The Basics: Last year when I reviewed Rome: Total War there was some discussion amongst my friends about the word, "epic," and how I'd been throwing it around a bit too liberally. I asked then "Is it fair to call it just a real-time strategy game when it mixes the best turn-based strategic elements of Civilization with more units than even StarCraft could dream about during its scariest Zerg rush?"
To me there can be nothing more epic than a game where years of planning on a grand campaign map are seamlessly integrated with brutal large scale real-time battles. After you've commanded 10,000 men during the siege of Rome itself, every other game that claims to be "epic" will seem piddly in comparison.
So now that we're up to speed on Rome: Total War, the third in the increasingly detailed real-time strategy series, let us talk about Creative Assembly's expansion pack: Barbarian Invasion. History buffs might have already guessed that the expansion picks up in the year 363 AD after the once mighty Roman Empire has been split into two parts.
The once beautiful city of Rome still stands, and from within her the emperor rules over the western empire. Far to the East stands Constantinople the last civilized remains of the Roman Empire between the Persian Empire and Rome herself. As you can imagine the split of the empire has reshaped the campaign map in rather exciting ways.
Of course what kind of expansion pack would it be if there weren't new units, and new special abilities for these units (such as the ability to swim across small rivers), new factions, an expanded technology tree, and even the integration of religion as a major element of the single player campaign.
What do we think? For me the sign of a good expansion pack is one that seamlessly integrates itself with the original release. Barbarian Invasion does just this. From the moment I booted the game up it felt like I was getting right back into the saddle. Only now I had all these new factions to choose from, and the campaign map looked rather different than I remembered it.
Creative Assembly was rather keen on pointing out that one doesn't have to tackle the challenge of ruling the world as a stuffy Roman general anymore. With Barbarian Invasion comes the ability to play as the nomadic tribes of Western Europe, or the murdering Huns from Eastern Asia.
When playing through the campaign as barbarian horde you have the option of pulling up stakes and roaming the world un-tethered to any cities. In fact the Huns start their campaign without any cities at all! This sounds really amazing on paper, and one can certainly envision "Waterworld" styled raids on settlements.
However, in practice I found it rather difficult to manage my armies without a base or homeland to fall back on. Once a city's defenses have been rousted you are given the option of either sacking the city, or claming it as your own. Let me just say for the record that the Huns are really good at war, but not so much at running a city. My stores of gold were quickly depleted after a few turns with a city at my command.
It is a very strange feeling to move your armies around the world knowing that if cornered you have no city to fall back to and rebuild from. I caution you to be aware of your limits when moving your armies so as not to spread yourself too thin. Diehard Rome: Total War fans will undoubtedly find the Huns offer a wealth of strategic gameplay, but I'll be sticking with a faction that starts off with a city.
After having my marauding butt handed to me by the computer in the campaign adventure I fired up a custom battle. I always find myself coming back to this. I love setting myself up with a massive assaulting army set on destroying an even more impressive city. What can be more fun that sitting just outside a settlement and reducing it to rubble with a row of catapults?
So as I was setting up my next slaughter I was surprised to find that the "time of day" could now be set to "night." Boy, are you in for a surprise. Watching my archers fire a wave of flaming arrows into the good night and lighting up a row of enemy troops brought tears to my eyes. Everything that makes battles in Rome: Total War amazing is made better in the dark.
Pull the camera in close to your units and watch with them as a faint glow in the distance grows larger. The light of a hundred arrows sailing through the air filled my stomach with that lovely butterfly feeling. In some ways the experience reminded me of all those epic nighttime battles I'd seen in movies. Thankfully, the basic elements of strategy and troop mashing hold true even in the dark.
Anyone who loved Rome: Total War and was looking for more of that great campaign mode, or just loves new units and abilities should be looking forward to the Barbarian Invasion expansion pack.