You conquered the world in the real-time strategy masterwork Rome: Total War, but can you hold onto it? The Barbarian Invasion expansion puts you in the hot seat as the leader of your faction during the apogee of Rome's power, as the Roman Empire begins to fade and barbarian hordes invade. You'll conquer land during the tumultuous rise of Christianity and decline of Paganism. If you side with the Romans, the odds are stacked against you; pressure from all sides makes it nearly impossible to keep your borders. Enormous roaming tribes from the east flood over the frontier and eventually threaten even Rome.
The combination of intricate turn-based strategy blended with an award-winning battlefield engine places the Total War series at the top of the genre. Fans of the franchise will immediately grasp the familiar real-time strategic gameplay and dig right into Barbarian Invasion. New factions and unit types give a completely different tactical outlook and fresh challenges; but nothing significantly changes the way that things operate on the battlefield.
More of an already good thing makes this a worthwhile sequel. The battlefield engine is still the centerpiece of the game, and remains a masterpiece of RTS gaming. You'll pitch epic battles that are bigger than ever, even nighttime battles are now possible; bloody spectacles that involve literally thousands of individual units. While your armies fight effectively against equally matched forces, winning against the giant hordes means carefully directing your troops to feint, flank and charge their way to victory.
As you might have guessed, the most significant change in the expansion is the presence of the roaming barbarians. Those hordes will storm through your territory with enormous armies that will easily overwhelm even the most powerful defenses. If you recapture a city that had been taken by barbarians, a new horde will spring up as they become displaced once again, threatening new areas.
Novice players should take up arms as one of the barbarian hordes first. Hordes have no settlements or politics to worry about; just loot and pillage your way across Europe in an ancient preview of Hitler's world tour.
But attempting the single-player campaign mode as the Roman Empire, especially the West, will present the greatest challenge to experienced players. Settlements are in revolt, supply lines are long and upkeep costs are high for a decaying army stretched thin across the frontier. Even the most expert players will feel embattled and back on their heels for many turns. You can turn it around, but the odds are nearly insurmountable. Can you change history? If you liked the original Rome: Total War - it's worth finding out.