Medieval II: Total War - Kingdoms - game review

Date: 2007-09-21 10:59:00
The review was based on the PC version.

Making additions to your strategy seems to come down to a fairly simple matter. Throwing in some new troops, a few new sides of the conflict, new maps and off we go. Since the days of Shogun: Total War, Creative Assembly has not tried to be original in this respect. Extras: Mongol Invasion , Viking Invasion , Barbarian Invasion or even the controversial Alexander adhered to this principle - which did not prevent them from receiving decent reviews and enjoying a good reputation among players.

The last, recently released expansion pack to Medieval II - The Kingdom was created with the same philosophy - only this time CA outdid itself. We got not one, but four very complex campaigns, each of which works like a standalone, fully developed game. In each of them we have new units, sides of the conflict, maps and, what's happening, several unique rules of the game.

Although after a few hours it turns out that there are not as many new products as the advertising slogans claim (e.g. many branches appearing in the expansion are basically identical to those from the basic game), it cannot be ignored that we are dealing with the largest and probably the best addition to date in the entire Total War franchise.

The first campaign of Crusades takes us to the realities of the 12th-century Middle East, where the Christian states created by the Crusaders tried to survive, surrounded by hostile Muslim neighbors who wanted to push the dissenters out of the Holy Land at all costs.

On the one hand, we have the Kingdom of Antioch with sensational heavy infantry and excellent Western cavalry, and the allied Kingdom of Jerusalem, whose knighthood no other nation can cope with. On the other hand, we have Egypt, which, having a very convenient location, has cavalry not much inferior to Christian monarchs, and Turkey, whose horse archers and heavy infantry (Janissaries!) Make it a deadly opponent. Everything is watched from the side by the mighty Byzantine Empire, waiting to strike at the pagans and Latin men weakened by mutual struggles.

From the first turn, we get a very dynamic battlefield and we are in the middle of the action right away, without wasting time on building the foundations of our empire. The smaller than the standard map and the greater mobility of the troops mean that clashes between armies take place faster, and the system of events and scripts, much more extensive than the one known from the Great Campaign, ensures that a lot will happen.

Of all the campaigns, I think I like the most. In addition to the new units, we also got a hero unique for each side. Each of them appears in the game at some point in time and, in addition to leading a strong army, gives us one, but potentially very strong, ability. For example, the Kingdom of Jerusalem has Richard the Lionheart, who can gather all the troops escaping from the battlefield once per battle, and on the Byzantine side we have Manuel Kommen, who can lead to a sudden conflict among enemy troops and make them, instead of maintaining formation, against collision with our army, they will fall at each other's throats.

The second campaign is about a war in which power in the British Isles is at stake. Five factions enter the game: the powerful, but internally unstable, Kingdom of England with a huge territorial advantage at the beginning; small, but territorially compact Wales with its amazing archers; great infantry but no meaningful cavalry Scotland; the descendants of the Vikings (Norway) with several enclaves in the Islands and Ireland close to the loss of independence by England.

Each side has a completely different military and geopolitical situation. On the one hand, small Wales, which has a compact territory, but painfully lacking heavy troops, on the other hand, a giant on clay legs, England, or Ireland fighting for survival - each of the five nations must use a completely different strategy of action. For weaker military kingdoms, techniques that are less important in the Great Campaign are of particular importance - diplomacy or assassinations, which will allow them to neutralize the advantage of stronger opponents.

In addition, the British campaign introduces stone forts, which, located in strategic places of the Isles, provide a lot of opportunities for resourceful commanders. The second interesting and unique mechanism for this campaign is the influence of culture, which works just like the religion known from other campaigns and the basic version of the game. The difference, however, is that the influence of a foreign culture, apart from the obvious disadvantages (social unrest), has one quite interesting advantage - it gives us the opportunity to build some of the enemy troops. On the other hand, this mechanism means that it will take a long time for the cities we conquered to achieve the possibility of producing our strongest units (requiring a clear domination of our culture). It hampers expansion and makes our core territories all the more valuable.

The third campaign revolves around the conflict for domination over the lands surrounding the Baltic Sea, where the main heroes are pagan Lithuania and the Teutonic Order seeking to Christianize it (read conquest). There are other countries in the background - Denmark, the Republic of Nowogrodzka, Poland and the Holy Empire of the German Nation.

Both key factions for this campaign are certainly the most interesting. Playing as the Order, we have the most powerful units in the game - heavy armor, discipline, and excellent weapons make the Teutonic forces a powerful war machine. On the other hand, the Teutonic Knights have a problem with money all the time - they have limited opportunities to use cities, and their troops are very expensive. Additionally, one has to take into account the situation that we will be waging a war not only with Lithuania but also with other neighbors - and at the same time.

