In Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, you'll take the role of one of the four immortal monarchs of these nations at war. You'll rally your legions--swordsmen, archers, and knights on horseback--under your flag. Wizards, beasts, and even flame-spewing demons will heed your every command, waging war on an epic field of battle.
The game's stunning 3-D terrain of forests, magic-laden ruins, and expansive oceans provides a landscape of war fraught with danger, magic, and ambush.
Enter The Iron Plague, Cavedog's sub-$20 add-on for Kingdoms. The Iron Plague is merely an expansion pack for Kingdoms rather than a complete redesign, so you shouldn't expect it to change the game completely. But in a very real way it bears the burden of rescuing Kingdoms from its earlier problems, and rescuing Cavedog's good reputation with gamers. In the end, it's partly successful at both. It definitely improves the original game and also reflects Cavedog's commitment to fix what needs fixing.
You get quite a bit for the game's $20 price tag: You get the 2.0 game-engine upgrade patch for Kingdoms itself, along with all the new units and battle maps that Cavedog made available for Kingdoms on its site since the game was released. You also get a brand-new fifth civilization to play, which brings with it all the units, strategies, and challenges of having an entirely new playable faction in the game. Along with that civilization come 25 new battle maps, and a new campaign that has 25 single-player missions tied together with another good story. The new campaign is tougher than the original campaign, even from the start. Finally, the game CD includes the code necessary to play The Darien Crusades, a cooperative multiplayer game playable over Cavedog's online Boneyards site. This review covers only the enhancements to Kingdoms and the Iron Plague expansion itself, but do yourself a favor and give The Darien Crusades a try. You don't have to buy The Iron Plague to get the software - just head on to Boneyards and download it from there.
Actually, you don't have to buy the expansion pack for the 2.0 upgrade patch either, as it's also available on Cavedog's site. But it's worth describing since it's the engine that runs The Iron Plague, especially because the expansion requires pack the original game to be installed anyway. The game runs more smoothly in the 2.0 upgrade than in the original retail version of Kingdoms, which makes the gameplay acceptable even at 1600x1200 resolution if you have a good video card. The patch also addresses a major complaint with Kingdoms - the horrible frame rates during large battles - first by having the program automatically decrease graphic and animation detail as frame-rate problems occur, and also by including a feature called Kenny mode, which turns off unit animation completely in the interest of faster gameplay. You can also adjust the degree of shadowing in the game and the degree to which units will automatically switch to a lower resolution to maintain a decent frame rate. But to work with these options you must edit the Windows registry manually, which is a bad idea unless you know what you're doing.
Other improvements in Kingdoms version 2.0 include two additional battle maps and tweaks to the game's balance, such as knocking Veruna's dirigible down a peg by making it smaller and less powerful, and increasing the targeting and firing capabilities of the Zhon Wisp. Cavedog also claims the patch will let the game run on a P200 with as little as 32MB of RAM, though you'll want to play it on a faster system. -- Neil Randall
--Copyright ©1999 GameSpot Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of GameSpot is prohibited. -- GameSpot