Knights of Honor is a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by Bulgarian Black Sea Studios. It was published by Sunflowers Interactive in Europe in 2004 and Paradox Interactive in North America in 2005. The game takes place in Medieval Europe, spanning the early centuries of the second millennium in three historical time periods. The player can choose to play as one of over 100 playable kingdoms.
In 2019, a sequel titled Knights of Honor II: Sovereign is announced and the game is being developed by Black Sea Games, which consisted of former Black Sea Studios employees who worked on the original game, and will be published by THQ Nordic.
Knights of Honor is played on a large map of Europe spanning from Ireland to Caucasus and from Scandinavia to the northern coast of Africa. The map is divided into parcels of land called provinces. Each province is governed by a city and contains several \"Rural Areas\" which can be towns, farms, monasteries and coast towns. These rural areas can't be altered and are placed randomly across the map before each game. The city, however has room for several buildings which can give bonuses to the rural areas or the city itself, such as more piety in the monasteries when a church is built or a higher income from the towns when a market is present in the city. Other buildings are needed to recruit certain units (such as a swordsmith for sword-wielding units or a fletcher for bow-wielding units) or to defend the city such as walls and towers. A city only has limited room for buildings. Thus, not all buildings can be built in a city and the player must carefully consider what to build for a particular city. Compared to other strategy games, building structures in KOH takes a rather long time. The main goal of the game is to become emperor of Europe. However, the player is free to do whatever they wish. There is no set time limit.
There are three kinds of resources which can be spent on a variety of upgrades. Money is needed to recruits units, build buildings, etc. It is earned by taxes, trading and kingdom power. Piety is used for increasing your kingdom power and converting provinces to your religion. Books are used to educate your knights and adopting provinces. Towns themselves also generate hammers (used to construct certain buildings), food which determines how long they can withstand sieges, and peasants which are required to recruit units.
Religion plays an important role in Knights of Honor. There are 4 different types of religion: The Catholic Church, The Orthodox Church, Islam, and Paganism. The catholic Pope has much influence in medieval Europe. He can excommunicate catholic kingdoms and call for crusades against non-catholic kingdoms. When a player chooses to go on a crusade they are granted powerful Crusader units. When the Pope dies, his successor is chosen among several clerics throughout Europe. If the player happens to have a very experienced cleric, there is a chance he will be chosen as Pope. From then on, the player controls the Pope and can choose to excommunicate kingdoms and call for crusades, a successful crusade can result in a puppet state that is unquestionably loyal to the leader of the crusade or plunder the town for a huge sum of gold. The Catholic Church is located in Western Europe and the Mediterranean. Orthodox factions are located in south east Europe and answer to Byzantia. These factions can declare independence and form their own churches which grants them a greater sum of gold while lacking the disadvantage of being excommunicated which results in a gold penalty. Islamic empires have the ability to call a Jihad which is similar to a Crusade and will cause armies to spawn at their borders and attack any invaders or rebels. This is a powerful ability but it has a long cool down period . Islam is found in north Africa and the middle east. Paganism is the smallest religion being found only in Scandinavia and some parts of eastern Europe. Pagans do not collect piety (a religious resource used to build certain units and buildings and perform some diplomatic options) so are free to focus on gold and are not troubled by religious problems such as religious tension but they have a penalty on their income and have bad relations with all other religions. Paganism is the only religion the player or other kingdoms cannot convert to, the only way to play as a pagan nation is to start the game as one. The player can renounce his faith and adopt another official religion (except paganism) but such religious conflict will often split the kingdom up and one must reunify the nations as a result.
A large community of modders created a lot of content for the game, though nowadays almost all has been lost in the closure of Sunflowers/Black Sea Studios Website. But some mods have been restored and have been recently developed thanks to the nostalgia of some players. One of them has created a mod which allow to play on new monitor resolution such as Full HD - 1920x1080 and 1366x768p. It adds many new content and tweaks.
It's generally hard to be surprised in the real-time strategy genre these days, but you have to give the developers at Black Sea Studios credit, because they've created one of the most original and enjoyable real-time strategy games in recent years. With that said, it should also be noted that Knights of Honor is a game that's not for everyone. This is an incredibly deep medieval kingdom simulation, and it's the closest to actually being able to put you in the ruling seat of a feudal land.
There's no question that Knights of Honor is a deeply ambitious game, but somehow it works, thanks to a somewhat elegant interface and some well thought-out game mechanics. Basically, it's best to think of Knights of Honor as a continual-time game, because it's not really a clickfest. The game plays at a generally steady pace, during which you'll spend a lot of time managing your kingdom. A single game can easily cover centuries of European history (not to mention dozens of hours in actual playing time), and one of our major complaints with it is that there is no sense of time passing by.
There are two ways of resolving combat in Knights of Honor. The first is simply to let your marshal (basically a general) fight the battle himself, which allows you to focus on other things, or you can take direct control of your forces on the battlefield. In that case, you drop down to a 2D map of the battlefield and control your forces by choosing formations and maneuvering them on the battlefield. While directing battles can be tricky, it does give you the opportunity to influence the outcome. Your armies can be a mixture of different units, depending on where each unit was recruited. It's possible to create a very powerful (and expensive) cavalry force, a mix of knights, swordsmen, and spearmen, or just a gaggle of poorly trained peasants. Each nation has unique units that it can recruit, as well. Units can gain experience over time, and elite units are worth their weight in gold in battle. Your marshals also gain experience over time, and you can upgrade them with up to six different skills, each of which can be upgraded up to three times. For instance, the dread skill means that enemy armies will lose morale when facing that general. At higher levels, the dread skill increases the morale loss.
Knights of Honor also benefits from having a deliberate old-school look to it. The game takes place entirely in 2D, and the graphical style lets it look and feel different. It also looks good, in a quaint way. That's not meant as a criticism, but it's very much a game where the focus is on the gameplay and not on the graphics. If anything, the look of Knights of Honor seems fitting, since this is a game of the Middle Ages. The map is rendered with nice pastoral touches, like eagles flying in the sky or villagers hauling goods to town to sell.
The game does have a number of flaws, though. The artificial intelligence, though improved from the initial European release, is still a bit too easy to manipulate. For example, as soon as a nation declares war on you, all you have to do is request an audience, and odds are they'll agree to make peace immediately. The interface could use a few improvements, as well. In particular, when you're being asked to make or break diplomatic relationships, it would be helpful if the game gave you the status of the nation you're speaking with. When a royal ruler offers up a province to bribe you to enter a diplomatic alliance, it would be helpful to know where that province was. And while your kings age and die, your generals seem immune to the passage of time. The royal court system is a bit strange in that it seems that your king may actually grow younger at times, rather than older. Also, children can age out of order in that the second or third born reach maturity before the firstborn. However, most of these flaws are fairly trivial. The game itself is very stable, and we experienced only one crash during the many hours of play.
Knights of Honor ships with multiplayer, but you can't play the epic campaign game in multiplayer. That would probably be impossible to coordinate, anyway. What you can do is battle it out in a variety of historical battles and other gameplay modes, such as town assault. However, it's clear that the single-player game is the strength of Knights of Honor, and the multiplayer game doesn't seem to have much of a following. In summary, this is certainly a game that's not for everyone. But if you're looking for a deep, slow-paced game, and if you love medieval history, it'll be hard to go wrong with Knights of Honor.
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