The other side of the conflict - the Lithuanians - have a few unique pagan units, which in their offensive power are not much inferior to the Teutonic troops, but have much worse armor. Additionally, at some point it will be inevitable to decide whether we stay with paganism and our super troops, or decide to convert to Christianity, thanks to which we will gain access to heavier armored troops and become part of Europe.

The other nations are more or less similar to what we know from the Great Campaign - although the specific situation for this scenario makes them play a bit differently.

The last campaign is to conquer America. Anyone who felt unsatisfied after the too easy war with the Aztecs in the basic version of the game will have the opportunity to try their hand at a situation when the natives have an overwhelming numerical advantage (at least for a while). People looking for new experiences, both the Mayans and the Aztecs, will allow them to play with completely different armies than those on our side of the ocean. However, the most interesting experience is offered by the game Apache - lightly armored warriors, most of them equipped with long-range weapons.

This campaign is certainly the most original. Even the game of New Spain, which has mostly troops known from the Great Campaign, is clearly different from what we know from the regular game, due to the need to gain Prestige from our European rulers, which will very clearly affect our development opportunities. Playing with native factions is a completely new experience and it cannot be hidden - quite difficult. While we have very good infantry at our disposal, our most serious weakness is the lack of cavalry and very limited possibilities of stopping the conquistadors' charge, who are the most powerful cavalry in the game. In addition, there is also firearms, which, playing the great American civilizations, we will only see in the hands of our enemies.

We have an even more interesting situation with the Apaches - unlike the other nations, they will change during the game by taking over some of the enemy's technology - including the two most important ones - firearms and cavalry. Of course, regardless of the changes that the Apache hordes will undergo, they will be lightly armored, very mobile units, whose combat technique will be the opposite of what the European invaders present.

The new campaigns are by definition much more limited than the grand, epic gameplay offered by the base game. On the one hand, I regret the scale of the struggle proposed by the Great Campaign, but on the other hand, we get a much more concentrated dose of Total War. Each of the scenarios guarantees that a lot will happen from the first round - the enemies are closer, and the smaller scale of the maps means that we do not wait 10 years before the armies reach the front lines.

The smaller scale also means greater historicity and a more visible background to our struggles. Superbly selected new music (each campaign has its own!), New films and random events build a much stronger impression of participating in a real conflict, and not in a more or less abstract war. When we besiege Malbork at the head of the Polish army, when we are leading the army of the Crusaders, rejecting the forces of Islam from the gates of Jerusalem, or when we smash the forces of the English with the Scottish army, led by William Wallace, we have the impression that we are participating in conflicts that have taken place in history. The same impression was much more difficult in the Great Campaign, where after 50 turns, Europe was nothing like what we know from history lessons.

There are also many smaller and larger improvements to the entire gameplay in the game - such as the ability to pour boiling oil on enemies storming the gates or the useful ability to slow down time during battles (up to 10 times).

Unfortunately, while both the number and quality of new gameplay elements cannot be objected to, Kingdoms are not without a number of quite annoying flaws.

First of all, the biggest problem of the series, i.e. the relatively weak AI, still cannot cope with many situations in which an aggressive player will put it - which is especially visible during sieges. This is a defect that the base game had, and it was bad that Creative Assembly did not do anything to improve the situation. It looks a bit better in the case of a game on a strategic map, where in my opinion the computer is doing better than before, although it is still far from ideal.

Secondly, some changes introduced to the rules of the game - reducing the role of armor and increasing the importance of the shield (which is particularly painful for units using two-handed weapons) or weakening the cavalry, are debatable. The explanations of the creators that this is to improve the quality of the game by increasing the importance of the mutual position of different units, are not entirely convincing.

Third, by giving players new and very interesting CA campaigns, it left the Grand Campaign completely aside, which could take advantage of many of the changes introduced in the expansion. There is a Retrofit mod available on the web that does something very similar. Interestingly, its author is one of the Creative Assembly employees. Could it be an unofficial patch?

Fourth, the possibility of controlling the reinforcements that join our main forces during the battle, which is to appear in the addition, is in fact reduced to one of three settings that we can choose for the AI in charge of them. And it would be enough to use a solution known, for example, from Viking Invasion, which allowed for single insertion of units according to the previously selected order.

None of the above drawbacks take away the fun that this add-on undoubtedly gives - unfortunately all of them together mean that the great potential of this expansion has not been fully used.

Łukasz "Gajos" Gajewski