Knights of Honor
With Its armour all rusted and caked in mud, lance worn down to a nub and tattered banners clawing at the wind, it's all too tempting to dismiss the Dark Age isometrics of Knights Of Honor as it stands ready to do battle against the three-dimensional finery of Medieval: Total War. Looking at the two medieval 'empire conquering simulations', you would be forgiven for thinking Knights was the two-year-old game struggling to stay on the throne - not the sharp-witted suitor challenging for it.
But as we know, it isn't always the knights in the shiniest armour that win the battle - or even the ones with the longest lance. Often it's decided before a single blow is landed, and while both games share a common heritage and must fight for the loyalties of the same oppressed mass, after playing Knights Of Honor it's clear that the game's strengths lie not on the battlefield itself, but rather in the fields surrounding it.
As our reviewer pointed out in last month's preview (before he took one swig too many of mead and started on about skinning cats), Knights Of Honor isn't all about military manoeuvring across the feudal fields of Europe with hundreds of generals to do your bidding. Here, you can field a maximum of nine active armies, since you can only have up nine of the titular marshals among your court. However, although you could have each one leading an army, unless you task a couple to manage your cities, aid your economy or spy on allies and enemies, you're not going to get very far at all. Do that, and your burgeoning empire will soon fall apart from within.
Much more than was the case in Total War, you also have to piously bend to the will of your larger neighbours, while behind the scenes trying to turn his allies to your cause and then, when the time is right, strike out. There is no Blitzkrieg, where you can take half of the continent in a few years. After all, history tells us it took the English over a hundred years, and they still couldn't tame France. Considering your ultimate aim is to rule an area from the Highlands to the Middle East, a considered approach is the only way.
Raid And Plunder
Whereas Total War featured a main game board split into geopolitical regions (with a battlefield for each one that was called up whenever two armies met), Knights Of Honor squeezes in an extra cartographic layer that enables you to see and manage the cities and villages common to each province. Click on a city, for instance, and you can gauge the happiness of its citizens, check that enough gold is being raised and food stockpiled, build civil or military upgrades and recruit soldiers.
Moreover, if an army is barracked within its walls, you can have them march out and across the province to camp alongside your borders in case your neighbour sneaks in to plunder your villages. It may not sound like a big deal, but this adds a much greater degree of flexibility when it comes to siting your battles, because if you have siege engines in your army, you need to take a direct route to your enemy's capitol. With an abundance of cavalry, sometimes it's better to skirt around and burn down his villages, thereby inciting revolt and reducing his economic stability.
Of course, when two armies eventually do meet and it's time for the arrows to fly and swords to clash, the game switches to the battlefield view. Here, even the most accomplished EA marketeer would have to admit Total War is far more visually impressive. However, let's not dismiss Knights Of Honor completely; getting your troops into positions is easily done since you don't have to contend with a 3D camera, and although viewing the entire battle can be difficult because of the unscaleable 2D graphics, battles can be just as tense and rewarding. During castle sieges, unlike in Total War, you can station your troops atop towers and battlements, and attackers can employ ladders instead of having to batter down walls.
Yep, it may turn out that Knights Of Honor has much to recommend it over Total War. Sieges are definitely a lot more satisfying and there appears to be much more depth behind the scenes when it comes to managing your kingdom. So, Total War fans, the forthcoming battle might not be as one-sided as you first thought - not until reinforcements from Rome nde out, at least.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode