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A close-up view of some cavalry

“Death or Glory” harked XIII Century's tagline; death or glory, love or hate, respect is due to developers 1C company for having no interest in catering to the middle ground. XIII century is strategy game with detailed 'hardcore' gameplay mechanics and and more than a passing interest in medieval history. Blood of Europe is a stand alone expansion comprising of an additional eight battle campaign depicting conflicts of Eastern Europe.

Much like the real time strategy elements of the Total War series the player commands large-scale battles between medieval armies grouped into ordered regiments with hundred or even thousands of on-screen units scrapping it out at one time. Detailed, dynamic statistics are available for each regiment to allow keen eyed commanders to figure out opportunities to overcome the enemy. The level of detail is great: front, back, left and right venerability statistics are presented as well as fatigue and moral to name a few. All of which will have a noticeable effect when two opposing regiments come to blows. Too much to take in whilst issuing real-time orders: using the pause button frequently to consider options and spot weaknesses is necessary to win.

From the outset the odds are stacked against you; overwhelming numbers of enemies mean using the terrain to your advantage is a must. With no base or unit production capabilities the conservation of units is key and the skill is in choosing the right time to attack, retreat and regroup at an advantageous position. In fact, there is sometimes only one way to approach many battlefields, certainly to succeed on harder difficulty settings. Initial stand-offs between armies can be surprisingly tense as quality opponent artificial intelligence reacts to rearranging of units to try and counter tactical manoeuvres; losing units early on can be disastrous.

We can safely establish that this is a hardcore RTS that boasts opportunities for deep tactical gameplay, but does that mean that everything else about it has to be this boring? Blood of Europe clearly didn't lose any sleep thinking about creating an exciting build-up to its battles. Pre-battle cut-scenes involve panning views of the rather barren battlefield and unflattering close-ups of the cloned units lined up waiting to fight. The history lesson is delivered in a hammed-up voice-over that introduces the medieval European tribes you have never heard of and some of the motives they had for fighting. If you weren't into this particular chapter of history before playing, you probably won't be afterwards.

Despite boasting 170 unit variations over the whole game the units are essentially swordsmen, pikemen, archers and then their horse-mounted equivalent. A consequence, presumably of being historically accurate is units don't appear distinct enough to identify visually, meaning you will be relying a lot on the highly detailed HUD. Visuals in general are far from cutting edge but the engine allows a great range of zoom from soaring overhead view to getting right in amongst the bloodshed. Unfortunately this will expose some clunky animations but any kind of time spent admiring the carnage at high zoom will probably result in you losing anyway.

Players who have enjoyed and completed XIII century and are still hungry for more can expect to be satisfied with the eight additional battles siding with the military leader Dovmont of Pskov: subject material that is original if nothing else! As a bundle with the original game the number of battles totals at 40: substantial amount of content for RTS junkies on a budget. Newcomers to this end of the RTS spectrum would do better to look for the Total War series, games that ultimately, XIII century will be living in the shadow of.

Everything you need to know is available on the HUD