Age II: The Conquerors - The Huns Showcase

We relaunch our biweekly Age of Empires II civilization showcase with a look at the Huns, one of the five new civilizations in this add-on.

The Huns Showcase

The Conquerors are coming. Age II, one of the most successful strategy games of last year, is getting an expansion pack called the Conquerors, and it introduces new terrain, new technologies and units, new campaigns, and new civilizations. As the great balance and breadth of civilizations in Age II was the best feature of the original game, the new cultures are really the selling point for the expansion. Last year, we ran a 13 episode showcase of the civilizations of Age of Empires II here at GameSpot, and now we are resuming that civilization showcase as we take a look at the five new civilizations in The Conquerors. Kicking off the showcase are the Huns, that famous tribe of ravenous barbarians who helped topple the Roman Empire.

Although the Huns historically did not last past the 5th century, they were a major force that led to the Dark Ages of Europe. Indeed, the timeline in The Conquerors remains the same as that in Age II, which is roughly from the 5th century to the 15th century, give or take a hundred years. So the Huns exist in the very beginning of the game's timeline. As an organized civilization, the Huns existed thanks to unifying efforts of that most famous of Huns, Attila.

The Huns share much in common with another famous tribe of conquerors featured in Age of Empires II and who also united two continents to create the largest empire in human history: the Mongols. Like these central-Asian tribes, the Huns hailed from the regions surrounding Mongolia. In the third century, these horsemen - adept at mounted warfare with bow and spear - crossed the Asian steppes westward. Although it is arguable whether this migration was intended initially as a means of conquest, the Huns nevertheless ended up displacing all the peoples in their path, driving them westward, eventually leading to mass immigrations into Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire also felt the undue weight of these overwhelming numbers of people who were fleeing the encroachment of the Huns.

Of the incredible mounted prowess of the Huns, the designers at Ensemble have this to say:

"The Huns were superb horsemen, trained from childhood, and some believe they invented the stirrup, critical for increasing the fighting power of a mounted man charging with a couched lance. They inspired terror in enemies due to the speed at which they could move, changing ponies several times a day to maintain their advance. A second advantage was their recurved composite bow, far superior to anything used in the West. Standing in their stirrups, they could fire forward, to the sides, and to the rear. Their tactics featured surprise, lightning attacks, and the ensuing terror. They were an army of light cavalry and their political structure required a strong leader to hold them to a purpose."

The Huns: More History

While the original peoples of their conquered lands fled west, the Huns decided to settle in the fertile plains of what is now Hungary, in Eastern Europe. They based their newfound empire in Szeged on the Tisza River. As dependent as they were on their horses, and also to support their livestock, the Huns needed vast tracts of grasslands. The Hungarian plains were thus perfect for settlement. Thanks to their conquests, the Huns eventually controlled an empire that stretched from the Ural Mountains in Russia to the Rhone River in France.

This vast empire was achieved largely through the will of one man: Attila the Hun. In 433, he assumed leadership of the Huns and led them on a number of raids into Russia and Persia, earning a healthy amount of respect and fear from the Western world he was aiming to conquer. In addition to his forays to those two lands, Attila also pressed into the Balkans.

In 450, he turned his armies west, crossing the Rhine into the Western Roman Empire with a force of 100,000 men. So great was this army that it's front stretched for 100 miles. The territories and towns in his path, in what is today modern France, were helpless before this onslaught, and were summarily sacked. To meet this seemingly unstoppable horde, the Romans marshalled their general Aetius, who raised a Gallo-Roman army and met Attila in the city of Orleans. As the battle moved to Chalons, Aetius dealt Attila a resounding defeat, and preserved Western civilization from absolute conquest at the hands of the Huns. However, the great Hun leader Attila was not yet finished.

Thwarted in Gaul, Attila moved into Italy, forcing the people there to flee before his might. According to legend, the city of Venice was founded by a large group of refugees who were escaping the Huns. Although the Huns were now attacking away from the bulk of the Roman army, which was still in Gaul, the Huns, wounded as they were in Chalons, could not maintain their pace of conquest. Unable to press forward, Attila negotiated peace with Pope Leo I, and the Huns withdrew from Italy.

Shortly thereafter, Attila the Hun would die. Without his resolve to hold the Hun empire together, it began to fracture. By 453, the empire he had built fell into disarray, and the native peoples the Huns had conquered rose up against their Asian masters. Ironically, the Huns themselves were subsumed by another wave of conquerers, the Avars, and disappeared.

The Huns: Gameplay

So why did Ensemble pick the Huns to appear in this expansion, when clearly the Huns as a civilization were just about gone when the game's timeline begins? Designer Greg Street says, "Name the most famous conqueror from the medieval time period not already covered in Age of Kings. Is there really any other answer but Attila the Hun? Even if you don't know anything else about the Huns, you have probably heard of Attila and [know he is] one bad hombre. That is exactly the feeling we want you to have when you [play] the new Attila the Hun campaign and prepare for some riding and razing."

Street also deals with the historical accuracy of including the Huns:

"Although the Huns dealt mostly with the Roman Empire, this was not the Rome of the movie Gladiator, or even the Age of Empires expansion. The Western Roman Empire was starting to crumble, and indeed the capital had been moved to Ravenna some years earlier. The Huns had more interaction with the Eastern Roman Empire, which is alive and well in the Age of Kings' timeframe as the Byzantines.

"Barbarian raids, whether they were Viking, Celt, Goth, Anglo Saxon, Magyar or Tartar, were a fact of life in medieval Europe and Asia. Although Age of Kings' has a decent infantry raider in the Goths, and an archer raider in the Mongols, we felt there was a niche for a cavalry raider - a heavy cavalry [unit] that can absorb damage as well as dish it out."

