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Rome: Total War Barbarian Invasion review: Rome: Total War Barbarian Invasion

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The Good All new factions and campaign map. Night fighting. Improved AI. More Challenging Roman Campaign.

The Bad Higher hardware requirements than predecessor. No improvements to naval combat.

The Bottom Line Rome: Total War Barbarian Invasion does a good job of extending the timeline and playability of R:TW, and gives the game a second lease on life.

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Rome: Total War (R:TW) saw players take a burgeoning Italian province to imperial glory. Now it's time to undo what has been done. In the Barbarian Invasion (BI) expansion pack, it is 363AD and the Roman world has split into Eastern and Western Roman Empires. The former is stable, wealthy and powerful, while the latter is rebellious, stricken and ripe for the taking.

Barbarians hordes are rampant across Northern Europe and would love nothing more than a good sacking of Rome or Constantinople on their way to finding a new homeland. The Rome: Total War Barbarian Invasions expansion pack is more than just an extension of the R:TW timeline -- it is a significant change from the original with new features including more than 100 new units, new campaign maps, individual faction victory conditions, new unit formations, 10 new playable factions, rebellions, city sackings, night battles, general recruitment and most importantly, barbarian hordes.

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In the original R:TW, turns at the start of the game could fly by rather quickly when one plays a small empire with a merger income and no enemies -- BI changes all that. The most immediate thing noticable upon starting a campaign is that the Huns and Vandals are on the move! Wherever you may be in the world, it is going to have an impact. Your decisions at the start are going to set you on a course for victory or ultimate defeat.

Victory conditions in BI have changed from the original. Each faction now has a specific number of provinces to hold plus a handful of provinces that they must take to reach victory. Because this will usually involve Rome and/or Constantinople, it is not possible to sit back as a Roman player and let the minor factions fight it out while you pick up the scraps - the world wants your wealth and you know that they are coming!

Adding to this situation is that when a Germanic or Steppe derived faction lose their last settlement, instead of being removed from the game, they pack up all their belongings and hit the road. Suddenly, a small bankrupt empire has become a large mass of people on the move that are looking for a place to settle -- they can move freely across Europe giving any city that resists them a good walloping!

Any people on the move that takes a city have a new option of what to do with their newly won land - namely, sacking. This involves putting the vast majority of the population to the sword and taking as much loot as one can carry before moving on and leaving the town to local rebels that fill the power vacuum created. If an army that sacks has any mercenaries with it, though, they will take a disproportionate part of the loot for themselves. Sacking allows a horde to create a trail of destruction in their wake and remove the heart of another empire without the trouble of trying to maintain these lands while they move onto more profitable areas.

A new attribute for family members and Generals is loyalty. When a rebellion occurs, some of the ruling elite may join forces with new rebels, taking their settlements and armies with them. A General with a large army and low loyalty may decide that he would make a better ruler than you, so one must be wary when sending out big armies with disloyal Generals.

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Attacking bridges often spelled doom in R:TW as defenders could use the bottleneck of the bridge to their advantage. This problem has been addressed in BI by allowing light units to swim rivers, so while your heavy cavalry still have to go through the bottleneck, that doesn't mean that you cannot outflank your enemy and even things up a little bit.

By far the most striking change to battle mode is the addition of night fighting -- this is the most visually stunning mode of battle yet. As each unit tries to see its way with torches, the amount of fire seen on the field is staggering. Taking Rome by torchlight is truly a lovely spectacle, even if it does weigh down on the hardware compared to R:TW

BI does a good job of extending the timeline and playability of R:TW, as trying to be the Western Empire on the hardest setting is quite a challenge even for seasoned players. Personally, I'm anxiously anticipating the mods that will come from this expansion pack; and in that sense it is less of an expansion pack for R:TW, but a second lease on life of it.

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