Total Annihilation: Kingdoms - The Iron Plague (Windows)

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Total Annihilation: Kingdoms - The Iron Plague

Windows - 2000

Year 2000
Platform Windows
Released in United States
Theme Steampunk
Publisher Humongous Entertainment, Inc.
4 / 5 - 2 votes

Description of Total Annihilation: Kingdoms - The Iron Plague

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Looking Back

For many, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms was one of the big disappointments of 1999. Fans were excited at the prospect of a fantasy version of the excellent Total Annihilation and expectations were high. But when it arrived, TA:K met with mixed reviews. The move away from the galactic struggle between the Arm and Core to the land of Darien was tantalising but wasn't as successful in creating the total war experience. Welcome improvements and refinements to an already superb game interface were cancelled out by unnecessary simplifications. But the greatest problem of all was the demanding system requirements and extensive performance issues that dogged the release. All but the highest specification machines struggled to support the resource intensive graphics. A subsequent patch improved matters significantly, but the damage was already done and sales suffered as a consequence.

So, it didn't come as too great a surprise to learn that Humongous Entertainment who created, owned, and published the Cavedog brand, had decided to pull the plug. First came news of the cancellation of Amen: The Awakening to focus on Total Annihilation 2 - a separate project to TA:K. Shortly after came word that current licenses, projects and support responsibilities were to be given to GT Interactive, with Humongous continuing to support the dedicated multiplayer service, Boneyards. Cavedog employees were to be transferred to Humongous to work on children's titles, which have proven to be better sellers than Cavedog and GT Interactive releases by some margin. It seems that Cavedog's owners just grew dissatisfied with the company, realising that money used on TA:K could of been used to fund more lucrative children's games. Welcome to the harsh realities of gaming commerce!

Once Upon A Time...

Amazing then that The Iron Plague ever made it to the shelves. I can only assume it was largely completed when the decision to shut Cavedog down was taken. Clayton Kauzlaric returns as lead designer and this is clearly evident with the expansion retaining the original's focus on rich artwork and storytelling. Utilising the same mix of eye witness accounts and narrative, the expansion effortlessly integrates with TA:K. Integral to the continuing story is the introduction of a fifth civilization, the Creon. Joining the Aramon, Veruna, Zhon and Talos clans, the Creon are modelled on a DaVincian theme with science and technology featuring prominently in the design and application of their structures and units. Magic plays practically no place in the Creon game plan with mana only being used to generate units. In fact, we are told, the Creonites view magic with distaste, preferring to use their industrial might.

The Iron Plague picks up where TA:K left off and centres around a 25 chapter single player campaign. With the memories of the Great War in which Aramon and Veruna were victorious over Taros and Zhon still vivid in the minds of those who took part, hostilities soon flare up once more. The Talosian ship and priest who escaped at the end of the original story return to play a significant role in the expansion. And Garacaius, the founding father of Darien is re-introduced to the story having mysteriously disappeared. As with TA:K you don't play the entire campaign as one side, rather you switch between clans to see things from different perspectives as the story unfolds. Although this can have a negative effect on continuity and a sense of allegiance to any one side, it does support the development of the story well.

The new units are certainly interesting and the industrial theme features prominently. Several applications of engineering and technology are applied providing characteristics not present in any of the existing units. Several even have a comical aspect with fun animations and voice cues. Credit should go to the development team for putting together such an interesting set when it would have been easy to simply clone units from existing ones.