So what are the gameplay bonuses of this most famous of raider civilizations? Many of their bonuses and abilities are designed to promote raiding and quick strikes. In fact, the Huns have one enormous bonus that is a huge economic boon. The Huns do not need to build houses! Although they start with 100 less wood, they never have to worry about building houses to accommodate a larger population. Says Street, "Start a 150 pop cap game, and your indicator will say "4/150.'" The Huns can thus use the wood that others spend on houses for building barracks and farms and rushing to the next ages. A Hun player can race to the Castle Age fairly quickly thanks to this bonus.

On the flip side, though, in the late game, this bonus is no longer a true advantage. When everyone else has all their houses built, the Huns have no other economic advantage. So while Celts are able to gather more wood and Chinese can have more food, the Huns have to pay full price for their units, and in the Imperial Age, when many other civilizations buy their units at discount rates, that is a disadvantage.

What about the other bonuses? They might not be as immediately favorable, but they are every bit as beneficial.

The Huns: Bonuses and Unique Unit

In addition to not having to build houses, which enables the Huns to field quick armies and villagers like no one else, they also have bonuses for building cavalry archers and bonuses to their siege machines.

The Hun cavalry archers cost 25 percent less in the Castle Age and 30 percent less in the Imperial Age. Greg Street says, "If you played a lot of Age of Kings, you probably aren't very scared of cavalry archers. Just wait until you get a hold of The Conquerors expansion. Cavalry archers benefit from three new technologies: Bloodlines (improved cavalry archer hitpoints), Thumb Ring (improves archer accuracy and rate of fire), and Parthian Tactics (improves cavalry archer armor)." With these newfound abilities, and their cheapness, cavalry archers will be a strong complement to a Hun army.

The trebuchet, that incredible razing machine, is also improved under the leadership of the Huns. While trebuchets normally only hit 15 percent of the time, the Hun trebuchets are 30 percent more accurate. While the accuracy is still less than 50 percent, it is still much better than the trebuchet accuracy of other civilizations. Against buildings, which have a large surface area, a low accuracy still records a hit since the trebuchet ammo hits the sides of the building. However, trebuchets are terrible at hitting moving units. But the Hun trebuchets are more accurate against units and also win out against other trebuchets. They also take down buildings a little faster than the trebuchets of other civs.

As for the final unique bonus of the Huns, it is, of course, their unique unit - the Tarkan. The Tarkan is a heavy cavalry raider, with low armor but high piercing armor, meaning they can withstand fire from such units as the Chinese chukonu or the English longbowman. They can also stand up to arrow barrages from castles or town centers, much as Goth huskarls can. As a raider unit, the Tarkan also has a bonus against buildings. Ensemble says that under ideal conditions, eight paladins, the ultimate cavalry unit, cannot take down a castle. But eight elite Tarkans can accomplish such a feat and still have half their numbers standing. So while the paladin is stronger in a one on one fight, it cannot possibly match the Tarkan's ability to damage buildings, making the Tarkan an excellent hit and run unit when it comes to attacking towns.

Says Street, "Large groups of Tarkans have an Elephant-like ability to leave a town in flames." As for the etymology of the word Tarkan, Street suggest, "'Tarkan' is a word, probably of Mongolian origin, which means 'hero.' Since even today the six people in the world who understand Hunnic linguistics can't agree on what language they spoke, Mongolian is as close to true 'Hunnic' as we are likely to get."

The Huns: Playing For and Against

The Huns obviously are geared towards rapid military conquest. With their incredible independence from houses, Huns are freed up to harvest more resources for units and military buildings in the early game. In addition, Huns can always relocate with much less effort than can other civilizations, since Huns do not have to worry about hitting a population cap while starting anew.

One big technology that the Huns get is Atheism, a new religious advance that makes it harder for others to win a Wonder or Relic victory. It also makes the Spies/Treason advance cost half as much as normal. In the former case, if another player builds a Wonder, instead of the usual countdown to victory, you'll get a message that says: "Huns scoff at your puny accomplishments! Wonder and Relic victories now take longer!" It is a wonderful balance and gives raider civs like the Huns more time to crack the defenses of those who build wonders.

The strength of the Huns, of course, lies in their Tarkans and ability to field large armies quickly. A combination of paladins and Tarkans is deadly, and with the added support of cheap cavalry archers (as cheap as foot archers for the Huns), makes for a very tough force to overcome.

As with the other raider civs (Mongols, Vikings, and Goths), the Huns are weaker in the Imperial Age, when a lack of gunpowder and a lack of economic bonuses come back to haunt them. Huns also lack strong siege capabilities, aside from their trebuchet bonus. Bereft of late game economic advances, like crop rotation, and military technology, like the last armor upgrade, the Huns really do come off as a civilization that cannot wait till later to mount their attacks. They also lack good monks or naval capabilities.

While the weaknesses of the Huns are great, they have such obvious strength that they can often overwhelm the opponent with a minimum of subterfuge and deception.

Playing against the Huns requires good defenses, lots of pikemen and halbediers, and preparation. Because the Huns are funneled to a certain type of gameplay due to their bonuses and lack of certain units and technology, you have a good idea of how they will play. However, despite such knowledge, the Huns just might very well be too much for you to handle. The Western world knew of the Huns, but could do little to stop them. And so it could be for this first conquering tribe of the Age II expansion pack.

For more information on Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, you can visit Ensemble Studios or Microsoft Games.

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