If Rome: Total War was about the rise of the Roman Empire, then you can consider Rome: Total War Barbarian Invasion, the expansion to last year's hit strategy game, to be about the decline and fall of Rome. If you're a fan of Rome, you can expect a number of significant changes. The once mighty Roman empire has been split asunder, and warlike barbarian tribes are moving in for the kill. Your challenge is to rewrite history, as either the Romans or the barbarians. To get an idea of what to expect, we caught up with Creative Assembly's Ian Roxburgh for the details on Barbarian Invasion, which is expected to ship next month.
GameSpot: Barbarian Invasion covers the era around the fall of the Roman Empire, but could you fill us in on the details on the years it covers and the major factions in the expansion?
Ian Roxburgh: The expansion is set more than 300 years after the original game's time frame and spans the years AD 363 to AD 476. Basically, it runs from the death of the last emperor of a unified Roman Empire to the abdication of Romulus Augustus, the last emperor of the west.
There are 10 new playable factions: the Eastern Romans, the Western Romans, the Huns, the Saxons, the Franks, the Goths, the Vandals, Allemanni, Sarmatians, and the Sassanid Empire.
We've also added a number of nonplayable factions: the Berbers, Celts, Romano-British, Slavs, Ostrogoths, Western Roman rebels, and Eastern Roman rebels.
GS: In the original Rome, your main goal as a Roman faction was to expand the empire's borders, but hurry back to Rome once civil war erupted. What are going to be the challenges for the various factions in Barbarian Invasion? Will you be limited to just the Roman factions at first, and will you unlock the barbarian factions later on?
IR: All the new factions in Barbarian Invasion are unlocked from the start. The challenges presented to the player by each one are very different.
Players who choose the Roman factions will notice the biggest change and face possibly the biggest challenge. The old Roman factions are gone, replaced by the Western and Eastern Empires. They're both allied at the start of the campaign, but that can all change very quickly. As the Eastern Romans, for example, one of your objectives is to bring Rome under your control; so once you've defended the empire from the relentless attacks of the barbarian hordes, the Western Empire can quickly become a rival.
The nomadic barbarian factions, meanwhile, have to fend off the considerable challenge from the rampaging Huns from the east. They have to decide how to best cope with this, either by settling and defending their territory or uprooting their entire civilization and surging across the map as a horde, sacking all in their wake. As for the Huns, their challenge is pretty straightforward: storm across the map in a wave of destruction.
GS: Was this era a natural setting for the expansion, or did you consider any other eras? And when did work on Barbarian Invasion begin?
IR: Having given the player the opportunity to build the Roman Empire in the original game, our allowing them to play a part in its downfall seemed to be a natural and logical step for the expansion. Work on Barbarian Invasion began just after the first patch for Rome: Total War came out.
I am Arthur, King of the BritonsGS: Has the artificial intelligence, and in particular, the strategic-level AI, been improved in Barbarian Invasion? Fans still complain that the enemy AI just doesn't seem to be as ruthless and smart as it should be. And will any of these improvements filter down to the original game?
IR: The AI has been improved on all fronts. Both the battle AI and the campaign AI have benefited. AI improvements are a constant and ongoing process with our games.
GS: We know that night battles are one of the new features, and they do look spectacular. But can you do night battles in the original as well, or are they limited just to the expansion?
IR: You're right--the night battles do look spectacular. But they're more than just an aesthetic feature; they also add a genuine strategic element. The attack at night is only an option for generals who possess the "night attacker" trait. No army commanded by a general without the trait can be used to reinforce a battle, so it's an effective way of isolating an enemy. The expansion does not add the night battle feature to Rome: Total War, however.
GS: Are there any major improvements in the core gameplay of the original game? For example, will Barbarian Invasion address any lingering bugs or issues in Rome: Total War? Were there any popular fan-requested changes that made it into the expansion?
IR: The expansion makes significant changes to the core gameplay, effectively bringing the AI in both the battles and campaign map up to par with Barbarian Invasion. As far as bugs go, there are actually more fixes included in the expansion than in the previous 1.2 patch. Together, these changes will hopefully address many of the issues raised by the fan base.
GS: One thing that bugged us in the original game was that naval combat seemed to sprawl into dozens of different ship groups. Has this been improved or addressed in any way?
IR: We haven't addressed naval combat directly; however, the naval battles do benefit from the enhancements in the AI. For example, the auto-resolved battles have been improved.
We felt that the focus of Rome: Total War was on land combat, and this is even more relevant in the Barbarian Invasion period. There were few references to significant naval battles in the period at all--the threats to the Roman world were exclusively land-based. Naval battles are definitely an area of Total War that we would like to improve, but we're keen to do it right--to create an accurate and compelling simulation of naval combat rather than to just tinker with what's in place.
GS: How many historical battles do you plan to ship with, and could you share with us an example?
IR: There are two new battles: Badon Hill (the Romano-British against the Saxons) and Chalons (the Romans against the Huns).
The Battle of Badon Hill is based on the legend of King Arthur, ruler of Britannia. Arthur's lands are under threat from the pagan horde of the Saxons. This pivotal battle finds Arthur rushing to the aid of his ally, Lord Amalric, who is stranded atop Badon Hill, surrounded by Saxon forces. Arthur must pin down the Saxons with his onagers while maneuvering his forces across the river to Badon Hill, and save Amalric before he falls to a Saxon blade.
GS: Finally, are there any improvements to the multiplayer gameplay, such as new modes? It seemed that many multiplayer matches of Rome quickly disintegrated into sheer chaos, and most nonsiege battles were over in a couple of minutes.
IR: Yes. We've included all the Barbarian Invasion factions in the multiplayer game, including the nonplayer ones. These nonplayer factions also have "signature" units in their army lists, to make them interesting to play.
We've also added one very useful feature: the ability to save and load preselected armies. You can build your perfect troop mix offline (to any budget), and then load them in and be ready for multiplayer in moments. Particularly cunning players will, of course, save tailored army lists to deal with different budgets and different opposition.
GS: Thank you, Ian.