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Rome: Total War - Barbarian Invasion Review
developer: Creative Assembly
PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 300MB HDD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Sep 27, 05 (released)
|» All About Rome: Total War - Barbarian Invasion on ActionTrip|
I'm an old fan of Creative Assembly's games. Old. I mean that both in the sense of how many candles I have to blow out on my birthday cake and how closely I've followed the company's progress and played their games over the years. Unlike so many other big-name gaming companies, Creative Assembly has managed not to disappoint in two major things: Firstly, they never stopped refining and perfecting their wholly innovative game concept introduced with the first Total War game, and secondly, they never let me down in terms of releasing quality expansion packs.
History once again repeats itself.
That's a good thing, mind you.
After letting the players lead an "infant" Roman Empire to the height of its power, CA has decided to let us get a feel for the other side of the imperialist coin - the crumbling of a once mighty empire. The game doesn't follow closely each event as it actually happened and it's slightly off with the chronology, but that's all in the function of a more streamlined and immersive gaming experience. Still, it's worth noting the historical backdrop in which Barbarian Invasion game takes place.
The expansion moves the action on 350 years to a time when the Roman Empire is in deep trouble, beset by enemies inside and out, and is slowly crumbling under the weight of its own power. The year is 363 AD, and the Roman Empire has split into two parts, ruled from the cities of Rome (for the Western Empire) and Constantinople (for the Eastern Empire). If this weren't bad enough, barbarian tribes have been massing on the Imperial frontiers in Europe for many years. In the East, the Empire faces a renewed threat from the Persian Empire, under new vigorous rulers, the Sassanids. This is an exciting and turbulent period of Roman history: the Fall of Rome itself and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the slaughter of Emperor Valens and an entire Roman army at Adrianople in 378, the European arrival of the terrifying Huns, the political in-fighting that saw Rome's best generals hounded as traitors, and the final humiliation of the last Emperor of the West being forced to retire in 476 AD as a barbarian took his throne. Romulus Augustulus simply wasn't enough of a threat to be worth killing. BI starts just after the last Emperor of a unified Rome has died. His successors in Rome and Constantinople are now uneasy allies and rivals for power. The 'barbarians' are massing along the borders, and in some cases are living inside what used to be Roman territory. There are many, many challenges for a Roman to face - and some may be almost unbeatable! Of course, when talking about the "barbarian" invasion one has to realize that the modern context in which we use the word is different from the one that dignitaries of the time used. Saying that someone is a "barbarian" would primarily mean that person is not of your religion, a foreigner from a distant land. I say this because today's rather clich' definition of barbarians could not really apply to the greatest threat that the Western Roman Empire ever faced, which were the Huns and their leader, Attila.
This naturally means that amongst many other factions, players will be able to take control of the mighty Hun cavalry in their attempt to dismantle the crumbling remains of a once mighty empire.
The fighting power of prayer.
And so it begins...
In addition, the players will be able to lead a whole number of other "barbarian" factions including Franks, Sarmatians, Sassanid Empire and some barbarians proper, like the Vandals for instance.
What this translates to is even more factions, many of which I haven't listed here, but are significant for the historical period in which BI takes place, new structures and of course new units, like the extremely mobile, deadly and accurate Hun Cavalry Archers and many, many others. Every faction in the game has a 'signature' unit that is unique to them, such as the axe-throwing Francisca Heerbann of the Franks to the ultra-heavy Sassanid Clibinarii cavalry. Even apparently familiar units have been revised. In addition, some units in the game have new special abilities. The Shield Wall allows barbarian elites to 'lock' themselves into a defensive stance and withstand frontal attacks. The Schiltron is a defensive 'hedgehog' formation for spear-armed troops - great for withstanding cavalry, but very vulnerable to missile fire. Swimming allows light troops to cross rivers and flank defenders who think they are safe at one end of a bridge or ford! Man, when the AI pulled this trick on me, it damn nearly cost me many men. Luckily, my mobile Hun cavalry managed to trap the attackers and well, a slaughter ensued.
Seeing as how this is "only" an expansion pack, most of the changes have to do with quantity rather than quality (in terms of innovation at least), but there are a few subtle gameplay novelties, like the nighttime missions, which will elevate the gaming experience to a slightly higher level.
8.6 Very Good
Creative Assembly continues the tradition of quality expansion packs;
AI quirks, more versatility in terms of unit-based tactics would've been welcomed.