The gaming industry is constantly evolving. The games that are the most successful are the ones that give us something totally new, or the ones that take what we already love and make it better. Unfortunately, many releases attempt to do the latter without much success. Knights of Honor tried to combine elements of empire building with real-time strategy, but ended up not doing justice to either.
At its core, Knights of Honor is an empire-building strategy game. What sets it apart from other games of that genre is that it takes place in real time. Usually with games requiring the level of micro-management and attention to detail as this, a turn-based approach gives the player time to make decisions and adjust to the complex game without being overwhelmed. In a real-time system, the pace is obviously much faster. There are many elements in Knights of Honor that you simply won't have time to look at as you'll have more pressing matters to attend to. The developers tried counteract this by making unit movement and action times agonizingly slow. You will often find yourself leaning close to the monitor hoping this will somehow make them go faster. That's for the units you can see. Off-screen must have a different pace, as empires will quite literally rise and fall in the time it takes you to consider a few menu choices.
You can choose to simply play a single battle, but there is almost no customization. You can choose to fight in an open field, attack a town, or defend one. But that's about it. You can't choose which troops you bring to the field or how many. Combat in both the single battle and campaign is very difficult to control. You have quite a bit of control over individual units, but those units are incredibly easy to lose. When your units clash with the enemy's, the camera angle is so far out that it is impossible to differentiate the two. Each unit does have a portrait in the menu at the bottom of the battle screen, but it is hard to quickly make out which unit is which.
Knights of Honor is set in the middle ages, and the campaign pits you against the countries of medieval Europe and Arabia. The developers did their homework, as the historical and geographical accuracy of the game's many countries and provinces is impressive. The downside is that the single player always includes all of these different factions. This can make keeping track of the complex diplomacy difficult, especially when countries on the far side of the map will declare war on you for no reason. The distances between the countries never really seem to have an impact on gameplay. You receive immediate updates on any happenings in even the farthest of your neighboring countries, irregardless as to whether you ever had a dialogue with them.
Geography does play a role in determining which units and materials will be available in each province, making it necessary to expand your empire in order to stay competitive with your enemies. A lot of work went into unit variety; countries in northern Africa will have access to Saracens (desert swordsmen), but not the Highlanders of Scotland. Sadly, this diversity is ruined by the fact that all the units in the game act and sound exactly the same.
The sound in Knights of Honor is like the rest of the game; it's not bad, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Though the units' sounds and speech are well done, they are lacking in variety. The same speech used by the Arab states is used by European nations. The music is the kind of thing you'd likely hear in an Eastern European tavern, and yet again, you hear that same music in whichever Kingdom you decide to play for. Though it may not always be appropriate to the setting, the sound quality and voice acting is good, though a few bugs are evident.
The idea of making Knights of Honor real-time was a promising one, but it causes the player to miss out on all the content and quality that was put into this game. The variety and depth advertised on the package and in the manual is sorely missing from the game itself. There is a lot of good content in this game, but die-hard empire builders will want to look for a title that gives them time to enjoy that content. And fans of real-time strategy games should have no trouble finding something better.