and other simultaneous battles will have to be fought by your knights (AI). But you may also choose not to fight any of the battles yourself and concentrate on your diplomacy, espionage and trading.
There is plenty more to say about KoH and by now I would imagine even more information and screenshots are available to the public. But this being a sneak peak of a game and not a total review you shall have to be satisfied by this preview. But I think that if you are like me and enjoy a bit of intrigue and battle once and again, you will agree that this is definitely a title to watch out for. I know that I am awaiting it with great interest