Rome: Total War Alexander

Rome: Total War goes further back in time with its new real-time strategy expansion, Alexander. As the title suggests, you get the chance to repeat the conquests of the legendary Macedonian conqueror, marching out of Greece and across the Middle East all the way to India. Unlike last year's Barbarian Invasion, this more modest, download-only expansion adds just four factions and a smaller campaign map. But the emphasis on the lifetime of one of history's greatest warriors ties the whole package together.

In our hands-on time with the game, we found that the new campaign limits you to playing as the Macedonians, which is understandable considering that Alex is the star of the show. You start at war with everyone on the map; there is no way to make peace, so there will be no cheap bribery this time around. Keep your king alive throughout the game and you're on the road to victory.

Both battles and campaign present greater challenges than those in the original Rome. The Macedonians are outmanned in almost every battle, often fighting far from where their best reinforcements are drawn. However, that's accurate: the wide range of terrain types means that a phalanx-heavy army will have to supplement itself with lots of mercenaries, just as Alexander did.

Each of the new factions has a distinct character, from the mobile Dahae forces to the brittle but numerous armies of the Persians. New units include Persia's famous Immortals and India's not-so-famous female archers. The Macedonian army has the hammer of heavy cavalry which can be used to pin the enemy on the anvil of the powerful phalanxes. Despite the limited number of new nations, troops are quite varied - and you still get the elephants and scythed chariots that wreaked such havoc on your little army men in the original game.

New multiplayer options include a battle tournament mode, as well as opportunities for unfair beatdowns. In a change from the original game, all six historic battles drawn from Alexander's career can be played against human opponents, even allowing teams of two or three to gang up on a single talented player.