Capitulation be damned! I took both the Western Roman Empire and the Goths to the abyss in my steadfast guidance as they were swept up in the tides of time. Of course, it would've helped if I hadn't attempted to forcefully reduce my provinces in Western Europe or uproot my people so many times that I wiped them out completely. In the end, who is to say who is really at fault?
The empire you fought so hard to gain and maintain in Rome is coming to an end. New peoples are coming from the East and are decimating a weakened empire and scattering weakened tribesmen across the plains of Europe. The Senate has crumbled, thanks to you, and after years of strife the empire is now split in two: the Western Empire, with Rome as its capital, and the Eastern Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. The Western Empire is having a rough time: Christianity and Paganism are causing strife among the people, a declining population means less income, and an overextended, ill prepared military threatens the safety of all. The Eastern Empire has it slightly better, with more economic and social stability, but also happens to be the first hit by the brunt force of the nomadic peoples of the East.
Maybe you're tired of imperial glory and want to be one of the new peoples to hit the upsurge of a weakened Rome and the turbulent times across Europe. The Goths, Franks, Huns, Saxons, Sarmations, Sassanid Empire, Alemanni and Vandals are all playable from the get-go, along with both sides of the Roman Empire, and each of them will also have to contend with the others. While a faction's difficulty may say 'Easy', understand that this isn't the same as in Rome; even a people who have it 'Easy' will have a rough time with it. While there were several moments in Rome that might have had you clenching your teeth, such as preparing to engage in that one pivotal battle that could set back your plans of conquering an area, many such moments are to be found in Barbarian Invasion. The difference is that, defeat now means complete displacement or annihilation.
With the new 'Horde' feature, the new factions are given the ability to pack up their entire people whenever they are down to one city and may then move about in search of a new homeland. These mass exoduses, in the beginning, are impressive sights. If you fail to find stability somewhere as you use this feature more and more over time, you will slowly wear out your population until there is nothing left – much like I did with the Goths. So, whenever you're starting the game as a faction in the midst of all of the chaos, you will be pushed into and out of your place several times over, as will all the other factions, until all finally settle down in new territories. This shifting will go on throughout the game, and the movement can be a huge problem whenever a people decide your territory looks like the perfect homeland, although it can also be exciting.
If you want to test your mettle, you can always try to withstand the onslaught. As the Franks, I took advantage of the early social and economic stability and built up a decent military force. It was during this time that I noticed just how much more the computer used the other means of conquest, such as diplomacy and assassination. In Rome, rarely were my generals and family members routinely sought out for murder nor I forced upon so greatly for the sake of accepting a role as a protectorate as much as they are in Barbarian Invasion. Bowing down before the weight of a violent neighbor is almost inevitable for the barbarian factions, but with survival comes advantages. While becoming a protectorate might bring with it some sort of intrinsic sense of failure, it certainly didn't hurt my pocketbook.
While I enjoy becoming rich off the fears of other people, the diplomacy options aren't up to snuff, as is the case with several aspects of Barbarian Invasion. I was constantly barraged with offers of becoming a protectorate while being attacked by the same faction offering the deal, or a city would be besieged by the party right after accepting their terms. I like to think that I was being offered this position, often by the Western Roman Empire, out of their need for a friendly buffer to be between them and the other barbarians, but I think I would be giving the game too much credit. I had a pretty nice racket going, actually: I would have a sizable force, but end up going in debt by becoming embroiled in wars on numerous fronts, then inevitably be offered the chance to become a protectorate and I would accept the terms under the condition that I receive 10,000-15,000 denarii, which was often accepted by the offerer. Newly out of debt, I could relieve my cities, rebuild my forces, and construct a few buildings to enhance my territories. As a protectorate I had absolutely no penalties, and I simply knew I had a neighbor that I was roughly 65% sure wouldn't attack me. The major problem with this position wasn't any sort of humiliation or provocation on the part of nearby factions, but rather that I couldn't count on my ally to ever come to my aid when I desperately needed it. In other words, this was just a great way to score a decent amount of coin very quickly.
When you do get money, it's often spent training units and not constructing buildings because this is a troubled world that requires constant vigilance due to hungry neighbors everywhere around you. The stability of Rome is gone, and you are left to contend with the ambition of the many. What this means is that you don't have many chances to really go up the tech ladder: you're often lucky if you get one building queued within ten or so turns. This problem is compounded by the fact that rebel factions are now taken more seriously in Barbarian Invasion, becoming a known people themselves if they maintain stability. This can come quite unexpectedly due to the new raze option. Now, instead of simply occupying, enslaving, or killing off all the population in a city, you can destroy the city itself and leave it be. As the Goths, my doing so resulted in a new faction springing up, the Visigoths. Shortly thereafter, my land was being encroached upon by the rebel-turned-legit faction. This also emphasizes the need for movement, since it doesn't matter what faction ends up forming from the ruins of a city, because you're long gone from the scene and this is the kind of wave of change (brought on by rampant pillaging) that you'll experience in the beginning.
