Game Review - by James Allen
An interesting trend has formed in computer gaming: the proliferation of expansion packs. This is a direct result of the popularity of each gaming series; for instance, the king of expansion packs is The Sims (with RollerCoaster Tycoon coming in at a close second). Rather than releasing an independent new release, expansion packs require the original version of the game, which causes the gaming public to purchase both the original and all the expansions: the end result is more profit for the publisher. I have always been a proponent of releasing free patches with new features (see Operation: Flashpoint) or a stand-alone game. Thankfully, Kohan: Arhiman's Gift is a stand-alone game that does not require the original to play. This is great for people who missed the original, but bad for people who have the original and have to spend a little more cash. Now, when approaching Kohan: AG, there is a decision to be made: is the review to be based off the game's own merits, or the improvements over the original? I make the following decision: expansion packs (which require the original) are graded on the improvements over the original. Thus, Kohan: Ahriman's Gift will be graded on its own, but I will mention comparisons to the first so that those of us who have the original game can decide whether or not to invest in the new version. Now, with that out of the way, will Kohan: Ahriman's Gift rule over all the land, or become yet another also-ran?
The features in Kohan: Ahriman's Gift are everything that I look for in a real time strategy game. There are three campaigns (with two tutorials) to choose from, the main one which follows the exploits of the evil Ceyah. This game is actually a prequel to Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns, but that won't matter much to most people. The story-driven campaigns are very well done, and is one of the strong points of the game. Overlain audio commentary relates the story, which can be skipped if you just want to get to the killing. My favorite, custom scenarios, are in full force in Kohan: AG. These and multiplayer games are exactly the same, except that you have computer opponents in the custom scenarios. There are a wide variety of game types available. There are classic deathmatch games, and bloodbath games are deathmatches with diplomacy disabled. You can conquer a certain percentage of the cities, amass a certain amount of gold, play King of the Hill (capture and hold a flag position on the map), or Turtle, which are the standard game victory conditions, but city militia are tough as nails. If these presets don't suit you, you can make up your own victory conditions, changing diplomacy options, starting gold and heroes, and much more. There are many included maps to play on, or you can select a random map type, altering the amount of different environments to your liking. Or, you can use the game editor to create the map of your dreams. You can choose between many AI opponenets, which range from easy to cunningly difficult. To learn from the best, you can save a game film, and replay it, watching how the AI units defeated you so quickly (I learned many a strategy this way). With all of these gaming options and infinite replay value, who could argue against the top-notch features in Kohan: Ahriman's Gift?
The sound is average through and through. There are a small number of different responses that each company gives to your orders and the combat sounds are generic and looped through battle. Although this is true, the chaotic nature of the battles is presented in a nice fashion, with a loud and deafening mixture of slashes, crashes, and spells. The background music is very well done, and accurately conveys the fantasy atmosphere of the game. It seems that the sound is basically unchanged from the original. More attention to the sound could have resulted in more variation, which would have drastically improved the quality of the sound waves coming from your speakers.
Kohan: Ahriman's Gift makes a number of real time strategy gameplay innovations that are refreshing and make the game loads of fun to play. The classic RTS elements of resource gathering and unit management have been streamlined here to make the game easier to manipulate for the user. Instead of creating single units, you create a company that consists of a captain, four front line units of the same type, and two different support units. These companies move with respect to the slowest unit, and fight as a cohesive group. You can unlock (by paying an amount of gold) certain Kohan, special leaders that give their company special bonuses. Each unit has their individual needs and draws from four resources: stone, wood, iron, and mana. To supply these troops, you can build specific buildings in each of your towns, which produce certain resources: for example, a quarry produces six stone a minute. You can also upgrade each structure once, either producing more resources, selling off surplus resources, or allowing special units. Placed around the maps are specific areas that yield a certain resource, which can be mined by your engineers. Each mine must be contained within the zone of supply of a city or an outpost; normally, you construct an outpost adjacent to a mine to reap the resources.
Each specific side (Ceyah, Nationalist, Royalist, and Council) have their own units, but they all fall into several categories: infantry, cavalry, archers, specialty (settlers and engineers), and support, which are generally comprised of units which implement magic, like Acolytes or Celebrants. The key to winning at Kohan is to form companies which can exploit weaknesses of opponents, and creating effective companies is the main skill which is paramount in Kohan: AG. Another interesting aspect of Kohan: Arhiman's Gift is unit resupplying: if a company is within the Zone of Suppy of a friendly city or outpost, it will gradually gain strength back to full power, even reproducing previously lost units. This means generating large numbers of units (which is a strategy used in almost every other strategy game) is almost useless, since most can be regenerated easily (although slowly) and each unit requires an amount of resources. When a company engages the enemy (which is does if an enemy unit enters its Zone of Control), the leader automatically arranges the units in an optimal positioning, and keeps attacking until morale is low. All you have to do is decide if you want to retreat or rout your troops. This is a very nice addition which makes the gameplay even easier. So, the gameplay in Kohan: Ahriman's Gift is typified by the same innovations found in Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns, which are still not found in any other real time strategy games. Great stuff.
The game is presented in a classic 2-D view, which leads the graphics to seem dated, especially when compared to the picturesque feasts found in other real-time strategy games. Now, I have no problem with a 2-D game, which usually results in a game that is easier to maneuver around and observe the action. But, Kohan: Ahriman's Gift generally has undetailed units and terrain. The main problem here is that the graphics aren't horrible, they just lack the general magnificence that is found in most of the games found today. It's slightly strange to find a game that actually puts the emphasis on gameplay rather than graphics nowadays, as there is an endless supply of great looking games which play like crap. So, I'd rather have a game like Kohan: AG which has superior gameplay, but amazing graphics should never be overlooked like it is here.
So we have come to the final financial crush: is Kohan: Ahriman's Gift worth it? The answer depends on where you currently stand. The game is basically on the same level as the original, adding new play modes, new units, and new maps. The gameplay and features are still as great as ever, while the graphics and sound continue to become more out of date. If you haven't experienced the greatness that is the Kohan series, then by all means pick up Kohan: AG. Sadly, there aren't that many new features to persuade all but the most rabid Kohan fans to purchase the new version. It's still soooo good, though.