Knights of Honor from Black Sea Studios is a medieval grand-strategy/RTS game in the vein of Medieval: Total War, but with a twist. Whereas M:TW combines a turn-based strategic portion with real-time battles, Knights of Honor is completely real-time. The effect is not unlike playing Baldurís Gate or Neverwinter Nights and comparing them to their turn-based counterparts. Itís not necessarily better, but it does make the game more dynamic.
The game is set in Europe during the middle ages and has the player choosing one of several nations (be they duchies, kingdoms or empires) and trying to achieve the title of Ultimate Emperor of Europe (ugh). The pursuit of such a dubious title consists mainly of conquest, with some trade and diplomacy involved. However, in keeping with the Total War games, diplomacy is fairly light and trade is actually less important Ė certainly less important than in Medieval.
Most of the game is played on an attractive and large, though narrowly zoomed-in 2D map of Europe that divides the continent into provinces. Each province has a capital and some villages, as well as being handsomely decorated with appropriate rivers, forests, hills and mountains.
The interface is simple and effective, as it should be for a fast-paced strategy game like Knights of Honor. The player, naturally, will primarily task himself with upgrading his cities and fighting with his armies. Each city has only so many slots available for buildings, meaning that if the player wants the best units, heíll need to specialize his cities on certain tasks. Moreover, there are Kingdom Advantages to collect, which are achieved by producing certain special resources in the right combinations. This puts further pressure on the player to decide how to specialize his towns.
The gameplay is rather chaotic and can overwhelm newer players quickly, but with determination it is quite possible to adapt to the pace. The bigger the empire, the more there is to manage, and since time is a scarce resource, the more difficult the game becomes. Watching your neighbors is very important, as relations can change rather quickly and, in a fashion bearing an unpleasant resemblance to all-too-many strategy games, even the firmest alliances can be broken in just a few short minutes.
Similarly, trade needs to be kept track of. Trade agreements are established and seem to last forever. Throwing in a character to manage a trade relationship, especially one with the traits to make the most of the situation, can boost income though this isnít typically the big payoff one sees in games like Europa Universalis or Medieval: Total War.
To make the campaign even busier than it already is, Knights of Honor keeps the player occupied with several other facets of the game. He needs to promote leaders to deal with trade, managing cities, leading armies or spreading the proper religion throughout his lands. These leaders have various stats and the generals can earn bonus abilities that affect their armyís performance in a variety of categories, like morale, movement speed and the effectiveness of certain types of units.
Furthermore, unit production isnít merely a matter of having the right gold and buildings. Certain kinds of units are available in only some provinces, and to actually build the unit, you need food Ė in that town. This complicates city management, since you can no longer focus on martial buildings exclusively, but need to balance them out with the ability to produce and store food.