This new way of playing, full of usurping and movement, is quite different from Rome, and it's all very exciting. Unfortunately, while The Creative Assembly did improve upon the original in many ways (re: generals aren't as eager to jump into sharp objects), there are still serious problems, one of which is sieging. The AI in Rome was never terribly bright when it came to sieging a town, and it seems even less so here. This problem is made worse by the fact that so many factions are springing up from rebelling groups that you're often defending towns more than running a would-be empire. Since the computer-controlled fights can be iffy, I simply had to take charge of battles that consisted of a simple handful of enemy units against a large city that was very well garrisoned. While it would be a win for me, it was a win that came at the expense of anywhere from 10-20 minutes of my time, which adds up to a considerable amount due to my having to supervise so often. This whole routine did nothing but periodically stunt my economy and draw more people to my beleaguered cities. I would like to say that such actions were a part of some grand scheme on the computer's part, but it wasn't; the attacks were ill prepared, poorly manned, and often led to ruin by the computer's inability to realize that sending all their men through one well-manned gap (thanks to the new Shield Wall ability) wasn't the best idea. Siege weapons are also extremely powerful with very few ways of compensating, but their power was never taken advantage of because the computer never understood that tossing together 4,000 men with a mining tunnel, a ram, and a siege tower wasn't the most effective way combination, especially when surrounding forces would walk next to the city walls, getting shot the entire time, and walk all the way to the front to where the siege equipment was.
The new abilities are few, but they also provide practical ways of spicing up combat. Shield Wall and Schiltrom/Hedgehog are new abilities wherein men create a wall by linking their shields together (not terribly effective in open battle, but great for hold-and-push maneuvers) and spearmen form a circle of spear tips (same as shield wall, but much more effective against calvary and much weaker against missile attacks), respectively. These add a more defensive twist, though their uses tend to be dubious since their disadvantages are so severe. Units can now wade and swim through shallow water, but this tends to be time-consuming and it leaves men open to attack. Also, you now have to get used to the fact that commanding an attack on an enemy across a bridge won't cause units to shove their way over the bridge, but also take to the water as well. A visually pleasing new feature is the ability for highly trained or war-worn generals to participate in night combat. Fighting at night can be disorienting for those unused to it and it can also block reinforcements from reaching an assaulted ally if the leaders of said reinforcements aren't capable of fighting at night, and it takes a fairly experienced general to engage in such combat.
The new units aren't too exotic, especially if you've played Medieval: Total War, but they can be fun. There are also crossbow units, druids and priests, heroes, more elite light infantry, and a heavy artillery Roman cavalry unit that is a blast to use. What's noticeable is the lack of pomp among the Roman forces; with the men having been reformed into frontier and heavy combat units, wearing the blander (resource-stricken) armor of the day, the grandeur of the lorica segmentata and scutum of the vast legions is sorely missed. These changes add to the game's own banal style in that it's immediately recognizable that something is wrong, and that the pushover battles of Rome are a thing of the past with a greater equality among the factions.
One thing that I was very disappointed by was the lack of historical battles. The two that were included, The Battle of Badon Hill and The Battle of Chalons, were also included with the demo. While I appreciate the generosity extended to the demo, I would hope that a paying customer would get more. Even if there were no demo, two historical battles is still a minuscule amount.
There are also numerous textual and graphical anomalies throughout the game, as well as control problems. The typos are noticeable, one being 'Disapppear' during a historical event notice, and the graphical glitches are even more so, some carrying over from the original Rome. Whenever units carry ladders, the ladders hover near them, a visual flaw that becomes even more pronounced whenever another unit tries to pick the ladder up from a fallen squad. There were also spear tips that looked suspiciously like squares with the tips inside of them. While I cannot confirm if this was a sort of blunt lance, it nevertheless looks as though it's just a square polygon with the tip drawn on it. There are also control problems. One thing I find incredibly annoying, and this went for Rome as well, is that units on besieged walls cannot be told to knock ladders down, but they will try to use them to go down when they’re told to get off the walls. It takes so long for the units to respond to commands to do otherwise that you're guaranteed to lose some men to stupidity. Also, there are also units that won't go near the wall itself, allowing enemies to scale or cross over and onto the wall, taking away a distinct advantage that your men had over them.
One more thing: however the computer manages the other factions, I wish it would do the same for me, because even those with just one territory, they always seemed to have plenty of money. Oh, my poor city planners, why couldn't you be so talented?
Rome: Total War - Barbarian Invasion manages to be an enjoyable and exciting title, despite the removal of all the pomp and grandeur of Rome. The chaos of the times is well represented, with entire factions shifting homelands constantly and doing so in great distances at any moment. The brief moments of tranquility of the original are all but gone as you'll constantly have to prepare for war with new neighbors, old allies, and the game itself. It's a shame that, by the third expansion, the developers have the design formula down but continue to stumble on technical issues.