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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: May 24, 2000
We’ve all played a multitude of real time strategy games set in different lands, countries, even planets. Within those adventures our armies contained units like human knights, missile launching tanks, flame throwing dragons, mushroom exploding atomic bombs, and bloodlusting orc grunts to aide us in battle. For their last hurrah, now defunct Cavedog Entertainment, has served up an expansion pack to their mildly successful fantasy take on the Total Annihilation series TA: Kingdoms. In Kingdoms: Iron Plague, the medieval fantasy armies of yesteryear have been equipped with a more modern day approach to battle, such as steam powered machines and weaponry. Total Annihilation: Kingdoms introduced us to a number of unusual ideas in real-time strategy, in particular its method of resource management. Gone are the stone, gold, lumber, and food of Age of Empires, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms used only wells of never ending mana. Its offspring, The Iron Plague continues in the same vein. This method of strategic warfare has many in the TA community up in arms, as the departure in gameplay format is substantial from its original progenitor. In fact, the reasoning behind having the Total Annihilation name as a part of these products baffles me, as the two couldn’t be more dissimilar. So for practical matters, I’ll no longer make reference to the TA franchise, as I want to do everything I can to preserve its good name.
For those that didn’t finish Kingdoms, The Iron Plague picks up at the conclusion of the Great War, with the world of Darien beginning to rebuild its peace and prosperity. The four children of Garacaius — Elsin, Thirsha, Lokken, and Kirenna each have a continent to control and people to lead. These immortal beings seemed to have forgotten about their father Garacaius, former Mage Emperor of all Darien. In the course of the Great War he disappeared by choice. Relinquishing immortality to live one last “real” life he set out in a small boat for uncharted lands. What he found was the land and people of Creon. With his vast knowledge he set the foundation for a new civilization, one with values very different than those of Aramon, Zhon, Taros or Veruna. Instead of gathering mana with a lodestone and placing a high value on it for its magical abilities, Creonites see mana as a natural resource. They gather it with a mana refinery and use it to build and advance their civilization with science and reason taking the place of arcane magic. Following Garacaius’ death the Creonites continued to make advancements in science and technology.
I can’t imagine many folks playing Iron Plague completing Kingdoms first, but even so finishing the original is not required. Still, to completely understand the turn of events in The Iron Plague one needs to know the chronological timeline leading up to the add-on’s beginnings. Near the end of the Great War the Creon civilization was discovered and the use of Creon gunpowder helped to bring the war to an end. However this new land, its resources, advanced knowledge, units and history instead of uniting the four monarchs and their continents only served to reignite their designs on world control and domination. Having played a role in ending the war, Creon is now involved in the newest battle for total control of Darien. In the quest for global dominance the land of Creon incorporates units the other races have never encountered in battle or even seen. They control submarines, mechanical dragons, iron clad ships outfitted with cannons, and steam powered tanks to name a few. In addition they make use of people in unheard of ways as in the automaton. An automaton is a soldier who died in battle before his tour was complete. His body is then reanimated and combined with a machine making something almost borg-like so he can complete his tour. In short, all Creonite units make use of machinery in one way or another in direct contrast with the units of Aramon, Veruna, Zhon, or Taros. Also, the forces of Creon are much more powerful than their opponents as they have ranged attacks. The one and only advantage the other races have is to hurriedly attack the Creonites before they can build up any sizeable forces.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessor Iron Plague offers players three game styles — play the machine, play an opponent, or play the adventure. Playing the machine gives you an excellent opportunity to learn the idiosyncrasies of each race before playing other people. The adventure portion is 25 missions in length and tells the story of the struggle for global domination. In addition to the 25 new missions Iron Plague sports 25 new maps for multiplayer displaying the terrain of Creon. Also included are the Darien Crusades, an online game playable on the Boneyards. Elements of the storyline are crafted into the gameplay, such as with the Ghost of Garacaius, which can be summoned by the Creon’s Sage and Chief Engineer. Garacaius’ ghost is one of the most powerful units in Iron Plague and takes a lot of mana to summon. If through your patience and long suffering you manage to summon Garacaius, the destruction he metes out is unstoppable and will be well worth your time and effort. Most people however will never reach this point having defeated the enemy before Garacaius could ever be summoned.
Other than the additions mentioned above, such as the new race, their new units and special abilities, there’s not a lot offered with Iron Plague. It closely mimics the gameplay and style of progression that its forefather established. Despite all the additions made to Iron Plague I couldn’t help but think that Cavedog would have been better served developing something entirely new, or at the very least true to Total Annihilation. But considering how things played out, with the demise of the company and all, it’s amazing they managed to offer what they did. Iron Plague is an interesting, albeit a little trite, add-on to a quirky game. If Kingdoms was your thing, you might want to search for this in your software store’s bargain bin.
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