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Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Timegate Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Fair warning: If your system cannot display graphics at 1024x768 at 16 bit colour depth, you will not be able to play Kohan. This is the one and only resolution setting, and some older video cards may not be able to swing it. While I understand the necessity for this sort of 'sticklering', it is something of an irritation.

That having been said, Kohan is a very nice-looking game. The maps are isometric and the units are all sprite-based, but they move quite fluidly and respond impressively. The spell effects, while not particularly mind-blowing, certainly work and in fact have a nice touch in the somewhat 'low fantasy' setting of Kohan. Since there aren't millions of spell-slingers in the game, once you have a few it's all the more impressive.

There are a few cutscenes throughout the game, but the FMV is merely middle-of-the-road. That's not to say it's ugly -- it's just not particularly impressive.

The sound in Kohan is generally quite solid, although the unit response sounds get annoying rather quickly. I learned to tune them out after hearing them the first few hundred times, though, so it became only a minor annoyance. The sound effects are pretty typical, with clangs and grunts [which depend on the sort of unit being killed . . . a nice touch] and the occasional spell effect sound. There's a fanfare every time a battle is started, which at first seems annoying but later in the game gives a great clue when Something Is Not Right. The music is solid, if not particularly overwhelming. A little more variety would have been nice, but what's there is certainly not difficult to listen to.


Nor is the game difficult to enjoy. After playing untold numbers of derivative real time strategy games, offering nothing but basic tweaks to the genre that was molded by Westwood and Blizzard, it's an amazingly refreshing change of pace to play an RTS that doesn't really play like much else out there. While it takes its cues from a number of games in the genre, Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns proves that sometimes the whole can truly be greater than the sum of its parts.

The single-player campaign, which is perhaps the weakest link in the experience, is a story about an immortal (Kohan) named Darius Javidan, and his quest to rid the land of the Shadow that's encroaching. The Kohan used to rule the world peacefully, but of course things went Horribly Wrong, and most of them ended up dying. Kohan reside in amulets, and throughout the course of the campaign you will both find other amulets whose masters you can awaken and fight other immortals. The various immortals never die -- they simply get cast back into their amulets and lose their experience.

The core conceit of the game is something of a bridge between real-time strategy games and the more deliberate turn-based strategy of Warlords and Heroes of Might and Magic. Perhaps the biggest shock to most RTSers is the fact that you cannot command single units around the map. Instead, you form Companies. Each company consists of a leader (who can be a Kohan or a stock Captain), four front-line troops, and up to two support units. Creating a company is painless, but creating good companies takes some thought. Should you make a straight-up combat group, who mixes it up like crazy? That's useful for some enemies, but the spellcasters can eat through straight combatants with ease. Similarly, footsoldiers can maul ranged units. A careful combination of the various types is necessary for proper utilization of your resources. And your formations affect your speed of movement, the damage you do, and how easy it is for you to detect the enemy presence.

Speaking of resources, there are quite a few in Kohan, but only one is actually 'spent' -- gold. Everything in the game costs some amount of gold, from buildings to upgrade your cities with to companies. However, you also have to keep track of your wood, stone, iron, and mana production. Instead of having some amount of these things, the game simply keeps a 'balance' -- for example, a +5 in iron means every minute you make 5 more units of iron than you need. Most high-level structures cost varying amounts of these resources as upkeep, as do all of the units that you create. Any negative amount you have is deducted from your bankroll, which can make you slide into a negative cashflow if you're not careful.

Because the game is structured around companies instead of separate units, there are always far fewer numbers of 'groups' running around on the map. Grunt rushes are a thing of the past, especially since every city has a built-in militia that helps defend it. This leads to a much more deliberate style of play, as you simply can't afford to make a unit to throw away. And the number of companies that you have is directly related to the number and size of cities you control -- a single village can't support anywhere near as much as a sprawling empire.

Aside from the single-player campaign, there are a number of skirmish missions available and even the ability to generate random missions to keep you interested. These are quite fun, and often moreso than the heavily-scripted single-player missions. You can also play against your friends over the 'Net, which is a nice feature. The new patch fixes some issues with the Gamespy Arcade support, and there's really nothing as fun as beating up on some hu-mans.


Before any given single-player mission, you can pick your difficulty. Be prepared to be impressed by the enemy AI, however. It knows how to test your resolve, how to hit weak spots, and how to cover its own tush when necessary. No longer will you have idiotic rushes against your heavily defended areas -- the computer knows when to back down and when to push forward. This is another welcome change from the normally idiotic computer AI in these sorts of games. The campaign definitely gets more challenging as it progresses, but the fact that your Kohan keep the experience they gain as it goes is a nice feature. Playing against humans, of course, is always more challenging than the computer, but it's not as big of a difference as usual.

Game Mechanics:

Kohan is pretty much purely mouse-controlled, and although there are keyboard shortcuts for playing the game, I found myself using it only for grouping my units. The interface is simple to get the hang of, and the ability to pull up information on any unit, town, or hero with ease is a nice touch. Grouping units is easy, as is keeping them in proper formations. The whole Zone methodology works very well, and the ability to simply stick a company in a Zone of Supply and have them heal cuts down on silly micromanagement even more than usual. Careful grokking of these sorts of Zones is necessary to really be able to beat the game, but the excellent tutorial missions show you how to do pretty much everything you'd ever need to know to play the game. Battles can degenerate into mobbed masses, but when it happens it's usually for a good reason -- a back attack, or tons of armies clashing at once.

Kohan is a more solid RTS experience than anything I've played in a while. While it takes ideas from many games in both the real-time and the turn-based strategy genres, it does it so entertainingly that one can't help but enjoy it. Unlike most RTSes that simply tweak units or add a gimmick, Kohan plays so differently from the standard ones that it's a must-have for any fan of the genre. Anyone who always thought that RTSes were too muddled and unstrategic would do well to check out Kohan as well. It is truly a game of epic proportions, with game mechanics solid enough to make you want to experience that epic.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/ME/2K, P2 300, 64MB RAM, 400MB HD Space, 4x CD-ROM, 4MB Video Card and monitor that can display 1024x768x16b, mouse

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Kingdom Under Fire Windows Kohan: Ahriman's Gift

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated