More seriously, there are isolated times when the game’s AI seems to have dropped off for a quick snooze, or suffered from some bizarre mental breakdown. The AI in Medieval 2 has always been a bit controversial, particularly among those looking for a high-end military war game, but I’ve generally found that it strikes a fair balance between punishing you when you’re stupid and rewarding you when you come up with a basic decent plan and then respond to new developments as they occur. In Kingdoms, however, it is occasionally just plain stupid. I’ve seen the AI throw its entire, far larger force over and over again at a castle gate, only to be cut apart by a small group of archers, knights and infantry. If only they had remembered the totally undefended ladders on the walls they placed early on – then I might have been in trouble, and they might have been spared a catastrophic defeat.
Worse, I’ve had several examples where troops proved utterly unable to navigate the scenery. In one fortified South American village, my Mayan troops were able to capture and hold the central plaza while 50 per cent of the hostile forces remained stuck in an odd holding pen just a hundred metres or so away. As my troops were unable to get to them, I had to finish the battle by mowing them down over several minutes with fire arrows and thrown javelins. I’m confident this sort of thing will be patched and fixed with time, but it’s still a bit embarrassing when it occurs.
Still, I won’t drone on about this, or about the technical issues a minority of users – particularly those using Windows Vista – are experiencing. It’s a bit of a shame that the retail version will only upgrade retail versions of the game but not digitally distributed versions, and visa-versa, but while this is confusing it’s hardly a deal-breaker. Instead, I’d just like to end by re-emphasising what a rewarding and value-packed expansion this is. Each campaign will suck up hour after hour of play, and remind you just why Medieval 2 was so good in the first place. Not a single one is a duffer, and it will be days before you have the full measure of even one of them – and then only from just one of several perspectives.
This isn’t the sort of expansion pack to convert doubters or rectify huge faults in the original, but it is an extremely generous bundle for fans of the game. At £14.99, the hour of play per pound factor is practically off the scale. Roll on the next Total War, but until Empires steams in to stir things up again, Kingdoms will do just fine.
Kingdoms does exactly what a good expansion pack should do, not just adding new content but reinvigorating the whole game experience. Four campaigns, each one worthy of a separate release, make it a bumper value pack for Total War fans.