Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion
The Romans Have conquered Europe several times over. The Britons, the Egyptians, the Byzantines have rolled over the continent regularly - even the paltry Parthians have been given a shot at sacking Rome. (Parthian shot - see, that's a Classics joke. Sigh. Ignorant, the lot of you.) So, just when you're tiring of stomping your armies through the flora and fauna of Rome, The Creative Assembly has made an expansion pack, Barbarian Invasion, to reignite your dying passion.
To be frank (or, maybe Visigoth - that's more of a Scando name), there's nowt we ain't seen before. Whilst we admire The Creative Assembly's ability, it's clear its mind is elsewhere (possibly on console ambitions). Vet again it's introduced an expansion pack that upsets the balance of the previous game, altering the strategic map dynamic by giving one side an absolute preponderance of force and no reliance on territories - in this case, the Huns, though other landless tribes can hoard to save money as well.
This is the same basic idea as Medieval: Viking Invasion as well as Shogun: Mongol Invasion. We're sorry, but history doesn't consist entirely of great peaceful empires being overrun by blathering hordes, whatever the Conservative party would have us believe, and there are other ways of altering the way an RTS plays than introducing rampaging yobs.
Vandal In The Wind
Moreover, the element of innovation has been displaced, from where it should be (the gameplay) to where it shouldn't (the history). We know the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome are pretty much devoid of accurate historical record, so that military styles and history in general around that period are somewhat sketchy, but sometimes BI charges heedlessly, grail held high, into myth. Just look at the Romano-British and you'll see what I mean: Graal (sic) knights? A thinly veiled King Arthur? Irish "Hounds of Culann" fighting for the English? The Creative Assembly has skirted round history with this material - it seems to be mostly myth and legend, which might put some people off. Moreover, only two of our favoured historical battles are included with the title. Mons Badonicus and the Battle of Chalons, and both are also available on the demo.
Good To Be Goth
Past that immediate, pedantic criticism, the actual play has improved. Those fantastical units, like the berserking Hounds of Culann, bring enjoyably unbalanced forces to the game, as do the (sadly confusing in their similarity and number) Barbarian tribes. The new priest (druids, monks, scientologist, etc) units buff units near them, making them targets but also very valuable for morale. Apart from that, battles are as wonderful as ever. The fantastic new ability of your light infantry to swim (it's either breast stroke or doggy-paddle, speedo fans - not sure which) also adds a whole new tactical b dimension, though as it both exhausts and exposes your troops for a substantial period of time, it's only really useful for flanking, not head-on assaults.
Moreover, the new night battles gloriously impressive. Imagine ring a thousand rockers holding - except with flaming arrows and Creative also appears to have done a stellar job in updating the graphics; we're not sure whether it's better models or the new night effects, but it looks as comely as a vestal'virgin who might be up for it.
So while we're disappointed with the Displaced innovation and the lack of idvancement, we still can't deny that it's Rome, that it's raised our bloodlust and our hackles in equal measure, and that it games just won't reach. Now leave us; we must trample the Imperial weaklings beneath Hunnish steel once more before our cocoa.
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What Is It about short-arse generals and their need to dominate the world? Take Attila the Hun for example, a bearded madman and driving force behind the Barbarian invasions of Europe depicted in this. Rome: Total War's first expansion pack. Standing a mere whisker over five foot, he was still tirelessly driven to subjugate the world and become master of all he surveyed.
Maybe he was bullied at school. Maybe he had his head stuck down a latrine by some floppy-haired thugs while being repeatedly kicked up the jacksie for being a shorty poo-poo crybaby. Or maybe it was a woman. Yes, that's it. Some luscious maiden with flowing golden hair he used to write poetry about while dreaming for hours that she'd one day be his wife and sire him blonde children, only to find she'd been secretly planning to elope to a small chateaux in Provence to tread grapes with his best mate. But whatever the reason for his desires to conquer, rape and pillage, one fact remains. He was still a short-arse.
However, one world dominating warmonger with no such stature problems is the stunning, all conquering 3D RTS Rome: Total War, which, if you haven't already guessed, is about to sire a child of its own, an expansion pack sensitively entitled Barbarian Invasion. We caught up with producer Richard Blenkinsop to find out what we can expect from Rome's debut add-on pack and took a quick, exclusive gander at the game too...
Barbarian Invasion will be set well after the closing stages of Rome: Total War, spanning the years 364AD to 476AD. The once-great Roman Empire is dwindling at a terrifying rate due to barbarian hordes overrunning its settlements, forcing the Romans ever further back into its own territory. The Roman Empire had split by this time into two smaller, weaker factions, (the Western and Eastern Empires), and it was busy with its own internal political struggles," begins Richard. This created the perfect opportunity for the uncivilised nations of Europe to rise up and start to take back the land which they believed to be rightfully theirs."
These nations included the Vandals (not to be confused with the toothless oafs who run around town centres late at night upturning cars); Saxons (warriors with a mastery of coastal landings and invasions); and of course the Huns, an emergent threat from the Steppes, who swarmed across Europe like a plague of locusts, destroying everything they came across. And the good news is, not only will you be able to play all three of these new factions in Barbarian Invasion, but a host of others too.
Head For Rome
Your ultimate goal when playing as these rapaciously bloodthirsty lugs will be to ensure your nation's survival and, more importantly - from a mindless violence perspective - wreak revenge on the mighty Roman Empire, which has enslaved your people for generations. When you play as the Barbarians you see that this is the time to strike and take back your people's land," explains Richard. However, since all the other Barbarians are trying to do the same, you need to strike fast against your Barbanan neighbours in order to gain a foothold in Europe. Ultimately though, the thought of eventually turning on the crumbling Romans and sacking the legendary city of Rome will be your end goal."
Of course, this being Rome: Total War, any expansion would seem somewhat foolish if it neglected to add a Roman campaign, in which you could take the once-great empire's destiny into your own, claw-like, sun-starved hands. The other playable factions in the game include the Western and Eastern Roman empires, whose goal is to hold on to their crumbling empires and hold back the bloodthirsty waves of Barbarians coming at them from all sides," says Richard.
However, you also have to deal with rebellions in your own cities, too. As if fending off near endless hordes of slavering madmen intent on ripping out your spine and playing it like a glockenspiel wasn't enough to worry about. The key goal for the Romans is simple: survival, continues Richard ominously. Also, you can play as the Persian Sassanid faction, a strong people from the East who rival Rome in wealth and are starting to consider building an Empire of their own.
Having gleaned the information about Barbarian Invasion's new factions, we grilled Richard like a sirloin on a hot summer's day about how each one will differ. You're now given a very distinct method of gameplay depending on the faction you choose, he begins. We turn up the heat and urge him to continue. Playing a Roman faction will have a very different feel to Rome: Total War, as you already start with a fully-fledged Empire. However you have to fight hard to keep it.
Choosing one of the Barbarian factions in Europe means you start with a very small amount of settlements and need to expand quickly, often with intense and bloody battles. Then there are the Huns, who don't start with any settlements at all. They're a nomadic horde comprised of around 15 large armies, and they have the ability to sweep across the map, razing cities for cash and hiring mercenaries to swell their numbers until they find a land they wish to settle in." So that's Bognor Regis safe, then.
Weapons Of Destruction
Just like any self-respecting expansion pack that can look you in the eye and say buy me", Barbarian Invasion will be busting at the packaging with an abundance of new units and historical figures, including said insecure midget. Attila the Hun. Other historical figures from the time period are also available, while each faction's units and the weapons and armour they carry reflect the time period as accurately as any other Total War game - which, of course, means they're likely to be pretty damn accurate.
Due to advances in composite bows, archers now have superior range and accuracy, and some factions have adopted the new X-bow, a weapon akin to an early crossbow which fires armourpiecing bolts, says an enthusiastic Richard. Cavalry will play a larger role in any Barbarian army, especially for the Huns, who needed to be fast and mobile at all times. New unit abilities are also available to use, such as the Shiltrom - a Barbarian formation much like the Greek Phalanx, with spears pointing out in all directions and resembling a hedgehog - and the Barbarian's Shield Wall, where warriors stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their shields interlocked to protect them from missile fire" As if all of that wasn't enough, Richard informs us that there are even more new units we can look forward to commanding. These include the Barbarian Golden Band, a berserker infantry unit harder than granite who're so crazed they'll prove a handful both for the enemy and your commanders; and a carriage-drawn ballistae represents the mobile artillery on the battlefield.
Hun Lancers are mounted soldiers armed with long spears that give them the ability to hit an enemy formation with devastating force (and skewer pieces of beef without having to get off their horses), while the chanting Druids and Pnests imbue your men with courage and a morale bonus in the heat of battle.
War Is Brewing
From what we've been told and from the early footage we saw after we'd finished quizzing Richard (for more see Late Night Rucks'. p55 and 'Bridge Over The River Die', p56), it looks like The Creative Assembly could be about to unleash another blockbusting Total War title.
Utilising all of the awesome powers of its predecessor. Barbarian Invasion is already looking like it could well pull off the near impossible feat of embellishing and extending Rome's near-infallible gameplay. With an all-new approach to how you can play the game - thanks to the migrating Hun hordes - you could soon be gleefully swarming over the Roman Empire like flies on a dung heap, while being swept away by what's looking like one hell of a frenzied, challenging and fresh campaign of merciless bloodshed. Frankly, we can't wait.
Everyone Loves A Good Historically Accurate Punch-Up
When we asked producer Richard Blenkinsop whether Barbarian Invasion would come with any new historical battles, we were surprised to hear it wouldn't. This is because you can play all of the historical battles in the main campaign. Not much of an excuse really, as the whole idea of historical battles is that you can play them as one-off battles whenever you feel like it In light of this minirant, can you guess what we'd like to see included in the game?
Time To Kick Off After Closing Hours
Perhaps the single most impressive thing about Barbarian Invasion are the night-time battles. We sat and watched as producer Richard Blenkinsop assaulted a settlement during the dead of night, and we were blown away by what we saw. And that's despite all of the fire effects not having been fully implemented yet.
Torch-carrying troops raced towards the enemy walls, flames dancing realistically off their bodies as they bobbed from side to side. Onagers fired flaming balls of destruction over the city walls, their fiery shapes cleaving through the night air like a hail of meteors.
It all looked spectacular, and Richard also assured us that attacking an enemy at night would come with its own bonuses, though only an experienced commander would be able to lead the assault. "While attacking at night the morale ot the enemy will be lowered at the start of the battle and missile units will become less accurate due to the poor visibility. However, this tactic can prove to be a double-edged sword. As the battle rages, your own troops' morale will start to be affected," he explains.