Taking place during a time of barbarians and evolving nations, Great Invasions: The Dark Ages "350-1066 AD" focuses primarily on large, multiplayer battles. Featuring over 150 nation tribes, players may take control of up to ten states at the same time, and then launch invasions, start wars, and migrate to new territory. Gamers must provide a place for their nation to prosper while simultaneously holding back potential threats such as Attila the Hun and angry legions of Vikings. Online, players can compete against friends in four-person supported play through the Internet or a LAN.
Great Invasions is a strategy game that allows you to take control of the many nations that existed during the dark ages, from the year 350-1066 AD. It is a time period that is not often portrayed in video games; spanning from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Viking Invasions.
Due to the nature of the constant rise and fall of nations during the time period you command not one but several nations as they progress from barbarism to nation-states and eventually their demise. Each different stage of a nation plays differently; from the barbaric beginnings controlling a conquering force to a nation that settles down into an empire with a burgeoning economy. While the idea of allowing a player control over multiple nations seems like a good idea given the short span of many nations during the tumultuous period it can overwhelm the player. Instead of having to manage a single empire, it's armies, its economy, and its diplomatic relations the player has to manage 6 or more at a time. This can be quite confusing given that one of your nations can be at war with a rival that is on good terms with another of your nations.
All your time is spent on the same map, a provincial view of the European continent and surrounding territories, with 4 different map views; Military, economic, diplomatic, and religious. The military mode is where you command your varies armies on the sea and on land. Combat is simple to initiate simply involving moving troops into an enemy province; the battle is then resolved using many variables from the terrain to each commander's skill. The economic view is where you can manage your nation's economic aspects; from building improvements to your provinces to managing trade with foreign nations. The religious view allows you to view each provinces religious influence and allows you to send missionaries to convert provinces. The graphics engine is nothing fancy; a pure 2D engine but it's able to present the information well.
There are also many historical events that will occur during the game leading the nations along their traditional paths. However the player has available many different abilities they can use; these include assassinations of enemy leaders, placing spies in enemy cities, and bribing enemy soldiers. These events provide different strategic options and break up the historical development of nations to provide some varying game play each time.
While there is a lot of complexity in the game play it is hard to grasp the many aspects due to the unpleasant interface. From cutoff messages to historical event dialogs that you don't have much information to base choices on to paragraph long tool tips you can't read while the game is paused; you are presented with a lot of information at times and at others, not enough. The manual is also lacking at just over 20 pages in length so you won't have much help there learning the workings of the game.
If you can get past the interface issues the game has a lot of depth to offer to players who love strategy games and enjoy this time period.
As its title implies, Great Invasions: The Dark Ages is a strategy game set during the time between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Battle of Hastings. There have been very few, if any, strategy games that have selected this particular period of history as their setting, and after Great Invasions it will probably be a while before we see another.
Great Invasions models itself on the Europa Universalis games, taking everything that was a negative with those games and serving it up with worse graphics and an even harder to navigate interface. The game map covers all of Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East during the Dark Ages and makes these fractious and tumultuous times seem even more so by grouping loosely-related factions into blocks and naming them after colors. You begin a game by deciding whether to play as team green or blue or what have you, and then proceed to try and control your multi-headed and geographically-challenged beast as scores of messages flood the screen informing you that the Saxons are now trading with the Huns or some inpronouncibly named group is revolting against the Persians. It's bad enough that you need to try an manage your relations with the myriad of other factions packing the map, but matters are made much the worse by the fact that you have to do it for each group shoehorned into your rainbow coalition.
The game is ostensibly a real-time strategy game, but so much happens at once and you're bombarded with so much information that you will have to perpetually pause the game just to try and sort though all of the noise. I know there are some gamers who equate "complexity" with "strategic depth", but this game is complicated to the point of being obtuse. Rather than throw the kitchen sink into the game, the designers should have first stopped to think if you'd really ever need to wash your hands. I really can't recommend that anyone pour the hours into this game that are needed just to get a handle on things when the payoff just isn't there. Making matters worse, you'll spend that time staring at graphics out of the Dark Ages and trying to read through some poorly translated text that is even harder to understand than reading Beowulf in its original Old English.
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