Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms may very well be one of the largest expansion packs ever made. Keep in mind that last year's Medieval II: Total War was already an epic-sized game that gave you strategic and tactical command over one of a dozen medieval kingdoms. There are cities and castles to manage, armies to raise, agents to dispatch on missions, and more. We knew that Kingdoms would add quite a bit of content, but when we loaded up a work-in-progress version of the expansion, we were surprised at just how much new stuff is in it.
Basically, Kingdoms feels like the equivalent of four expansion packs. That's because it features four all-new campaigns. The Britannia campaign lets you battle for control of the British Isles as England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, or Norway. The Crusades campaign features the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, the Byzantine Empire, Egypt, and the Turks, all battling for possession of the Holy Lands. The Teutonic campaign is based on the conflict between Lithuania and the Teutonic Order, a crusading army of knights, but you can also play as Denmark and Novgorod in this campaign. Finally, there's the Americas campaign, which is about the Spanish conquest of the New World; you can play as Spain, the Aztec, the Mayans, or the Apachean Tribes.
The focus in Kingdoms seems to be entirely on these four new campaigns. There don't seem to be any major or even minor additions to Medieval II's original campaign, and because the new factions introduced in the expansion are specific to their settings and eras, they don't appear in the original campaign. Each Kingdoms campaign has its own shortcut and executable, so each is in essence a separate program. They make extensive modifications to the maps and units, so each is unique, from the custom music and movies to the historical quotes on loading screens.
If you're a fan of medieval history, there's a lot to dig into here. The Britannia campaign is sure to be popular thanks to its setting. The map of the British Isles consists of dozens of provinces that cover England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and the surrounding islands. England starts out with by far the most territory of any faction, but strategically that causes problems because its forces are spread out thinly. Many of its provinces require the most basic developments, such as dirt roads. If you play as England, you'll be attacked on numerous fronts almost immediately, and to make things worse, your holdings in Ireland are on the verge of revolt. However, the other factions have their issues, too, given that they have relatively few resources to start with, and each must be wary of the others.
The Crusades campaign is set during the era that was also seen in the 2005 movie Kingdom of Heaven. The crusaders have already carved out the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Principality of Antioch, but they start out at war with the Turks and Egyptians. The crusaders have excellent heavy cavalry and knights, while the Egyptians have excellent cavalry, and the Turks have outstanding mounted archers and infantry. Lurking to the north, though, is the Byzantine Empire, which has heavy and missile cavalry, along with the fearsome Greek firethrower units. This campaign is set on a map that pretty much covers the Eastern Mediterranean area, from Anatolia down to Egypt.
While the crusades and English history are fairly well known, the Teutonic campaign covers a period that's less familiar. In the 14th century, Lithuania was the last pagan kingdom in Europe, and the Teutonic knights launched a crusade to convert the kingdom to Christianity. You can play as either faction; the Teutonic Order obviously has excellent knights and soldiers, but the Lithuanians excel at light cavalry. You can also play as two other major factions in the region: Denmark and Novgorod. This campaign is set around the Baltic Sea and the surrounding areas.
Finally, the most nontraditional campaign has to be that of the Americas, which pits the Spanish against several native factions. This campaign, which covers Cuba, Central America, and parts of North America, has a number of interesting features to it. The Spanish have by far the best technology and units, but they're severely limited in numbers. For instance, they can only requisition certain units once every handful of turns. This means that they must rely on mercenaries and alliances to shore up their forces. The Aztec and Mayans have large numbers of brave troops, but they lack armor and technology. The Apachean Tribes to the north have skilled archers and can use enemy technology, but otherwise they have archaic weapons and little armor. Additionally, the Native American tribes can use warpaths in place of crusades.
It's hard not to be impressed with the amount and quality of content that's in Kingdoms. The numbers are pretty staggering. There are over 100 new units, 13 new factions, nine new agent types, 50 new buildings, and more. Multiplayer will also have 15 new maps and scenarios, though we didn't get a chance to check any of those out. Finally, the expansion also offers support for hotseat multiplayer, which was something that was introduced to the original game in a patch. Kingdoms should keep Medieval II fans happy for a while, and it's scheduled to ship later this month.