Knights of Honor
Everything about Knights of Honor, a medieval empire-building strategy game, is familiar. The setting, the interface, the gameplay. There is little truly original or innovative about it. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that. You are positioned as the ruler of a medieval kingdom. You wage war, develop your cities, and suck up to your powerful neighbors while smacking down your weaker ones. As the ruler, you can appoint up to nine knights to help micromanage imperial matters.
Knights of Honor borrows heavily from Medieval: Total War and Lords of the Realm. Though the tutorial advises that you can mold this council to suit your play style, you usually find it full of marshals and rarely post a builder. If your king is unfortunate enough to die without an heir, the new king is chosen from this lot. If you appoint a spy, you can post him in a rival nation, whose king might choose your agent to serve on his council. In this post, he can serve your ends as well as those of his putative master.
Beyond that inspired approach to espionage and subterfuge, the council is little more than a bunch of portraits that can win you victories, earn you money, or rack up piety. Your councilors gain experience with every success, but there is nothing to bring life to this board of directors. Similarly, the royal family lacks any of the dynamism that the leaders in Rome: Total War or Crusader Kings brought to the table. If game designers want to personalize decision making, they should give the decision makers personality.
On the whole, Knights of Honor is a good, if slow, game. Combat is your basic real-time mess, with soldiers running into a clumpâ€”formations or notâ€”but the variety of units is good. Combat ends with the death of your general, but since he is your most powerful warrior, it sometimes pays to put him in harmâ€™s way. Troops need food to keep morale, so you are encouraged to set up camp every now and then, and pillaging the countryside revives your troops and wounds your enemies.
This means that there are viable strategies for even a weak country, provided it can maintain its independence. If you canâ€™t meet an enemy in the field, burn his crops and prevent him from resupplying. Castles are strong enough to withstand a siege for a fair time, but you need quite a bit of cash ahead to build them strong. In a bit borrowed from the Europa Universalis series, kingdoms have a stability rating that can be affected by investments and breaches of faith.
Betray an ally and your stability will plummet, as will any tax revenue you have been taking in. This works as a check on your ambition. Likewise, any royal marriage has the potential to bring in rival claims to parts of your kingdom. That royal wedding you planned to cement a friendship with Croatia might not seem like such a good idea when they try to assert their rights to a border province. Refuse to submit and you could be at war with your brother-in-law.
Knights of Honor moves at a glacial pace in single-player. Like the Total War series, the multiplayer game is a skirmish mode including historical battles. But Knights of Honor is not about the battles, where one could argue that that was entirely the point of Total War. This makes the multiplayer game redundant. It is in single-player that you will find the heart of the game, where it truly shines as a strategy experience (however familiar it might feel).
System Requirements: Pentium III 1 Ghz, 256 MB RAM, WinXP