One of the biggest strategy hits of last year was Microsoft's "Age Of Empires II", a real time strategy game that landed somewhere between Warcraft and Civilization, putting players in control of a medieval empire and letting them take on the role of famous leaders of the period such as Jean D'Arc.
Just as the original Age Of Empires spawned an expansion pack called "Rise Of Rome", so the sequel is soon to get an extension - "Age Of Empires II : The Conquerors"...
As the title suggests, the theme of the expansion pack is very much on conquest, with a series of four new campaigns (loosely) based on real historical conflicts and personalities. You will get the chance to lead the barbarian hordes across Europe as the notorious Attila The Hun, defend Spain against the invading Moors, or battle with Montezuma for control of medieval Mexico.
There are also eight stand-alone battles to relive, including the ever popular Battle of Agincourt between the British and the French, as seen in Shakespeare's "Henry V". And how could any self-respecting company call an expansion pack "Conquerors" without including the aptly named William The Conqueror, giving you the chance to refight his most famous battle at Hastings in 1066?
Multiplayer has also been given an overhaul, with new game-types and several new maps for you to play over a LAN or the internet, or against AI opponents in skirmish mode. The new settings are a diverse bunch, taking in Italy, Japan, and the jungles of Mexico, all of which should add some more variety to the game.
Perhaps the most important new feature of Conquerors though is that five new civilizations are being added to the game, including old favourites like the Mayans and Aztecs, as well as Huns, Koreans and Spaniards.
With these come a whole plethora of new units and technologies, such as Aztec jaguar warriors, herbal medicine, and Spanish conquistadors. There are also new additions for the game's original civilizations, including everything from British yeomen to Chinese rocket units! In all there are eleven new units and twenty-five new technologies to research, giving plenty of added scope for Age of Empires veterans.
The gameplay has also been tweaked to remove some of the frustration of playing the game. Players can now set up farms to be replanted automatically, which should avoid the problem of returning to your base after an epic battle only to discover that half of your farms are lying fallow, while the peasants that had been tending them stand around idly.
Ships can be arranged into formations now, allowing for less chaotic naval battles. And you can place troops inside of battering rams, protecting them from the enemy's archers as well as increasing the speed and power of the ram - once more into the breach!
Conquerors looks set to give Age of Empires II a new lease of life, with more battles to fight, more civilizations to lead, more units to construct, and more technologies to research.
Due for release in September, the expansion pack is shaping up to be an excellent add-on for an already excellent game, with plenty of new additions for experienced Age of Empires players as well as further improvements to the gameplay for newcomers to the series. It should prove to be the perfect stop-gap while we wait for the more or less inevitable arrival of an "Age of Empires III"...