Strategy Mod Medley

By James Tanaleon 02 Sep 2013 0

Throughout the course of my gaming career I've come to realize one rather important fact about fans of strategy games: they make great mods. I think one of the reasons for this is because strategy games open themselves up for massive improvements on a gameplay level. Many strategy games, for example, are historically based set in a time period. One only needs to think of the Civilization or Total War games to imagine time period based strategy games. Because of their historical basis there is always room for the modder to increase the historical fidelity of the game. Contrast this with usual mainstream titles such as Mass Effect or Diablo III which are dependent on their own internal mythos to be relevant. Unless one worked for the companies that made these games, they couldn't exactly make them more ?accurate? to their universe in the same way that period based games are. 

In many ways strategy games are much more like sandboxes for a would-be modder. He could not only tinker with historical verisimilitude, but with the minute mathematical details of unit production and economy - something which would be lacking in RPGs or shooters which would limit a modder to only character and environment modifications. We all know how many mods there are for faces and clothes for Dragon Age: Origins, while the trusty strategy modder is tinkering with 19th century world market economic models. As a player of these mods, I find that the ?vanilla? games that I play through receive a second life, and second wind, as I try them modded. To that end I thought I should go over a few mods that I found rather outstanding in their fields, and hopefully would be of interest to the strategy gamer who wishes to multiply his experiences with some of his favorite games.


?Roma Surrectum II? for Rome: Total War 

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I was a big fan of the original Rome: Total War and had played it for hours on end with the various expansions as well. When I heard that the second installment in that title was coming out, I had decided to pick up old campaigns with it once more. Opting for a different experience, I had looked online for a mod to play this time around. ?Roma Surrectum II? is a total modification for Rome: Total War. It reworks the economy, buildings, units, combat mechanics, etc. Led by ?Dvk901? and the Roma Surrectum Team, this particular mod is a must have for any fan of Rome: Total War.

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I think one of the most impressive things to come from this mod is the way it has changed combat. In the original game, it would not be so farfetched to experience combat for only a few seconds. One's columns of legionaries would come into contact with the enemy forces along a line and either one's forces or the enemy's would break in a matter of seconds. An easy flanking maneuver makes this process go even faster. This is not the case in ?Roma Surrectum II.? For one, the individual units have, on average, more men than the original game, paving the way for massive battles. Secondly, units are much harder to break. Even when flanked, the hundred or so men in a particular rank take a while before they throw up the white flag. This is much more reflective of realistic combat situations where battles might be decided over the course of an hour rather than the first five minutes of an engagement.

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Some might call this a rather strange change, but I think it amplifies the tactical play. By locking units in combat longer, positioning actually becomes important in the game. One now has enough time to hide units for a successful rear ambush. In the vanilla game such gambit tactics would mean that your main army simply melts away before your reserve forces could make a difference, but with the new battle mechanic detached units become very important. The enemy being resistant to breaking also means that someone's quick fix elite-unit push on one end of the enemy line is not going to instantly result in a decisive victory. The general has to think of his entire army now instead of just relying on a decisive push. In other words, it magnifies the tactical considerations and presents a more mature and realistic view of warfare for the discerning strategist. 

There are many other excellent additions from this mod including historically accurate Legions with their own liveries instead of the simply generic units one receives in the unmodded game. It also fixes one of the most annoying aspects of the vanilla game: the population explosion of captured provinces turning into a ticking time bomb of revolt from the squalor. In this mod one can now funnel populations into suburbs in order to alleviate the population growth rate into something more stable. 

Overall, ?Roma Surrectum II? takes the original experience of Rome: Total War and elevates it into a true tactical experience. The changes in map, economy, combat, and units flesh out the original work into a memorable and challenging strategic experience. Between all the various factions and the scripted events that occur, immersion achieves a fever pitch. One feels the true weight of Roman domination and struggle in this excellent mod. Watching the different colors of each regional Legion clashing against gigantic hordes of enemy barbarians is a treat that any striving general can curl his toes at, and this mod delivers such aesthetics in droves without compromising the core need for strategic and tactical combat. Smart, classy, and well equipped, ?Roma Surrectum II? supercharges the Rome: Total War engine.


?Mihi Est Imperare Orbi Universo? for Europa Universalis III 

Before I get accused of having a penchant for Latin, let me make my case about this second mod I'd like to showcase. ?Mihi Est Imperare Orbi Universo? or MEIOU for short is a mod for the critically acclaimed grand strategy game Europa Universalis III. The name refers to the legendary phrase ?Austriae est imperare orbi universo? attributed to Austrian potentates which boasts that ?It is Austria's destiny to rule the whole world?, but replacing Austriae with Mihi allowing the player to claim ?It is to me to rule the world.? True to its name, MEIOU's team led by ?gigau? offers exactly this experience. 

