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Knights of Honor

Score: 88%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Black Sea Studios
Media: CD/2
Players: 1 - 6
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

More and more small time strategy games are relying on old-school graphics these days. 2D sprites and static isometric views are becoming more common among historical RTS titles and Knights of Honor is a shining example of this. Because of low impact graphics, the developers can cram more stuff on the screen at one time. A quick glance at the map of Europe reveals a landscape populated by very detailed mountains, trees, and rolling hills. Upon closer examination one can find tons of little things going on all at once: birds soaring above the mountains, merchants traveling between cities, and armies trekking across the countryside. The result is a colorful and appealing view of medieval Europe that wonít tax slower computers.

The game sounds as good as it looks, and has plenty of style to boot. Since Knights of Honor takes place during the middle ages, the soundtrack is tailored accordingly. Serene tracks play as you manage your empire from a god-like perspective, and fast-paced tunes laden with drum beats pound unceasingly throughout a battle. Equally good, though less often heard, are the sound effects and voices. The narrator suitably has a British accent, and dictates major events as they happen.


Gameplay:

Knights of Honor is much like a cross between Crusader Kings and Legion. If youíre not familiar with either of these games, just trust me when I say that both are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of strategy; one is micro-management heavy and the other is battle-heavy. Knights of Honor has found a happy medium between the two poles by taking most of what worked from both games and including them in one solid title.

In Knights of Honor, you take on the role of a single empire of your choice in the middle ages of Europe. As an empire governing entity, you manage your lands, tend to your armies, and try to foster a successful lineage of rulers. The point of the game isnít any one goal; there are a couple of ways to win instantly, but more on that later. Instead, you simply try to live in a feudal Europe full of personal vendettas, spies, crusades, and general chaos.

The good news is that things donít have to be this way if you donít want them to. If you prefer to stay out of the affairs of most of the rest of Europe, you can pick a small province off in Scandinavia and try to prosper as much as possible while fending off the occasional attack. Unfortunately, kingdoms from across Europe tend to declare war on you without you ever knowing it, and without any good reason, which tends to anger your populace. This is an annoying problem with the A.I., but it can be worked around, and the sooner you sue for peace in these situations the better.

If youíd rather try to kill everyone around you and take over the entire continent single-handedly, you can try that as well. The outcome of such an endeavor usually ends in large-scale bloodshed on your home turf as all the rest of Europe realizes what a crazy bastard you are and unites against you. This is where diplomacy comes in. Diplomacy plays a big part in Knights of Honor as you can make trade agreements, try to marry off your princes/princesses, or bribe your way in and out of trouble. Needless to say, there are many paths that can be taken in this game.

As the years pass by, your king dies and his heir takes over the throne. This means that you have to get your king married and hopefully he will make babies. Without an heir, your kingdom will fall into turmoil and civil unrest will rule the lands until a new king takes the throne.

If you manage to last long enough and gain enough wealth and prestige, you can have the rest of Europe vote on you becoming the Emperor of Europe. This is a pretty big achievement, and though you donít have to strive for this goal, itís fun to shoot for nonetheless. A less honorable way to win the game is to attain all eight Empire advances. To do this, you need to either possess or import almost every exotic good in the game. This is a victory more on the diplomatic side and requires a bit more elegance than simply taking over territories. Alternatively to all of this, you can battle it out with up to five other people for a set amount of time or play a quick battle and be instantly plunged into a fight against the computer.


Difficulty:

Knights of Honor offers a pretty lengthy narrated tutorial that does a decent job at teaching what it sets out to teach. Strangely enough, it only hits on about half of the mechanics in the game. The rules and information that it omits from the tutorial can be found in an index of knowledge, much like Civilization has, but the index isnít all that well laid out. This makes the learning curve a bit steep; not because the game is overtly difficult, but because youíre left in the dark on most things when you begin your first game and it takes a while to sift through the databanks of knowledge. The best way to go about learning the ropes is to play on Easy, a setting that is relatively forgiving, and just experiment.

Game Mechanics:

Though itís not too deep to turn a lot of players off, there is a fair amount of city management in Knights of Honor. It certainly isnít as deep a game as Civilization, but it offers more substance than games like Legion and Spartan. Each region of land you control has a single town in it, and in this town you can build structures that gain you more food, money, or troops. Buildings can be upgraded, towns can be garrisoned, and siege warfare is common. Older cities end up being more important since they usually have more upgraded structures in them, a fact that weighs heavily on the overall strategy you take.

Knights of Honor has a knight system in place that allows you to hire knights for various tasks. You can hire marshals to lead your armies who also gain ranks when they fight, merchants to trade with other kingdoms, spies, and other knights to bolster production in towns. You can only hire nine different knights, and there are no rules about how many of a certain type you can hire. Having nothing but spies is not only possible, but also works out surprisingly well.

The battles are where Knights of Honor falters a bit. When you fight another army in the open, both sides set up on opposite sides of the field and begin the long march towards each other. In order to win any battle, including sieges, you have to defeat the opposing armyís leader. This means that you can bum rush the commanderís squad with everything youíve got and try to win the battle early. This also means that the other guy can run his commander to a far corner and hang out, an especially annoying trick during sieges.

Though Knights of Honor is real-time, there is nothing to indicate the year or any method of speeding up or slowing down the game. This is the one major flaw that really hurts the game. There are times when youíre waiting for buildings to be constructed (an arduously long process) and you will want to speed things up. Instead, you are forced to wait it out, sometimes having nothing better to do than to watch the whales play around in the English Channel.

Knights of Honor is an involving, fun Empire building simulation. It is also something that most RTS fans are bound to like. It offers quick battles that can be completed in 15 minutes, or it can envelop you in running an Empire for weeks on end. The game is definitely addicting, and makes a fine new addition to the strategy genre.


-Snow Chainz, GameVortex Communications
AKA Andrew Horwitz

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP/ME/2K/98, 1 GHz processor, 256 MB RAM, 8x CD-ROM, 1.2 GB free hard disk space, 16 MB video card, DirectX 9.x compatible sound card
 

Test System:



Windows ME, AMD Athlon 1.4 GHz Processor, 256 MB RAM, 128 MB GeForce FX 5200 Video Card, 40 GB Hard Drive, Creative Labs Sound Card, Cable Modem Internet Connetion

Sony PlayStation 2 NARC Sony PlayStation Portable Spider-Man 2

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated