Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it.
There’s something compelling about the lone barbarian. Conan, Groo, Thundarr – with their fur breeches, crude manners and rampant violence, they manage to turn their primitive grammar into roguish charm. Nobody but nobody can get drunk and tear up a tavern like a barbarian. Good family fun for all.
The problem seems to be when there’s more than one of them, when they turn up in hordes. Instead of just looting the Temple of the Snake God for more beer money (which you didn’t really care about because you prefer the Eagle God, anyway), they’re burning down your houses, slaughtering your family, raping your pets, and pissing in the aqueduct.
Such is life in Barbarian Invasion, the first expansion pack for the awesome Rome: Total War. The year is 363 AD, about 350 years after the original game, and the might of Rome has greatly diminished. Political infighting and the growing Christian cult have split the vast empire. And let’s not forget the barbarians ” dirty foreign groups like the Saxons, the Franks and (most frighteningly) the Huns are putting pressure on the borders and even sacking Roman cities. There’s nothing like finally putting down a local rebellion, only to have Atilla and Co. show up at your back door with a bunch of torches.
However, you don’t necessarily have to play as either side of this divided empire. Barbarian Invasion doesn’t make you unlock any of its starting races like Rome did. Right off the bat you can be those rampaging Huns if you want. In fact, you can choose to play as any of the game’s ten new factions, several of which you would only have heard of if you’re an historian. The fearsome Sassanids?
Although the difficulty level varies by faction, no matter which side you choose, there is no Senate to appease this time and the end game is pretty much the same. Each faction has a set of “victory conditions” ” hold a certain number of territories and a couple key cities, usually Rome and Constantinople. It is most difficult to play as one of the Roman factions, but hey, the book is called The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, after all.
All new factions means all new units too, and even most of the Roman units have been tweaked. Each faction has its own specialty, such as archery or horseback riding. Lightly armed troops can now swim, opening up new flanking opportunities, or just easy pickins for the archers. But despite the fact that there are over one hundred “new” units, they still all feel pretty much the same as in Rome. In the end, they’re all just men with pointy weapons.
For that matter, the core gameplay has remained almost exactly the same, with two main modes: the turn-based strategic map and the real-time battles featuring your colossal armies. For more details on that, please read my Rome: Total War review.
There are subtle differences, however. The map features new cities and borders, and the wonders of the world and the bonuses they represented are gone; this was the era of tearing down monuments, not building them. Religion now plays a small but noticeable role in your commanders and cities which may be Pagan, Christian, or Zoroastrian. Put a Pagan in charge of a heavily Christian city, and the people are unlikely to be happy. The computer A.I. has gotten better at playing on the map, making the Roman campaigns particularly challenging.
On the battlefield even less has changed. The tactics of war and the unit balance remain essentially the same, and the A.I. has the same pathfinding problems, especially during city sieges. The biggest change is the addition of night battles, where an experienced commander can really make difference. Without the proper skills, your enemy’s reinforcements might not even find the battlefield in the dark. With torches galore, flaming arrows and even flaming siege projectiles, the night battles are visually stunning.
But not really any more than before. The graphics look pretty much the same, which to say is quite good, with impressively huge clashes of armies but no improvement over Rome: Total War. The music is identical as far as I can tell, with no new tracks at all.
Barbarian Invasion certainly brings you more of a good thing, but I wish it had extras that were actually new, like the ability to play the map mode in multiplayer as well, or any new multiplayer modes at all, for that matter. And still no playable naval battles?
Still, it was good to feel the thunderous stampede of Hun cavalry and the earth-shaking march of a vast Roman army again. Though this particular invasion doesn’t really change the scope of the battle, it certainly adds some berserk energy to your armchair strategizing. Trust in Crom.