Matrix Games has just recently issued its first DLC (Downloadable Content) for its Field of Glory II computer game, reusing the previous name Immortal Fire and covering the Persian Wars, the age of Alexander the Great and his Successors. Simultaneously, the Field of Glory 3.0 hardcopy, miniatures wargaming version released its counterpart but at a much steeper price. Here the shekel transfer is $33.25 US (or 25 GBP) vs $14.95 US. However, the cost is not the only thing that has endeared this video game to a LOT of pewter pushers like me.
So that being the case I thought a good look at the series’ first digital add on might be just the thing to explain why.
DLC Data Dump
Like most DLC, Immortal Fire is not a stand-alone game but rather an extension of the original software. In other words, you will need the Field of Glory II computer game to play Immortal Fire or any other subsequent DLC expansions. What this DLC does is extend the gameplay of the original game by providing a greater level of variety as regards combatants, battles and campaigns. Using these three categories, here is what you can expect to find in Immortal Fire.
As regards armies to game with, the DLC provides an additional eight factions that break out into 30 additional army lists on top of the one’s provided in the Rise of Rome era depicted in the base software. This brings the grand total to 105 different armies for players to lead into combat. Please note that this does not translate into 105 different nationalities, but include the military forces of a country during different times of its existence when troop types of weaponry changed. For example, there are three Carthaginian army lists, from 490 to 411 BC, then until 341 BC and finally concluding in 281 BC. All in all there are five Achaemenid Persian, three Carthaginian, four Greek or Kyrenean Greek, two Roman, two Macedonian (one for Philip and another for some upstart named Alexander), two Seleucid, two Spartan, two Etruscan, plus Antigonid, Lysimachid, Lydian, Latin, Skythian, Gallic, Syracusan and Thessalian. To support these new lists another 10 troop types have been added, to include the expected Persian Immortals, heavy bow cavalry and so on, as well as more exotic units such Persian camelry and Carthaginian chariots. This also means for both Custom Battles and Sandbox Campaigns, you now have 105 choices from which to choose.
And speaking of campaigns, this DLC comes with five, four historical and one “what if.” In the former category we have the Seven Hills of Rome campaign, plus campaigns covering the careers of Philip of Macedon, Seleukos I and Xenophon. The latter covers Alexander the Great had he lived, and though I’ve not gotten into it yet, I can see such things as his experimental mixed bow and pike Phalanx, and maybe determining once and for all which was better, Phalanx or Legion. Like most campaigns included with games that use the Battle Academy engine, these are not complicated, nerve racking adventures as might be found in other games such as those by AGEOD. The campaigns are light, simple and designed to do one thing produce battles. Like miniature campaign systems, the primary function is that of a battle generator, and that similarity is important as we shall see.
The main attraction to me, however, was the addition of several more Epic (translation Historical) Battles. These are Thymbra 547 BC, Marathon 490 BC (which looks nothing like 300, Birth of an Empire BTW), Plataea 479 BC, Cunaxa 401 BC, Chaironeia 338 BC, Granikos 334 BC, Issos 333 BC, Gaugamela 331 BC, Hydaspes 326 BC and Raphia 217 BC. All are playable from both sides and five follow the exploits of Alexander the Great. If you want to learn all about the game play particulars here, please check out my previous review on the mothership game. Otherwise, the game works as advertised, with exceptional graphics and elegant gameplay as only the Battle Academy engine can digitate. I was able to knock out a couple of games on Gaugamela (because if you go, you might as well go big) over the weekend and aside from the fact that the AI seems to hold a personal grudge against me, I had a lot of fun being merciful to my electron endowed opponent (ahem). I’m betting you will as well.
Why it matters in Lead Land
Bottom line, if you like Field of Glory II – and a LOT of people like Field of Glory II – you will love this latest addition. Pricing is very reasonable, the graphics great and the historical battles absolutely top notch. OK, sure the game still has the Hobbit hovels and Groot sprigs for forests, but I got over it because of all the big-time positives this game provides.
But I also think my captivation is especially due to my status as primarily a miniatures wargamer, though this may take some explaining. In lead and pewter realms, 95% of all Ancient and Medieval gaming is tournament based. This means small armies on small tables, created by use of a point system using complicated rules even when they are looked at as simple. Even though many of the rules sets used proclaim they can be used for larger and even historical battles, a quick thumb thru shows the primary focus to be tournament play. This could very well mean play between armies that did not even exist at the same time, because after all, 1500 points is 1500 points, even if it is Aztecs vs Achaemenid Persians (the Mexican lads with the obsidian weapons are no slouches, so be warned). It also means gamers who spend an inordinate amount of time with Excel and calculator trying to figure up the absolute best mixture of point based troop types to be invincible for 2 ½ hours.
What it does not mean are miniature games recreating historical Ancient battles. Yes there are a few, but the operative term is “few.” One of the big reasons is that very few Ancient and Medieval rules support that kind of play. I know of only one, 1991’s Ancient Empires: a Simulation of the Wars of Antiquity based on the old Empire Napoleonic system. It did not do well, so for those of us who would love to get into the era outside of tournament play, there was nothing. Until now.
Field of Glory II and Immortal Fire fill this gap bigtime. The games are easy to play, realistic and have what tournaments do not, historical battles and campaigns. Game play actually mimics miniatures and there are no figures to paint or tables to set. And when compared to the previous version of this game and module for the computer, the differences are astounding. This game and DLC have grown up to where the ever important visuals are very close to museum quality painted miniatures, 28 mm yet. Not quite equal, but damn close. Under the old hex based computer game, troop sprites were very bland to almost juvenile, with little animation and every figure in a unit looking the same. One might even say “cartoonish.”
In today’s rendition one has 3D figures, anatomically correct with accurate and detailed attire, and exceptional animation. One can’t help but notice the care that went into making this game look good. Units have within them soldiers with different pattern helmets, tunics and shields. A cavalry unit has different colored horse flesh while some troopers carry spear and others a war hammer (a real one, not the 40K variety). Shield patterns are intricate, detailed and vary within formations. The figures even lower pikes and charge, or otherwise shuffle around in formation, smoking, joking and making the best of “hurry up and wait” time. Dust is kicked up when moving and there are even shadows which saunter along with their owners as well. It’s what minis were meant to be, if there were only rules to support it.
Fortunately, this is no longer a requirement. I’ve mentioned the game within miniature groups on Facebook and elsewhere and I am happy to say several friends and colleagues have given these Ancient electrons a go. Comments have been very positive and everyone seems to be enjoying the game . . . as well as noting the downloadable, community designed Alesia battle scenario is a real bear.
So I’ll conclude by saying we’re having a blast, and to all who made Christmas come a little early this year: thank you.