Medieval: Total War - Viking Invasion
Take a step back in time and prepare for the invasion of Brittania!
In the same tradition of Shogun: Total War, the expansion pack for Medieval: Total War has been released with the historical period pertaining to the invasion of an outside force (for Shogun the expansion was Shogun: Total War - Mongol Invasion). The expansion is actually more of a mod pack than anything, but it does bring a new map, new races to choose from and some improvements for the original game.
There's not much to talk about with the graphics, as they are the same engine as the original, with no modifications. Graphics are precisely the same, and not even the opening FMV has changed. Similarly, sound remains unmodified, and by these two factors there is no distinguishing factor between the original and the expansion; so if you are looking for an update her, you're looking in the wrong place, you'll have to wait for Rome: Total War.
With gameplay, however, there are many changes. To begin with, not only are King's susceptible to age now, but your entire army. It is now no longer possible to take one general, raise his command, dread and loyalty to full, laden him with titles and then preserve him for the entire 400 year medieval period, as it is doubtful he will dodge the Grim Reaper more than thirty or forty years. Princes can also die of age now, and can be struck by sickness and die at an early age. Thus, the royal line is far from assured now, and this forces the player to think very, very carefully about sending the King and his heirs into battle. This adds to the realism greatly, as in the original game so long as the King and one heir, or two heirs, remained safe at home, all others could be sent out to war. This was not a safe practice in history, and now it is not a safe practice in Medieval.
Your King has not changed, and neither have battle scenes. However, the pre-battle window that appears with the four options to command the attack personally, automatically resolve, abandon the province or retreat to the castle, has changed vastly. It is now a large window that dominates a good portion of your screen space, and for good reason. Firstly, it shows you a small window with a panning view of the battlefield, which gives you the oppurtunity to see that you are attacking highlands or required to cross a river, and decide its best not to attack. Secondly, it clearly displays the factions involved with a picture and the name of each general of the respective armies, and a faction insignia. Thus, there is no confusion as to who is attacking who, and one can also identify the enemy general and decide that his ability is too great. Finally, and perhaps the most useful aspect, your forces are now clearly displayed, and if you have spies/priests/emissaries in the province, so are your enemies, and it is therefore possible to easily compare the types of units involved, not just the numerical statistics.
The original twelve factions are back for the original game, but there are another three factions added. In the original game, the Aragonese, Sicilians and Hungarians were all computer-only factions, but are now available for play, adding a bit more replay value for the original game. There is, however, a completely new map with eight completely new factions. This is set in the Dark Ages, starting at A.D. 800, and available for play are the Irish, Scots, Picts, Welsh, Mercians, Northumbrians, Saxons and the Vikings. As the period is pre-medieval, technology reflects this, and the tech tree for this map is completely different to the original. The Vikings add a very different type of gameplay, as they have quite unique abilities. Firstly, they start of with a very large fleet that can easily cover the entire sea; secondly they don't require ports to cross the sea, thus it is terribly easy to raid the entire map; and finally, when the Vikings raid a province, every building they destroy earns them "pillage" money.
The new map itself is essentially an enlarged map of Brittania and the very most western edge of the Norselands. It is much, much smaller than the original map, but is far more challenging. Such a small area is hotly contested by seven British factions, and as they war to unite Brittania beneath their faction, they all must contend with constant Viking raids that destroy their buildings and steal their money. Also, it is a long time before any British factions can produce ships that can sail in the open sea away from coasts, and the Vikings start the game with such vessels. Therefore, the Viking raids will not be stopped until very late in the game.
Both the new map and the originally map are essentially identical in game mechanics to the original game, apart from the aforementioned changes. In the new map, there is an entire new technology tree with no units the same as the original (even units with the same name are graphically and mechanically different). In the old map, however, there are new unique units for the new factions, new province-specific units, and some new units available to certain races (i.e., not unique to one race, but not available to all races). Rebels are also a greater challenge in the old map, as they have some unique units of their own that are quite effective, and there are even some very deadly rebel generals, such as the infamous El Cid, that can either be defeated, or bribed to join your side (but remember, they are not immortal from age either).
Overall, Medieval: Total War - Viking Invasion is a worthy addition to the original game. It adds a new game type that is quite interesting and challenging, if a little short; and it adds enough to the original game to add some more replay value. If you are a long time player of Medieval, and are sick to death of the original game, this might not be enough to revive it. For those who are not so tired of it, or have not been playing the game for long, I definently reccommend this game to you.