GameOver Game Reviews

Game & Publisher Knights & Merchants (c) Interactive Magic
Overall Rating 80%

Divider Left By: DToxR Divider Right

Gamers have definitely seen their fair share of medieval age strategy games lately, so when I first heard about Knights & Merchants I had my doubts. After all, any game set in that time frame is automatically going to be compared to the Warcraft series and that is some serious competition. Apparently this title has been out for some time in Germany where it has sold very well and only recently was it picked up by Interactive Magic for large-scale distribution. Its great to see new games coming out of Europe which prove that the universe is not centered around Dallas despite what certain people driving certain luxury cars may have you think (You know who I mean).

The storyline is pretty straightforward. You play the role of a captain defending the last remaining province of a once-strong royal territory. With enemies on all sides it's up to you to fight back and rebuild the fractured countryside once again. By constructing up a town in the classic RTS style, you are able to supply more troops and strengthen your forces for attacks.

The main selling point of K&M is the town system. Resource management is the name of the game here and unlike Warcraft, putting together a good town requires a fair amount of time and attention. Graphics are presented in detailed 800x600 or 1024x768 and the game looks fantastic in both resolutions. A fair amount of detail has been put into small animations and it really goes a long way in making the game more enjoyable. Cornfields sway in the wind, trees actually grow over time, and characters turn into ghosts and dissipate as they fall on the battlefield. One of my favourite features of K&M was the building process which involves builders banging away with hammers to erect new structures while they are occasionally supplied with new construction materials by your roaming serfs. You will actually see the Inn go up board by board and brick by brick - it's really a sight to behold.

The user interface is 100% Warcraft even down to the pointing gauntlet cursor. This isn't necessarily a problem - Warcraft's UI was great... why mess with a good thing? Also the way units work is somewhat different from what you may be used to. All units are trained at the schoolhouse where you pay a specific amount of gold per unit. From there, all "domestic" non-combat units are under computer control - that's right - no more clicking on peons and telling them where to go over and over. You merely tell your labourers what to build and where and they will take care of the rest. This has a fairly significant impact on the gameplay because it leaves you free to do other things like oversee battles. Combat units are actually just re-equipped recruits trained at the schoolhouse like all of the other units. By building up your town so you can produce weapons and armor, you then have the ability to pump out units like knights, archers, and pikemen. The units are true to history but I really would like to see more than the measly ten different unit types. Maybe I'm just spoiled by total Annihilation now but I always love a diverse selection of units. Once you have equipped your troops the next step is to set up their formation. Instead of moving men on an individual basis, K&M uses a troop control system similar to that in Myth where you use the simple menu system to arrange your men in lines, rotate the direction they face, and issue orders to attack or disperse. Another interesting feature of K&M is that your troops get hungry over time and you have to send your serfs out with supplies to feed them. This is no big deal when you are at home defending the castle but if you are unfortunate to have hungry troops dug in behind enemy lines - look out!

When it comes to multiplayer I am definitely a picky customer. K&M has the same problem as many other games these days - it has all of the standard DirectPlay options (TCP/IP, IPX, Serial Link) but the TCP/IP network code is sub-standard. You will need a cablemodem or faster to enjoy even a 1 on 1 game of K&M and this is completely unacceptable. After playing Age of Empires, Quake, and Starcraft I *KNOW* it's feasible to have a 2-6 player dialup modem RTS game. When I see such laggy, sloppy network code, i can only assume it was thrown in as an afterthought. Lack of functional multiplayer really detracts from the K&M gaming experience.

Sounds are well-suited for the medieval theme. Swords clanging, men yelling battle cries, even squishing noises as your farmer stomps his grapes to make wine - all of the effects help to get you into the mood. A period style voice-over reads the progressing storyline between levels along the lines of "ye must understand that thou must watch thine resources carefully" and other such medieval drivel but it's all in good fun. I really liked the battle cries best and if you are anything like me you will soon be yelling "death to the traitorous villains!" and "hang em from your spears!" at your computer screen despite the strange looks this may get you from anyone walking by your computer room.

Overall I thought K&M was a very solid game. I really would have liked to see MORE of everything as 10 combat units is really on the skimpy side and a second race would add a lot of variety. It is definitely a thinking man's Warcraft and places most of the emphasis on building and resource management rather than unit to unit combat. There is a lot of potential here and once they fix the lackluster multiplayer code and throw in a few more units they definitely have a real winner on their hands. I look forward to seeing K&M2.

Highs: Really cool building process, interesting battle sounds, great attention to detail

Lows: Not enough unit types, multiplayer code is abysmal

Graphics: 17/20
Sound: 13/15
GamePlay: 24/30
Fun Factor: 16/20
Multiplayer: 1/5
Overall Impression: 7/10


Divider Left By: Cruze Divider Right

Here is a refreshing release from the folks at TopWare. Knights & Merchants is a real-time simulation of a medieval realm which you must rebuild from the ashes of rebellion. Releasing so close to Ceasar 3, one has to draw the comparison between the two and find, at least in my humble opinion, that K&M is a bit more fun to play.

