Rome Total War: Barbarian Invasion Preview
By: Andy Levine

Barbarian Invasion, the expansion pack to last year’s hit strategy title, Rome: Total War will take the gamer on a journey in the 4th century AD, just before the fall of the Roman Empire. This add-on features a completely redesigned map, over 10 factions to choose from, and a whole new selection of units and battle strategies. With its upcoming release later this month, we can assure you that Barbarian Invasion is going to prove a worthy expansion to Rome: Total War.

The campaign of Barbarian Invasion starts off in 363 AD, several hundred years after the close of Rome: Total War. As a result, the game map has been redesigned to show the eastern empire of Constantinople and the western empire of Rome. In addition, some of the less popular factions seemed to have died off, while new super powers including the Huns and the Goths are large and in charge.

Essentially, the purpose of the game is to lead your faction on a quest throughout the lands attempting to unite the region under one ruler. The class distinction in Barbarian Invasion is much greater than in Total War; the mounted cavalry of the Huns prove to be a challenge even for the Saxons’ elite warriors. Depending on which faction you choose, the campaign will unfold differently every time the game is played. The Huns will start off as a massive horde of peasants seeking a homeland, while the Western Romans start off with a great portion of territory.

The campaign is basically the same as in the original where you must conquer cities and build them up to protect against outside forces. Controlling a city is much more in-depth now, especially due to the important religion feature. By uniting the people under a singular belief, a society can feel at peace with their neighbors and experience a sense of joy. Implementing certain religions can even allow new technology upgrades, such as buildings, to become accessible. However, the clashing of different religious beliefs can lead to quarrels that can be blown out of proportion into large-scale civil wars. Even after a devastating war has nearly wiped out your people, it is possible to take the remnants from your city and turn your soldiers into a roaming horde. Hordes can travel the lands pillaging cities and obtaining plunder, but ultimately it’s in a faction’s best interest to find a homeland in order to settle down and thoroughly develop.
Likewise, other factions will eventually have to resort to turning into a horde by living off the goods of a rival civilization. Such events can lead to a chain reaction of poverty and a massive economic breakdown once several factions are constantly plundering for survival.

Because the times have advanced, the factions have also learned a thing or two. Aside from the availability of new units, buildings, and religious aspects, new infrastructure upgrades, such as sanitation, can be developed in order to support the living conditions of a city. Simply put, the overall mechanics of Barbarian Invasion have improved immensely on an already great system.

Aside from the functionality renovations, the battle system has also received a fresh coat of paint. Obviously, as with any expansion, Barbarian Invasion will offer hundreds of new units and battle tactics to make the game feel brisk no matter how many times it’s played. The most notable battle improvement is the night attack mode, which allows generals with a certain ranking to attack rival factions under cover of darkness. Aside from offering a visually enthralling experience, the night attacks will catch your enemies off guard. If the opposing general isn’t skilled enough to work with night attacks, not only will his crew morale be significantly lowered, but he’ll also be unable to call for reinforcements. This is an effective method for capturing some of the smaller cities without having to worry about sudden surprises.

Another new battle element allows for certain units to swim across rivers. Even though this may not seem like an entirely enticing movement, sometimes crossing a lake is all you need to gain an advantage over your adversaries. On the other hand, rival archers will have a field day as hundreds of defenseless soldiers slowly crawl their way towards the shore, only to be impaled by fiery arrows. A bunch of new battle tactics can also be issued, such as the shield wall. As the name suggests, a shield wall will have your company setup a contiguous line of shields, which is effective to the point of stopping an incoming cavalry rush.

As mentioned previously, selecting a different faction from the start will affect how the rest of the campaign is played. The Huns are a mighty forced to be reckoned with, but still have a tough time facing their Roman adversaries, while the Franks will start off surrounded by enemies, making a clear recipe for disaster. Two new historic battles have also been introduced, showcasing the final battle between the Huns and the Romans, as well as a tactical battle where a general must be rescued from opposing Saxon forces. In short, veteran gamers will feel right at home yet still be open for having a blast, while those fairly new to the series will be in awe by the sheer number of soldiers fighting for their lives.

As most gamers should expect, the production value of Barbarian Invasion is even more impressive than Total War. Visually, seeing a gargantuan army of warriors charging through a mountainous region with swords in one hand and shields in another is astonishing. The cavalry will rush out first, slicing through as many combatants as possible in a bloody catastrophe. The archers, with their blazing arrows, can then launch a raining inferno upon the enemy faction. Lastly, the axe-wielding brutes will engage in hand-to-hand combat in an all out melee battle guaranteed to be filled with blood and gore. The night battles are especially entertaining to watch because the flames seem to glisten brighter beneath the starry sky.

To top of the impressive looks of thousands of raging soldiers, the audio delivery here is also nothing short of incredible. Every individual unit will cry, yelp, and scream to help fully realize the dramatic aural effects of battle. If the rage and pain-laced shouting isn’t enough for you, then the grinding of axes, charging of horses, and soft impact of arrows is sure to bring delight to your ears. In addition, the soundtrack is as strong as ever, consisting of uplifting war beats that will surely get the hopes of your men up. Barbarian Invasion lives up to the standards set down by Rome: Total War, making for a truly enticing experience.

Barbarian Invasion is shaping up to be the perfect expansion pack to Rome: Total War. History fans and strategy buffs alike will easily be able to appreciate the endless campaigning possibilities and the amazingly well conceived production. Fans of the original game should definitely look at purchasing Barbarian Invasion once it’s released, but it will also make for a thoroughly decent experience for those general gamers craving some new challenges.