Kohan Immortal Sovereigns

Royalty they don't generally seem to last for too long in historic terms. Tutankhamun didn't get far past puberty, the two princes in the tower didn't even get crowned, and king Henry VIII got through what, 5 wives before he finally popped it? It's nice to know that some monarchs last a fair few years before kicking the proverbial jewelled silver bucket, and indeed Kohan Immortal Sovereigns revolves around the actions of such longevity-blessed monarchs. The eponymous Kohan have things a little easier than real royalty to say the least, merely transforming into a rather natty golden medallion upon death ready to be revived at a later date.

And that's probably one of the nattiest excuses to date why important characters killed in the course of a mission seem to reappear later in the game. So much better than endless mission objectives of 'Sir Wimpley the Frail MUST survive" I think. Did I say mission objectives? Why yes, for Kohan is indeed a real time strategy game.

Hey! Where are you going? Come back! I know there have been thousands of them over the recent months, and publishers Ubi-Soft are responsible for several gone and upcoming titles (look out for the rather spanky Conquest), but that doesn't mean they are all the same! In fact, Kohan has one or two innovative touches.

The plot is more or less regular fantasy fare once-proud civilisation brought low, evil forces stretching out their withered, nefarious hands to steal the land, nay, the very life from those who are righteous and just blah blah. But then, since when has plot ever had anything to do with an enjoyable gaming experience? (Get back into your coffin, Final Fantasy Series, you're not due resurrection for another year or two!) It's games we're interested in here, not interactive novels. So how does it measure up?

Well firstly, it follows the Civilisation style of gaming insofar as unit building is concerned. All militaria is commissioned from one or another of the cities you control, and also puts a strain on the various resources your empire has access to namely stone, wood, iron and mana. Go into the negative on any of these, and it starts costing you money, and that's not just a one-off payment either it's a constant outpouring of lovely golden nuggetty things! Oh woah and treachery!

Fortunately, certain upgrades can be built in towns to assist, such as quarries, woodmills and so forth, which also supply a certain amount per minute, neatly offsetting costs. Sadly, there is no stockpile, and you cannot hold units of resources back against future expenditure, although certain upgrades allow you to sell it for gold.

Now the units. This is where Kohan differs slightly from most RTS games. A unit is basically four identical 'front line' units, two support units of your choice and a commander. Some units can only be put in one of these slots, for instance the Kohan named characters and heroes of the game may only command a unit, while wizards and clerics only fill support roles. Once commissioned, a unit's commander appears immediately, but you have to wait while the other members are commissioned. Ok, in reality, it seems as if they are being healed one at a time. The first appears, the health bar fills up to full, and then the next appears and so on until the unit is complete. Of course, this can only happen if the unit in question is within a certain range of a friendly city. Fortunately, units also heal automatically when in close proximity to a friendly city or structure.

Movement and placement of units is very strategically minded in Kohan. All units have a sphere of influence that determines how close an enemy has to move before they engage them in combat, allowing you to leave guards wherever you please. There are four formations to adopt, each of which offers varying bonuses and penalties to movement speed and attack strength, and the size of the sphere of influence previously mentioned. Leaving an army in one place for a long time will also cause them to ready for battle, making them more efficient in combat, although this is lost the second you move them again.

Now to the combat itself, and in a way this is where Kohan lets itself down a little. Once two units are in combat with each other, you are consigned to watching the battle unfold. You can cause the unit to retreat to a specific location, or to rout randomly in any direction in order to escape hopeless fights, and the pre-chosen formation and the location of the battle all have great effects on the outcome of the battle, but really there is nothing much you can do to help other than order your men to run away if they are getting their lillywhites whupped, or bringing in reinforcements.

This still leaves a fair few tactical options open to you, but a lot more forethought is required in the placement of archery units, the provision of support such as healers and mages, and banding different units together. If you think of each unit as a single entity rather than a group of individuals it will help a lot balance a unit either to specialise (say in long-range combat with archers and mages) and group it with other units that complement their skills, or make an all-round unit that combines several styles. This is where the skill of the game lies, even more so than tactical placement of forces.

Kohan's graphics are a little dated by modern standards. There is no locational lighting that I've noticed, and it is decidedly 2D in appearance on all fronts. On the other hand, the figures, while small, are beautifully defined. I cannot help feeling though, that a zoom in/out function would have added immensely to their appeal. Being able to see those rather splendid-looking mass battles in detail could have made it an experience not unlike Shogun: Total War rather than a kind of Real-Time Civilisation with a plot and without the research.

All this said, the game is not totally dire. There are enough tactical options to keep fans of the genre interested, and balancing resources is quite challenging since it must be carefully tailored to suit the kinds of units you wish to field, not to mention the requirements of the structures needed at the supporting town in order to field those units. For instance, Mages do not require much iron or stone to field, but they do require a LOT of Mana, the most expensive resource to 'buy in', and they also require temples and libraries in the city at which they are first commissioned.

The Kohan themselves also have a very large affect on the course of the game. Since each supplies certain bonuses to the troops that they lead in addition to being lethal fighting machines, they are valuable resources. However, since they can also be revived at a later date (provided you have enough gold) they are not so indispensable that you neglect to make full use of them for fear of losing them. The missions are also quite storyline-based, with one or two nice little touches that might just keep you interested where the slightly two-dimensional gameplay cannot.

All in all, Kohan is not a game you can dive into all guns blazing or all bows firing or whatever. The avid statistics-nerd strategian will be right in their element and will love the game to ickle bitty pixels, but more gung-ho RTS tank-rush tacticians will be left a little cold by the lack of control inherent in the game interface.