Kohan: Ahriman's Gift
Kohan: Ahriman's Gift is the stand-alone prequel to the real-time strategy game Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns. While adding to the mythos of the Kohan (a group of immortal beings, both good and evil), K:AG attempts to follow the philosophy of 'more is better.' As with most fantasy-based games, there are the forces of shadow -- in this case, the Ceyah -- who are attempting to take over the world. Using their skeletons, shadow knights and the like, these Ceyah attack the human armies of knights, archers and their friends. In the main single-player campaign you will play the role of the Ceyah army, with an evil Kohan named Vashti at the forefront.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
If you have never played the first Kohan, you can think of it as Warcraft 2, with dashes of Civilization 2 and a few great new ideas. The makers of K:AG have attempted to relieve some of the micromanaging familiar to most fans of the RTS genre, without taking out the fun parts involving supplying your troops and controlling your armies. One way that they do this is by allowing you to organize a group of units by choosing the front line, a leader, and two support units. You cannot control the individual units, so you must pay special attention to craft the group into a beneficial whole. If you add a healing unit to the mix, your troops will be healed automatically as they need it, and a hero at the forefront will add moral improvement as well as special abilities. There is a constant balance of multipliers being added and effective on the numerous groupings you make, so it creates incredibly deep gameplay while being easily accessible to a newbie.
This kind of mentality applies to the building aspect of the game as well. You can set up a town by using a group of settlers, and then add a component to the same town (i.e. a barracks, a quarry, a library, etc). The component helps the town provide more resources like wood, or makes new units available. This component can get upgraded to provide a similar, but better advantage, but you should put a little thought into choosing the right upgrade as only one upgrade can apply to a component at a time. With the right prerequisites, you can then upgrade your town, which adds more component slots to customize it further. Unlike most RTS games, there are no individual buildings to protect, just one town that houses all your components. At first you may have the feeling that your hands are tied because of the lack of multitasking you have to do. As soon as you discover how difficult the game is, even in easy mode, you will appreciate the simplicity in the building and organizing aspects of the game.
The most impressive feature of Kohan is the use of Zones to determine where your supplies can go and come from, without all the little peasants running around. Want to mine gold? Just make sure your mine is within the Zone of Supply of a town. Want to make sure your troops are healed? Place them anywhere within that same Zone of Supply. The town's Zone will enlarge as you upgrade it, and will be affected by the surrounding landscape such as forests and rivers. Each of the groups you make will have a Zone of Control you can turn on or off, which indicates the area where the group will guard against enemies. While there are other zones that can be discussed, these two are the most important ones, and they add a nice layer of influence between your troops, your towns and the enemy.
Kohan: Ahriman's Gift adds 25 new heroes, over 30 new units, over 35 new spells and technologies and over 35 new multiplayer maps. There are three campaign modes in total, with some story insights given throughout the course of each campaign. The storyline isn't the high point of Kohan, and if you've played through the first game, these added extras may not seem like a lot. Unless Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns was your favorite game ever, Ahriman's Gift is better reserved for those who have never played this revolutionary RTS game.
There are plenty of different game types in the multiplayer options. "Conquer Cities," "Deathmatch," "Gnomes" and "Turtles" are some of the interesting titles, running the gamut from 'last man standing' to being the one with a set amount of gold. The amount of different factions to choose from is much more limited. Other than the evil Ceyah, the other groups are very similar to each other. For instance, The Council and The Nationalist are identical, except that The Council has more archery units, while The Nationalist has more infantry units. More unique units per faction would have been better, along with allowing owners of K:AG to play games with owners of the first Kohan.
The graphics in Ahriman's Gift have a lot of similarities with the Shogun series, in that they impress the viewer more with the amount of characters on screen at one time than the overall presentation. While Shogun had 2D characters on a 3D background, K:AG is all 2D. While I could make some injurious comments regarding the need for Strategy First to move into the 21st century, I will merely remark that the visual style works decently for this type of game, and I wouldn't exchange the cheapening of the deep gameplay for some stunning visuals. I would have liked to see the change in terrain, which is used to such great effect in this game, also influence units based on elevation. The units are small and sometimes hard to tell apart, but the little particle effects and the sheer number of units involved in any given scene will make you forget that you've seen better.
The music is appropriately epic, with orchestral tunes common and a complete lack of elevator music. The character voices are performed convincingly, but suffer from the same repetitious nature found in most RTS games. Using only a couple of different phrases for each type of group means they are recycled far too frequently, causing you to want to turn the volume down quickly. The narrator and main characters do a good job of speaking their lines, making up for the lack of content with some good vocal drama.
Windows 9x/ME/2000 Pentium II (or equivalent), 233 MHz, 64MB RAM, 150MB disk space, mouse, keyboard, DirectSound compatible card, DirectX 7.0 compatible video card with 4MB video RAM, monitor and video card capable of 1024x768 resolution at 16-bit, Internet connection (56K modem minimum) or LAN for multiplayer
For those who had the chance to experience it, Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns was truly a revolution in RTS games. Ahriman's Gift is a baby-step improvement, not a must-have for owners of the first game. If there had been some larger improvements, a more interesting story, or some fancier graphics, I would have given K:AG a higher score. It is a great game for those who are new to the series, but only a 79 overall.