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Review by: Rob Beschizza
Published: May 29, 2003
When Viking raiders first arrived in the British Isles, they sacked the monastery at Lindisfarne, took away all the gold and killed anything that moved that was not also pregnable. The following summer they found another big church sagging with the weight of its own wealth and history repeated itself. This cycle repeated for the next two or three centuries. That academics twitch at the sight of horned Viking helmets might be more an issue of historical fact than fear, but it’s hard not to get excited by Europe’s original bad boys. So while the horn-featuring box of Creative Assembly’s Medieval: Total War – Viking Invasion expansion pack might cause a wince or two in the scholarly community, few gamers will care. The developers set a high bar with Medieval: Total War, and wargamers have come to expect quality from their stable. Much of the series’ appeal, however, is in its complex battlefield set pieces and epic turn-based strategy: How will the formula fare when paired down to smaller, more brutal skirmishes?
Published by Activision, Viking Invasion turns the clock back to the Dark Ages and features a campaign map set in the British Isles. Handed a new set of factions to command, players get to battle for supremacy in the wake of Rome’s collapse. Beginning in 793 and lasting three centuries, Viking Invasion‘s era was a time of turmoil in Europe that allowed Islamic expansion and the loss of classical learning; Britain was no different. A boiling pot of warlords and chieftains, it was far from being anything approaching a nation. Nonetheless, its rich tin industry and farmland was up for grabs, and everyone wanted a piece – Saxons, Picts, Celts, Welsh and the Vikings themselves. Viking Invasion isn’t limited to the new locales and factions, however, as new units and an updated technology tree flesh out the Dark Age setting. The title also aims to invigorate the “standard” later campaigns with three new playable factions, the Sicilians, Hungarians and Aragonites, new Medieval-era units, and a slew of tweaks to the Total War interface.
Viking Invasion‘s detailed spread of the British Isles, Norway and Denmark is split into about 60 provinces and a dozen seas, an epoch well known to anyone at the receiving end of a British comprehensive school education. Though the Mercian Kings occupy the heartlands of what will one day be known as England, powerful rivals surround them: Saxons occupy the rich southern plains; Welshmen cling to the western reaches, while the lords of Northumbria have the north. While rebellious tribesmen hold on to the southeastern counties, trouble brews in the far north and overseas. Ireland, which never saw a Roman army, is still ruled by Celtic chiefs. A split, however, has led to one tribe, the Scots, occupying both Ireland’s north and the western isles of the land that will eventually bear their name. Their own progress is stunted by the presence of the Picts, who fended off Rome’s legions and aren’t about to budge for any new transgressors. Last of all, the Scandinavian provinces of Denmark and Norway are home to the Vikings. Though born on lands as inclement as they come, the dirt-poor natives are hardy, rough and have designs on a more temperate realm to call home. Masters of the seas, their ships can travel faster and farther than anyone else’s – four oceanic provinces a turn, in fact – and have little difficulty sinking anything else that dares ride the waves.
As primitive as the medieval era might seem to us, the dark ages were moreso. By the time true nations emerged, much of Europe was deforested and developed. Only five hundred years earlier it was as primordial as the fog, not much more than a single immense forest. The Romans were not farmers, and left no agricultural traditions behind in England. Accordingly, before players can even build a farm in Viking Invasion, it takes 16 turns to clear a region’s woodland – a fine example of how Creative Assembly have coded in some new technological challenges for players to face. Also gone are the crossbows, cannons and firearms of later centuries. That’s not to say the eighth century warrior was short on career choices, as Viking Invasion‘s era-specific units range from the woad-painted naked nutcases to mounted noblemen laden with enough armor to show Kataphractoi a thing or two.
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