Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms Review

This great new expansion offers a significant amount of new content for veteran Medieval II players.

Conquering Europe is never an easy task, in real life and in Medieval II: Total War. It's a big place, after all, and there's no shortage of foes, as you might have learned in Sega and Creative Assembly's epic strategy game. Enter Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms, an expansion pack that offers up whole new areas of the world for would-be emperors to conquer. There's a lot of content in here for veteran Total War fans to chew through, though newcomers should probably familiarize themselves with Medieval II before diving into this packed expansion.

Go England! Or maybe you're for Scotland? How about Wales? And where did Norway come from?
Go England! Or maybe you're for Scotland? How about Wales? And where did Norway come from?

This expansion is like having four all-new games in one, considering that it features four unique single-player campaigns: Britannia, the Crusades, the Teutonic Knights, and, most radically, the Americas. The nice thing about these campaigns is that they don't feel like Creative Assembly just recycled a lot of content from the core campaign and called it a day. Each campaign feels like it was built from the ground up, complete with its own appropriate music, movies, units, rule changes, and more. Even some of the oft-humorous cutscenes that show in-game events have been retooled for the better. (If the "walking bush" infiltration cutscene doesn't make you smile, then you have no sense of humor.)

Even though these campaigns aren't quite on the scale of the epic campaign in Medieval II, they're still huge. Each will require hours to get through, particularly if you play through each battle rather than have the computer automatically generate the results. Though they're normally focused on more specific eras in history, Creative Assembly has done a good job of making these campaigns feel grand in their own right.

While the Britannia campaign might seem like a rehash of the successful Viking Invasion expansion for the original Medieval: Total War, it's quite different. The Viking Invasion was set in the Dark Ages, when a dozen factions tried to carve a power base. This new Britannia campaign occurs much later in history, and you'll play either as England trying to cement your hold on the islands, or as one of the smaller nations (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Norway) trying to fight back. Playing as England may be the toughest proposition in the entire expansion, because you start out with huge swaths of poorly developed territory and must defend your land from all sides. You can easily find yourself strapped for the resources needed to upgrade your territories and field huge armies. Forts play a big role in this campaign, in that they're basically minicastles that help you defend large expanses of territory.

The real-time battles are as big as ever.
The real-time battles are as big as ever.

The Crusades campaign covers a controversial period in history, though you can play from the perspective of either the Crusader states or their Egyptian and Turkish foes. This feels like an easier campaign to get into because the scale is more manageable. It also makes for a scenic campaign, as mounted knights gallop through the desert, and distinct desert fortresses replace familiar European castles. One nice aspect is that historical events have a way of intruding upon your campaign, such as the appearance of yet another European crusade, or the appearance of the feared Mongols in the east. Each faction has its own unique units, of course, but there are also special hero units representing famous figures from history. These heroes have extra abilities beyond that of regular generals. For instance, Richard the Lionhearted can instantly rally fleeing troops during a battle.

The Teutonic campaign covers the campaign to convert Lithuania, the last pagan power in Europe. Various tweaks have been made to this campaign to model the famous militant order of knights. For instance, the Teutonic knights have a castle-oriented economy, rather than focusing on huge cities. Meanwhile, religion plays a big role in the campaign; the Lithuanians can recruit special pagan units early on, and then you can choose to convert to Catholicism and make use of Christian technology.

Finally, the Americas campaign lets you play from various perspectives, such as the Spanish, the Mayans, the Aztecs, and even the Apachean tribes in North America. This is a campaign that pits quality versus quantity, given that the vastly outnumbered Spanish forces have to rely on their advanced weapons and units to survive against hordes of technologically inferior foes. Playing as the Spanish requires you to be aggressive to earn prestige, which lets you upgrade cities. Meanwhile, the native tribes are a departure from the European, North African, and Middle Eastern civilizations. For example, they have no cavalry units (horses were introduced to the Americas by the Spanish) and rely instead on colorful and fanatically brave infantry. The game models things such as ritual sacrifices (to boost city happiness), as well as warpaths, which are the Native American equivalent to crusades or jihads.

Kingdoms is a great value if you're a Total War fan who can't get enough.
Kingdoms is a great value if you're a Total War fan who can't get enough.

Each campaign offers up a fresh new approach to play Medieval, and together they serve as the heart of the content in the expansion. The rest is taken up by a handful of skirmish missions and multiplayer battles with support for up to eight players. This makes for a huge package that, with Medieval II (which is required), can eat up nearly 12GB of hard-drive space. That doesn't sound like much in the age of 500GB drives, but it might make you reconsider if you're low on disk space. Thankfully, you can install the campaigns independently of each other, so if you want to play only the Crusades you can save a few gigabytes and not install the others. Each campaign really feels like its own game, complete with its own shortcut. However, installing this beast is a somewhat tedious process that takes more than half an hour.

In the end, Kingdoms packs about four times as much gameplay as a traditional Total War expansion, making it an excellent value. All of these campaigns are interesting and well done, and if you've got a yen for a particular period in history that they cover, then you should definitely dive in. Or if you're tired of conquering Europe, you've got something else to look forward to.

The Good

  • Huge expansion with four campaigns, each of which feels like a whole new game.
  • Impressive production values make each campaign feel unique

The Bad

  • Hard-drive hog if you've got limited disk space
  • Tedious installation process

About the Author