The Viking Invasion expansion pack for the complex strategy game, Medieval: Total War, has finally arrived. And like the Mongol Invasion add-on for Shogun: Total War several years ago, it adds new content and features based on the "barbarians at the gates" concept. But rather than thrust barbarian raiders into the original game's Middle Ages campaign of knights and holy crusades, Viking Invasion actually dials back the clock to present the Dark Ages of English history.
The new Viking Campaign takes place in the Dark Ages in the British Isles.
Viking Invasion consists mainly of a new single-player campaign. This is where you'll find most of the new features. The game's original three campaigns are still intact, with a few minor enhancements, but the meat of the expansion is the new Vikings campaign, which begins in 793 A.D. in the British Isles. The new campaign thus takes place several hundred years before the first era of the original game, and also moves a few hundred miles West to center on England. The campaign basically follows the roughly 300 years of history during which the Vikings invaded England while the disparate kingdoms of the Isles were struggling with constant warfare. Eventually, you will unite all of Britain under the banner of one of England or Ireland's indigenous factions, or under Viking domination.
Although the British Isles existed on the European map in the original game, in the Viking campaign, they've been expanded to accommodate a full campaign of their own. The new campaign has over 50 territories, with all but two existing on the English and Irish islands. Two Scandinavian territories, Hordaland and Jutland (modern day Norway and Denmark), are the starting points for the new Viking faction. The campaign has a total of eight playable factions; the other seven are the Irish, Mercians, Northumbrians, Picts, Welsh, Saxons, and Scots. With the eight new factions come new units, but most striking of all changes is the new technology tree that comes with the change to a Dark Ages setting instead of a Middle Ages one. First off, religion isn't as important in this new setting. The Pope doesn't exist so you can't be excommunicated for attacking fellow Christians. The only religions are Christianity and Paganism, as followed by the Vikings. Religion is really only important now if you play the Vikings; you'll want to resist converting to Christianity so you can retain your savage effectiveness at sea raiding.
The new Viking units make excellent raiders, and are masters of looting enemy provinces.
Since the Dark Ages were a step back in terms of technology, the technology tree has been flattened to some degree and altered. There are no gunpowder units, and some of the advanced and ethnic units (like Teutonic Knights and camels) are missing. Also, provinces are undeveloped by default; you have to build the new forest clearing and basic farms structures before you can even build farm upgrades. Because of the change in the tech tree, some buildings have different functions or replace old buildings. Again, these changes exist only in the Viking campaign, which uses the Dark Ages tech tree, but the changes are significant and will force Medieval veterans to adjust their strategies.
But Viking Invasion's new map, new units, and new buildings aren't the biggest expansion's biggest additions. The most significant enhancement is the Viking faction itself. To model the fearsome raiding that the Vikings conducted from the sea, this faction gets amazing bonuses for attacking coastal territories. The Vikings also have great ships; better than those of any other faction in the new campaign. They all have excellent range, superior attack, and superior defense; they not only dominate other ships in battle, but they also allow Viking troops to move quickly across the sea.
After the limited way in Medieval in which you move by sea (then forcing you to wait four years after invading an island to rebuild the port to leave), the Viking advantage in sea raiding is welcome. You can play as the Vikings and strike anywhere with impunity, attacking the northern tip of the English Island and then the next turn jumping down to the bottom province (provided you follow the rules of controlling the sea squares leading to the coastal territory). It all boils down to making the Vikings an immensely fun and aggressive faction to play, and makes the Viking campaign a great hit. Moreover, the campaign itself is much more manageable because the overall map is smaller. There are fewer territories to conquer, and thus, games don't take as long to complete. However, there is no glorious achievement victory condition for the Viking Campaign, only total domination. Still, playing through the Viking campaign takes a lot less time than those of the original game--though it may still seem like a long, long time for new players who aren't accustomed to Medieval's epic campaigns.