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Knights of Honor PC CD-ROM

Published by Electronic Arts/Sunflowers
Developed by Black Sea Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Price : £29.99

Until about a month ago it had been a quiet year for strategy gamers. However the last few weeks has seen a mini-explosion of quality games appear such as Rome Total War, Evil Genius and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. With such high profile titles hitting the shop shelves it would be possible to overlook that another great strategy titles has been released. Knights of Honor is a medieval based strategy game where the focus is firmly placed on the control of your knights, as the title may suggest, in an effort to become Emperor of all Europe. It contains many element of previous strategy titles and yet it feels different to games that have gone before. If you're a fan of strategy games this is one you're not going to want to miss.

Statistically speaking Knights of Honor is very impressive. You can play the game in single player mode, over the Internet or on a LAN. You can choose any one of more than a 100 playable kingdoms in the game. You have a choice of historical period in which to begin the game. The choices are Early (1000AD) High (1200AD) and Late (1350AD) medieval periods. Three difficulty modes have also been included. You can take charge of any of more than 100 kingdoms (the choice of which is dependent on the time period that you choose to play in). The European map is split into provinces and each province is comprised of a town and rural areas and other areas such as coastal villages. To own a province you only have to own the town which helps to keep things from becoming too complicated. There are over 30 different military units in the game and four different religions (Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim and Pagan) which certainly helps to keep things interesting. Extensive diplomacy options have been included and a detailed economic model has also been included with certain goods being specific to certain provinces, which means that some provinces are more desirable to capture than others. In fact from top to bottom Knights of Honor has the sort of depth that you usually find in a turn-based strategy rather than in a real-time strategy game.

In Knights of Honor you essentially have to try and become Emperor of all Europe. You can either achieve this through conquest or by being elected the Ultimate Emperor of Europe. Either way is going to require a great deal of effort regardless of whichever nation you begin with. Simply achieving this goal will earn you a Minor Victory. To earn a Major Victory you'll also have to earn all of the 10 Kingdom Advantages. Kingdom Advantages are rewards for economic achievements and they give you Kingdom unique bonuses. Secret Order for instance gives your spies superior skills and gives espionage a higher chance of success. Each of these Kingdom Advantages has a number of prerequisites that are either trade or exotic goods and as a result they can be very tricky to achieve. Nevertheless they are worth pursuing and add an extra level of depth to the game. Your resources in Knights of Honor are Gold, Piety and Books which are for the whole kingdom whilst the Workers and Food resources are specific to each town. Gold of course is your currency and what you'll need to purchase items and buildings etc. You have full control over your kingdom's tax rate and can set no tax, normal tax, double tax and war tax. Pushing the peasants too far though will result in a revolt. Piety comes from monasteries, churches and cathedrals. It can be used for increasing your Kingdom Power (a measure of stability and prosperity) and converting provinces to your religion as well as other religious actions. Books come from libraries and universities (Clerics can also write books) and they are used for educating your knights and assimilating foreign populations.

As we said in the introduction to this review, the game is all about the use you make of your knights. There are six different types of knight in the game and they all have an important role to play and will help you to shape your style of play. Knights can be Marshals, Clerics, Merchants, Spies, Landlords and Builders. You can have a maximum of nine knights at any one time and you can even use a Prince to act as a knight if you don't have the money to employ a knight but this can be a dangerous policy as they are the future heirs to your nations throne. As you would imagine each of the knight types bring their own advantages. Using knights as Merchants for instance will bring your nation a greater income of gold, Marshals can have armies and run your province and conquer other provinces. Clerics will give you an increase in Piety and write books whilst Builders will ensure your town develops more quickly and also provide a richer supply of workers. What makes the game so good is that your choice of knights will shape your overall strategy and it allows for plenty of replay value.

Battles are a key part of Knights of Honor and thankfully a Quick Battle mode has been included to enable you to become comfortable with the games combat system. The battles in Knights of Honor take into account the terrain you're battling on. Morale is a key factor and your units morale will fluctuate during a battle to reflect how a battle is going. Units are controlled on a group level which makes large forces easier to manipulate. There are eight different varieties of battles such as Open Field, Plundering, Town Assault, Siege, River Cross, Camp Assault, Fortified Camp Assault and Sea Battles. The battles can either be left to the AI to carry out or you can take part in them yourself. The only exception to this is the Sea Battles that can only be resolved automatically, which is something of a disappointment. On the whole the battle system is satisfactory but it's doesn't offer anything that we haven't seen before and some may be disappointed with this but overall the combat system is a solid one and actually works very well.

More and more strategy games are being created in full 3D worlds and it's actually refreshing to see that Knights of Honor remains in the tried and tested 2D environment. Some may see this as a disappointment but the game looks very nice and putting the game in a 3D environment would probably serve no purpose at all apart from pushing up the graphics card requirements unnecessarily. The game is playable only at the resolution of 1024x768 in full screen mode, which is unfortunate if you play your games on a 17" TFT as the graphics aren't as sharp as they should be (this is becoming a major complaint with recent strategy games). The campaign map is more or less static but you will see some animations such as clouds floating past, birds circling and peasants and military units moving around. When a battle occurs the view is more zoomed in but you still can't rotate the camera angle. You'll also see military units walk through each other occasionally which looks a little messy but doesn't really spoil anything.

Knights of Honor is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. Virtually all the information in the game is shown via text. The introduction has a small amount of speech that isn't subtitled and there is the occasional voice over on the main screen and in the game itself which isn't subtitled but any verbal notifications are accompanied by visual notifications so they don't cause any problems. You receive text messages of events between other kingdoms so you'll be able to follow other events in the game. The tutorial is fully subtitled which means you'll be able to learn the games concepts without any trouble. The game manual has also been well done with over 60 pages of very useful information. You'll also get a pull out tech tree that shows you all the military, advanced and civilian buildings that can be built as well as listing all of the Kingdom Advantages, trade and exotic goods. On the reverse of the tech tree you'll find a map that shows all the kingdoms that are in the game.

It's probably unfortunate that Knights of Honor has been released slap bang in the middle of the games rush that leads up to Christmas. With highly anticipated titles being released on a weekly basis it would be quite easy to let Knights of Honor go unnoticed but this would be a criminal thing to do especially if you are a fan of strategy games. It's depth and replay value are without question (in fact it's just not possible to cover all what the game offers because it's just so extensive). What I really like about it though is that whilst it has plenty of depth the game has remained simple to understand and only a hours play is required to be completely comfortable with the game which is impressive for a strategy title with so much depth. There are some disappointments such as being unable to control sea battles and the multiplayer game being just battles rather than a full campaign but here's hoping that a sequel is developed and that these disappointments are corrected because it's one of the best strategy games available at the moment.

Overall Game Rating: 8.4/10
One of the best strategy games we've seen this year and it's the best Medieval themed strategy game since Medieval Total War.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems for deaf gamers. There is some speech that isn't subtitled but nothing that causes any problems.