by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Knights of Honor II – Sovereign
A handful of older games make it to my hard drive every few years or so. The first Dune, the original X-COM, and… Knights of Honor. Some games are just worth playing over and over. When the announcement for Knights of Honor II showed up in my mailbox, I yelled out loud. First NOOOO!?, and then YESSSS!! The no was for “don’t touch this game, it’s too dear to my heart” the yes was for “finally a sequel”. I took my ambiguity into the Gamescom demonstration booth, where it disappeared like snow in summer the moment I saw it booted up. This was Knights of Honor through and through.
Currently in alpha, we obviously did not see the complete game, but what we saw was so polished it looked poised for release. The gorgeous game map felt warm and inviting with plenty of informational icons hovering over a good variety of buildings and intriguing looking locations. As with the original game, castles have a Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Northern European aesthetic according to their geographical location. There’s a ton more detail to them though, which is true for every other aspect of the game as well. Did I say it looked gorgeous?
THE ROYAL COURT
Almost everything you do in the game is tied in some way to the Royal Court which consists of handpicked merchants, spies, marshals, clerics and diplomats. How many of which type is entirely up to you, but you do need to put some thought into the mix. In principle, only marshals and the king himself are able to lead armies. There is a rare character trait that allows others to lead, but perhaps not as well as a commander specialized in warfare. A fun little twist here is that clerics can write skill books, which can then be used to train court members. And yes, he can write books about the art of war too.
The devs are careful to ensure that every court member brings value to your kingdom though. Diplomats for instance, are the only ones that can arrange marriages, which have the potential to turn even the staunchest foe to a loyal ally. Spies will also play an active role in your success, potentially getting hired into an enemy court to reveal army movements and more. There’s even a role for captured spies — their silver tongues might cause a rebellion, allowing them escape and wreak havoc in enemy territory. And if you thought the cleric was just for writing books, you’d be wrong. Ingratiating yourself to the pope might allow you to position your cleric as his heir, giving you power over holy wars and excommunications when he inherits the papal throne.
The economical layer will be more diverse, and kingdom development in particular caught my eye. Provinces can be developed individually and start with a random set of settlement types every playthrough. While you’ll mostly end up with a mix of settlement types, it’s entirely possible to find a province that has building locations for only monasteries, forcing you to be creative in developing a viable growth strategy for the province.
Knights of Honor always was the more approachable of the grand strategy games out on PC and the developers aim to keep it that way. At some point our host, knowing I had played and loved the original, asked why I was being so easy on him. I answered that they were doing everything right. It’s clear that Black Sea Studios’ team, headed up by original designer Vesselin Handjiev, are working on a labour-of-love game. They are updating and enhancing much more than they are changing, and that’s a good thing. The original formula stood the test of time remarkably intact, which bodes well for this beautiful refresh.