Land, sea and air all represented well and provide the Creon with the most balanced force of any of the clans. The main construction unit, the Mechanic, is more at home in the thick of the action than any of its opposite numbers. Of the ground forces, I found the most formidable units to be the Shock Trooper, a heavily armed and armoured infantry unit, and the Beast Rider. The steam powered Tortoise tanks have excellent mobility and are quick and cheap to produce. The three seaborne units available to Creon, the Iron Clad, Stern Wheeler and Submersible pack a considerable punch and can certainly give the naval forces of Veruna a run for their money, though in the final analysis they are slightly less effective. In the air, the Neo-Dragon is a formidable unit in both attack and defence. The Aerial Juggernaut can inflict heavy damage although it is expensive to build and only a single example can be fielded at any one time. The new race also has an impressive array of defensive units. The combination of fixed emplacement units such as the Gatling Crossbow, Prismatic Mirror and Bomb Sprinkler can be devastating to any prospective attacker. Once you have got used to the idiosyncrasies of the new units, you soon learn how best to deploy them against the other civilizations. However, despite the technological supremacy, victory is not a forgone conclusion for the Creon. The use of magic spells and conventional brute force tactics can be just as effective. On the whole, Aramon, Veruna and Zhon retain the edge for land, sea and air respectively.

The campaign scenarios fall into two main camps; objective based or straightforward domination. Some of the new terrain is interesting, particularly the Volcano scenarios and Creon homeland. Most of the chapters offer an interesting challenge but several are simply skirmishes with time limits. Despite this, I was determined to see the campaign through to the end and found it difficult to stay away for very long until I had succeeded.

Boneyards

Besides the new civilization and single player campaign, the expansion comes with over 170 multiplayer maps from the co-operative multiplayer campaign, The Darien Crusades. This is a dynamic battlefield played at the online gaming community, Boneyards. Players choose to represent the Order of Honour or the Council of Terror - no guesses who the bad guys are - and the overall map is updated as individual battles are lost and won. Personal profiles, ladder ranking and automatic score reporting are supported as well as areas for chatting. Despite the appeal of this type of multiplayer experience, interest seems to be luke warm. During my frequent visits to Boneyards I saw little or no activity on the Crusades. Gameplay tended to be limited to one on one and two on two standalone matches set up from war rooms. Actually playing an Iron Plague enabled game wasn't as straightforward as I'd have liked either, as there aren't many players with a copy of the expansion. To be fair, this should improve as more copies are sold.

The Ubiquitous Patch

For good measure, the expansion also includes the 2.0 upgrade patch that has been available for download from Cavedog's site for some time. This improves game performance considerably and is a must have for anyone is owns TA:K. The patch also features several game balance tweaks such as reducing the effectiveness of the Verunan Dirigible.

So What Does This Button Do Then?

Documentation for the expansion is limited to a jewel case. This wouldn't be so bad if the original manual had been comprehensive. As it happens, it wasn't; favouring additional background to the story at the expense of gameplay detail. I find it particularly annoying when game features are not covered in manuals or online help. For example, I have not seen any help of any description available for the multiplayer diplomacy settings which, in co-operative play, allow you to limit chat to a team mate or share units, views and resources. More information about each unit would also be helpful.

The Bottom Line

Whether or not you think The Iron Plague is worth having is largely dependent on what you thought of TA:K in the first place. If you liked it then you are sure to find the expansion pack of interest. Conversely, if TA:K wasn't for you, then the expansion offers nothing to make you change your mind. The Creon civilization does succeed in injecting something new but the fundamentals remain unchanged. I've seen the pack available for as little as $9.99/£8.98 online and this represents excellent value.

As far as the future of the Total Annihilation franchise is concerned, there is little information available. Infogrames has now acquired a controlling share in GT Interactive. For their part, it would seem that GT Interactive have 'given' the development of TA2 to SingleTrac to finish, or perhaps more accurately, to start. Singletrac are more closely associated with console games though they did develop Outwars for Microsoft. I certainly hope TA2 will see the light of day but all we can do for now is watch the corporate merry-go-round.

Review By GamesDomain

Total Annihilation: Kingdoms - The Iron Plague is an addon for Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, you will need the original game to play.

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Total Annihilation: Kingdoms - The Iron Plague is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. GOG.com and Zoom provide the best release and does not include DRM, please buy from them! You can read our online store guide .

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