PC Review - 'Great Invasions: The Dark Ages 350-1066 AD'

by Tim McCullough on May 23, 2007 @ 4:10 a.m. PDT

A clever mix of strategy and action, Great Invasions plunges you back into Europe of the Dark Ages, a time in history where hundreds of nations and barbarian tribes rush to assault the civilized world, from AD 375 (arrival of the Huns) to AD 1066 (conquest of England by the Normans).

Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Nobilis
Release Date: March 16, 2007

I have to admit that although I consider myself to be a hardcore gamer, I tend to shy away from the statistically complex turn-based strategy games. It may be that I just don't have the patience to invest the large amount of time necessary to become competitive in them, or maybe the required balancing and juggling act between so many different variables reminds me too much of my accountant.

Great Invasions: The Dark Ages 350-1066 AD is an obviously complex game. You have over 80 playable nations, 22 different ethnic groups plus several other additional groups identified as "tribes." You will need to consider numerous political, religious, economic and territorial entities along with a steady stream of good and bad events which will keep your head spinning. Players will usually progress through three game status levels, based on the age of the nation and its territorial growth. These three stages are: Barbarian, which is where most nations will start; Kingdom, which is usually achieved after four age levels (about 200 years) and the control of at least five territories; and Empires, which will require the control of a large number of territories and age levels. Great Invasions includes a short text-based tutorial, and the game package includes a 25-page manual with control reference and a single CD.

I will cover some of the key structures and influences in Great Invasions. Successes and failures are quantified using "victory points," which equate to a player's score and are accumulated by the number of nations controlled by a player, the nation's age, wealth, achievements, and battle victories. You can use victory points to purchase other nations through auctions (non-historical scenarios.), and having more territories will, of course, generate even more victory points. The nation with the most victory points at the end of a scenario will be considered the winner. The best course of action for expansion is to conquer provinces, and then entire regions; this strategy will generate additional economic bonuses.

The depth of Great Invasions requires players to take into consideration the economic, diplomatic, and religious elements of their nations, in addition to their military endeavors. Administrating your nation becomes more important once it has advanced above Barbarian status.

There are three different types of campaigns available. In Historical Campaigns, controlled nations are predetermined and are balanced based on historic record, whereas in Semi-Historical Campaigns, nations are divided as before, but you will receive several free nations, and any other nations that are acquired will require the expenditure of victory points. The final campaign type is Free Campaigns, in which you start with a single nation and all other nations are won through the bidding system.

Of particular interest in Great Invasions is the clever use of historical events and stratagems. The use of historical events, which are triggered based on certain conditions, provides players with changing situations which could have a variety of different outcomes. These historical event triggers have been designed to be modifiable so new scenarios can be easily created. Stratagems work by providing bonuses at certain times or providing "breathing room" for players during conflicts. The game includes over 60 different stratagems, which inject both good and bad actions into the game. Additionally, various agreements and treaties with other nations will dynamically affect the strength of the player's nation and require regular adjustments to one's strategy.

A few issues which I encountered need to be taken into consideration. Great Invasions includes a short tutorial within the manual to help familiarize players with the main concepts. Unfortunately, I was unable to get past the first tutorial instruction. Strangely, a patch was available for the game, but it did not address this particular problem. By searching the Great Invasions forum, I was able to locate and add the crucial missing step prior to the first instruction to get the tutorial back on track. Although the tutorial was generally helpful, it only scratched the surface of the game's content.

A hardcore turn-based war gamer could most certainly figure out how to get Great Invasions up and running without too much reading, but anyone who has limited play-time with this genre will be hard-pressed to enjoy this game without significant outside assistance and time. The learning curve for this title will be out of reach for a majority of casual gamers. I experienced some glitches where graphics would disappear and would require that the screen be refreshed before they returned.

I found that the graphics in Great Invasions to be adequate for gameplay, although they did tend to be a bit on the soft side. I wouldn't normally complain about this too much, but in this type of game, this softness can cause a bit of extra wear on your eyes after a long session. I also personally didn't like the fancy font used in the game because it also becomes a bit hard on the eyes after a period of time. The visual options during gameplay were full-featured, with zoom capability and selectable filters to colorize the map based on military, economic, diplomatic and religious control.

Regarding the audio design, the constant background music seemed to fit the gameplay reasonably well. Sound effects were a bit low-key and failed to bring any additional quality or excitement to the design.

Great Invasions does include a multiplayer option. You can play using a standard TCP/IP connection over a LAN or the Internet. Since no match-making host is included, you will need to know the I.P. address of the host computer to connect and play. The game host will select which scenario will be played and the speed of the game. The ability to pause the game is disabled in multiplayer mode, but the host can save a game in progress. The same three types of campaign scenarios from single-player mode are available in the multiplayer mode, only without A.I.: Historical, Semi-Historical, and Free.

I would classify Great Invasions: The Dark Ages 350-1066 AD as a diamond in the rough. It is apparent that a great deal of research and design went into the creation of this title, but unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the documentation and tutorial. Unless you are a hardcore war game enthusiast with both board- and computer-based experience, I would steer clear of Great Invasions. If you are new to turn-based war gaming, you will most likely become frustrated quickly due to the lack of documentation and the steep learning curve.

Score: 6.5/10

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