Europa Universalis III is already famous for its platform of allowing a player control over any nation between the 15th and 19th centuries, and ruling its destiny in every manner from religion to war to economy and colonialism. It seems hard to imagine that any mod could make the experience of complete world micromanagement any more complete than what the team at Paradox had come up with. MEIOU, however, has convinced me that playing unmodded  Europa Universalis III is a waste of time. MEIOU provides more decisions, a better map, better handling of commodities, modifiers, national ideas, cultural decisions, and technologies. There are so many improved mechanics that it is impossible to list them all in one sitting. 

Some highlights include an ingenious new take on the colonialism system. As opposed to simply acquiring colonists one decimal at a time, colonialism is managed through ?eras? of colonialism that trigger for a country depending on their administration, technologies, and national ideas. If one has reached a certain technological level and has certain ideas, they receive the premium tier of colonists and colonial growth as well as overseas income, whereas a nation which focuses on more terrestrial national ideas might see themselves lagging behind the colonial race by being an era behind, or even unable to participate at all.

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The National Ideas as well have been revamped along with the domestic policies in order to reflect more nuanced priorities and prerogatives. Gone are the paltry offerings given by the vanilla effects of National Ideas. Instead of simply one or two modifiers, the new National Ideas and decisions now offer a massive list of modifiers - and not just boosts either. Certain ideas or domestic policies have tradeoffs. Smithian Economics, for example, now delivers a hit to trade efficiency rather than just the flat boost to production efficiency. The addition of nuance is a true sign of an intellectually superior experience. But it's not merely the mind that MEIOU appeals to, but the soul as well.

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MEIOU offers a fan of the early modern period a true Baroque experience. The user interface has been vastly improved. The icons and graphics have been gilded with gold leaf and floral design. The intricate level of attention makes this user interface a true crown, and abolishes the slavish caricatures of the original graphics. If one clicks on an event it is no longer a window cropped out of a Sunday cartoon, but a true parchment and golden seal, with burgundy marble in the background. The immersion at this level is total. These are just the tip of the iceberg for the MEIOU experience, and it is a great comfort to know that the same team will be continuing to work on a new mod for Europa Universalis IV.


?Thrawn's Revenge? for Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption 

The last mod I'd like to take a look at is a bit of a departure from the historical based games we've looked at before. I had mentioned at first that mods for universes that rely on creator knowledge are difficult to come by, but ?Thrawn's Revenge? by the Thrawn's Revenge Development Team is the exception that proves the rule. The Star Wars Universe in its expanded form creates its own particular history which is rich in nerd culture and, in this case, strategic delights. No longer are conquests merely terrestrial, but the very stars become the objects of domination. Star Wars: Empire at War already provided a rather interesting twist to the usual rendered three dimensional set of strategy games, but ?Thrawn's Revenge? is a vanguard of many mods that accentuate this theatre into an art form. Set in the years after the destruction of the second Death Star, ?Thrawn's Revenge? captures a glimpse of what the public might yet be able to see in the upcoming Star Wars movies. 

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Complete with all of one's favourite units and heroes, ?Thrawn's Revenge? provides everything from Eclipse class Star Dreadnoughts to Phalanx-Class Destroyers. Every major character since the Battle of Yavin is represented from Admiral Thrawn himself to the reborn Emperor Palpatine. This mod even comes with unique voice acting to make sure that no hero goes unrepresented. The map is greatly expanded, and the galaxy feels like a true strategic map rather than just a small collection of overgrown balloons. There are so many planets that far off fleets become important, and small engagements can mean the difference between extinction and victory. The massive space battles are still the hallmark of this mod. Tactically, this mod does a superior job than many others which merely pit impractical unit models against each other. The hard attention to reasonable hard points and unit size makes being an Admiral of a space fleet meaningful instead of merely catering to fanservice. 

The number of scenarios present allow for beautiful focus on storytelling, while what I would call ?The Grand Campaign? is bolstered by an ?Era? system which replaces the old technology trees of the vanilla game. This ?Era? system allows access to different units and technologies depending on the demise of particular heroes, creating a more story-based gameplay. This level of immersion is great for fans of the Star Wars universe. I must admit, though, I personally am not a big Star Wars fan, but with this mod I couldn't help but be impressed with the tantalizing prospect of assembling a massive space fleet and engaging in tactical warfare on a galaxy level. I would even go so far as to say that this mod, although designed for the fans in mind, allows anyone who is interested in strategic action in space to be satisfied without any prior knowledge of anything a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

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