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Medieval Total War: Viking Invasion Review
game: Medieval Total War: Viking Invasion
three star
posted by: Chris Galbraith
publisher: Activision
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Jul 20th, 2003
last revision: 07:13 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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Viking Invasion is a solid effort by the people at Activision and Creative Assembly to extend the enjoyment and playability of the excellent Medieval Total War strategy game. While not breaking too much new ground, this game does an excellent job of making you want to revisit an old game that you may have grown tired of in the past. It offers a decent amount of new content, new challenges, and new strategies. You may think at first that this game feels like more of the same thing, but if you let yourself play in the spirit of the times (and who hasn\'t wanted to be a Viking?), then you will find that there is re-playability in an older title.

First up, a quick rundown of the new features in Viking Invasion: There are 29 new units, eight playable factions for the Viking campaign, a new technology tree for Viking campaign, three new factions for the original game (Aragonese, Hungarians, Sicilians), and three new siege weapons (flaming catapult, boiling oil, organ gun). That\'s a good chunk of new stuff to play with.

The game is still split into the same two main components: the overhead strategy map, and the 3D battle sequences. All unit movements and building take place on the map. A helpful new addition to the game is a pre-battle screen that lets you view your troops and your enemies, as well as a 3D flyover of the terrain (this was less useful) before you go into a campaign. From this screen, a player can organize his reinforcements as well as view his adversary\'s. You can always choose to have the battles be determined by the computer, which I often do, as I find the strategy portion of the game to be more fun than the battles. This is a wonderful and necessary improvement over the original game\'s tiny grey screen which showed some of this same info, but in a cluttered and unreadable manner. This new screen also adds the ability to quick save and quick load without having to hit escape. Nice touch.

The most exciting element of the expansion is of course the ability to play as the marauding Viking hordes. While the Vikings are only available in one era of the game (called the Viking Era, easily enough), they offer a new set of challenges to a player who may have grown complacent in their strategies for playing this game.

When playing the Viking era, players familiar with the original game will notice that the map is no longer the large European/Asian/North African world map, but now a zoomed in map of the British Isles. While this sounds like a condensation of the game, it really isn\'t as the British Isles are carved up into numerous territories and the 8 factions are at each other\'s throats from the beginning. The map feels big and there is a lot of land to conquer.

I had not played Medieval Total War in quite some time, and I initially tried to utilize my old tactics from the original game while playing as the Vikings?this was a mistake. The Vikings (and the era as a whole) offers a whole new set of challenges. The production of income and the development of technology are a lot different in the Viking era than in the middle ages. Players will notice that unit production is also a bit different from the original game. When playing for the first time, it is a good idea to right click on the buildings and units you want to construct in the queue to get a brief description about their benefits and upkeep, as well as to know what buildings produce which units. Your economic strategies will also have to be modified to account for the unbearably slow upgrades to farmlands that happen in this time period.

I attempted my old strategy of massive military buildup followed by massive attacks of overwhelming might on my neighbors. This worked well for a few turns, but pretty soon I was running out of money. I realized that I needed to play more in the spirit of a Viking ? raids, raids, raids! This is where true enjoyment began for me in this game. The Vikings, historically, were never too interested in gaining territory, but rather in accumulating wealth. So I started a hit and run campaign?bingo. The game moved from being something that was entertaining, but not compelling, to something that was much more fun and a different experience (somewhat) from the original. Soon I was cutting a swath of terror and avarice through the English countryside. Ah the joy. Another thing that I noticed while playing this were the constant updates to the personalities of my generals and rulers. Generals also die of old age now. While it was unfortunate to lose an excellent general, it adds another aspect of realism to the game.

There are a few negatives to the game, however. Other than the addition of the Viking era (which is fairly substantial), there are no real additions to the original game. There are three new factions and a smattering of new units (I never got to the point where I could use the Organ Gun, which has its own section in the manual). There is still the problem with poor frame rates during battle sequences that have lots of units. I don\'t have the most stellar video card on my rig, but it should be able to keep the frame rate up when the only thing being shown are a few hundred sprites with minimal movements. And yes, the units in the battles are still the little cookie cutter soldiers who all move and attack in the same robotic fashion (however, I believe that the next installment of Total War, in Roman times, will move away from sprites and towards real 3D characters). When you install the game for the first time, it warns you about being unable to play your old saved games from the original. I didn\'t know quite what to make of this as the old games still load ? I am guessing that it means that old saved games will not be updated to utilize the new features of the expansion. This is unfortunate, but not too important.

Viking Invasion is a solid, if not a stellar, expansion to Medieval Total War. Fans of the first game will enjoy this, but may not want to spend the $30 dollars or so that it costs. The Viking campaign is a lot of fun to play, but the absence of any real modifications of the original game can be viewed as disappointing. Overall, it is fun and adds new dimensions to an already good game.