>From the TopWare website they describe K&M as follows:

'After many battles, a former kingdom has been divided into many small principalities and earldoms. The kings troops were pushed back into one last royal province, and the rulers of the other provinces waged terrible, destructive wars against one another. The whole land fell into a state of chaos and now the former royal capital itself is under siege by the armies of the rebel lords. You belong to the last remaining group of loyal Kingís men, have been commanded to go to the king in view of the imminent attack.'

Sounds great doesn't it? Ya, but we've heard all this before...Can it live up to it? As soon as I fired it up, the engine for K&M gave me a bit of Deja-vu from the old Warcraft 2 days. At least the control and view aspects were quite similar and the snipits of conversation from the peasants at each mouse click seemed all to familiar. With that said though, the engine is different enough to be new in that articulate attention was paid to the most minute graphical detail and some pixel shading which, although not stunning, provides a welcome facelift to a good old game-engine. Just coming off several days of gaming hours in Ceasar 3, I recognized the game's demand for population micromanagement right away, but was very thankful to find it far less tedious than the unforgiving masses in C3.

Basically you start the game with a handful of serfs and a couple of builders along with a castle and a reasonable store of goods. From that point, you are charged with various missions to bring the king back to the throne of the realm and restore his kingdom to it's former splendor. A quick description of a not-so-easy task. The first order of business is to build up your foodstock through farming, butchering, etc... and then build up an army to help 'persuade' the more thickheaded of the royal subjects of their dedication to your king.

Graphics: 14/20

As I said, it looked to me a little like the old Warcraft engine with a facelift, but still a very descent interface to work with. The game was designed to be run at 800x600 or better and in 256 colour mode. The obvious lack of 3Dfx was disappointing, but not completely condemning to the game. What they lacked in technology they tried to make up for with detail. The ambient animations of the local wildlife and buildings added to the overall enjoyment of the game. The landscape of the realm is well detailed and provides a 'True' 3D experience forcing your peasants to flatten out hills and build around rocks and trees etc. TopWare claims the engine uses over 250 bit-maps of 40x40 pixels to provide the landscape and set the 800x600 display resolution to compensate for the dated-pixelization. All the animations are done at 10 images per second with the end result being a surprisingly colourful and crisp environment for you to enjoy.

Sound: 10/15

Nothing spectacular here. A good mixture of voices and different responses for all of the character types (and there are a bunch of them) from serfs to butchers to miners to mettalurgists to pikemen and lancers, they all have their own two bits to throw into the game. The audio is your standard .WAV fare, and although it does its part in the game, I might have hoped for a little more background interaction from the sound department. Bottom line, you hear what you need to hear and it works.

Gameplay: 27/30

A real excellent tutorial system is available to familiarize you with the general workings of the game. This helps people like me who, like a lot of you, see manuals as things to be used as coasters. One of the really great things about this engine was the how the AI handled most of the menial and repetitive tasks so well. Basically you lay out your buldings and set up your farms and your workers do the rest. The farmers go and plant their corn and harvest when it's ready. The woodcutter's go around cutting down the trees. (O ya and for all you tree-huggers out there quite your whining they DO practice re-forestation and replant harvested areas.) This makes it easier to enjoy the game as you aren't constantly trying to find that annoying little serf who keeps forgetting what he's supposed to doing with that big chunk of lumber he is carrying. The toughest part of the game is just planning the layout of your feudal community and keeping a good balance between resources, man-power and weapon power. O ya, and donít forget weapon power because some of your opponents get pretty nasty. Each one of your computer opponents will have a different disposition. The 3 basic types of opponents are: weak and helpless, neutral and constructive or aggressive and powerful. If you are into medieval strategy you will really enjoy this game.

Fun Factor: 18/20

Did I mention yet that this game is a heck of a lot of fun? Well it is. Because I wasn't burdened with all the really repetitive jobs (and because I actually (gasp) went through the tutorials) I was able to dive right into the game and immediately found myself having way too much fun. The balance achieved between balancing the management aspects of the game and doing the real fun stuff (like beating your feuding neighbors senseless) was almost perfect in my mind. 2 thumbs up.

Multiplayer: 5/5

Yes it supports Multi-play in a variety of forms including, IPX, Internet TCP/IP, Modem and Serial. Multiplayer chat is fully functional allowing scheming and plotting between your closest allies (and your scheming enemies.) Quick and easy to set-up, I was glad to see the Internet support in a game where it could've easily been shoved aside in favour of a quick release. (Ceasar 3 anyone? ;)

Overall Impression: 9/10

If you like real-time strategy/management games, keeping in mind that Knights & Merchants is set in a feudal environment, and enjoyed hours of fun with Warcraft2 like I did.. Pick this one up. Good graphics, with a nice mixture of battle and resource management, all keep this game stacked up pretty high on my 'got-to-get-it' list. Game of the year might be a stretch, but still it gets a 2 thumbs up from me, I hope you enjoy it.


Click here to post comments about this review on our message board! (Be sure to register first)

Screen Shots
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot

Back to home