Autumn is here. How can I tell? Well, the air is crisp, leaves are turning golden yellow and orange, pumpkin spice everything (seriously, I saw pumpkin spice grits) is on grocery shelves . . . and Matrix has released yet another DLC in support of its uber popular tactical ancient’s wargame for the PC, Field of Glory 2 (FOG2). This time around the subject is the Rise of Persia (ROP), asking a pittance of $14.99 US for barter, making the add-on another must buy. Here are my reasons why.
Reinforcements on the Horizon
This pack comes with 12 new Factions, broken down into 21 new Army Lists (the Egyptian Faction has three for example) supported by 32 new troop types. The Factions include the Assyrians, Babylonians, Cimmerians, Cypriots, Egyptians, Elamites, Hebrews, Kushites, Mannaeans, Medes, Phoenicians and Urartians (think Iron Age Kingdom of Van, and yeah, I had to look it up, too). Obviously, these folks represent the most of warring powers opposing Persia during the time period covered by ROP, and the troops drummed up to man their armies likewise. Yes, there are Egyptians, Medes and so on, but also a whole lot of Assyrians such Heavy Chariots, Guard Foot, Heavy Foot and Raw Medium Foot. In a clever wrinkle, there also seems to be a new classification of unit introduced, whereby the front rank deploy heavy spearman with shield, while the second rank behind are archers.
However, not all of the included reinforcements belong to the ROP era. Both Early and Late Roman Praetorian Guard formations are now available, and at least one Army List has been tweaked for their inclusion. The 285 – 378 Roman Army List has now been split between two time frames, one from 285 – 312, then 313 – 378. This allows for play both before and after the abolition of the Guard when “who protects Caesar from the Guard” became a burning question in Roman politics. Similarly, there are three new Thracian troop types to include Peltasts, Massed Peltasts and Spearman, along with time adjustments as needed.
For those keeping count, all this combined means that the total number of Army Lists for FOG2 now stands at a whopping 191. And if the original, miniature wargaming rules upon which FOG2 is based indicates anything, there are still many, many more to come.
King of Kings, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Corners of the World
This, of course, is Cyrus the Great of Persia, the subject of ROP though the DLC goes all the way back to the Assyrian Empire as a starting point. For me, Assyria is one of the things that makes this add-on in particular so fascinating. If any state in the ancient world deserved to be described as a nation of goose-stepping Nazi thugs, its these guys. I have always wanted to play them on the tabletop, and with ROP I can. To do so I can create my own customizable battles, use one of the new 35 generic or Quick Battles, partake in one of four campaigns or slug it out in one of the six historical or Epic Battles.
But only six. If there is one shortcoming with ROP is that there are only six historical engagements included, these being Ulai 653 BC (Assyrians vs Elamites), Nineveh 612 BC (Babylonians and Medes vs Assyrians), Megiddo 609 BC (Judeans vs Egyptians; yes, that Megiddo as in Har Megiddo or Armageddon), Carchemish 605 BC (Babylonians vs Egyptians), Pasargadae 550 BC (Persians vs Medes), Opis 539 BC (Persians vs Babylonians). Unfortunately, there is not much research that tells exactly where these battles were fought, who commanded anything, what forces were there or how they deployed. This even goes for Opis, one of the major contests for the era. Thus, I would have hoped for a few more Epic Battles as its really easy to do research when none exists. Think the battles of Pteria (547 BC) or Thymbra (same year), though given Xenophon indicates 620,000 men fought at the latter, perhaps this is asking just a wee too much. There is also the investment of Sardis in 546 BC, and with the Biblically celebrated fall of Babylon, ROP could have been a great opportunity to see how FOG2 could handle city walls and siege towers.
The four campaigns included are the substitute and the game does a pretty admirable job in providing plausible battles with typical forces that might have arrayed against each other. The campaigns are Ashurbanipal (Neo-Assyrian Empire), Fall of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar II (Neo-Babylonian Empire) and Rise of Persia (Cyrus, he of infinitely long signature blocks). The Quick Battles do pretty much the same thing.
Playing the game is no different than previous iterations, and this is a good thing. It makes the DLC easy and quick to learn. The big difference is the number of missile troops deployed, even more than I noted in the Belisarius module. We’re not talking dual armed troops here but forces whose only primary weapon is the composite bow, and there are lots of them. No kidding, you got bows, or if not, you got bigger bows and if neither you got more bows. This does make for a vastly different game, even more so when you toss in some of the more exotic units available and a couple of scenario specific options. I figured this out when I played – and am now replaying – the battle near Opis. Here I came face to face with not only Babylonian chariots but camels as well. Plus, the scenario starts off with Persian regular cavalry at a 90-degree perpendicular to the Babylonian line’s right flank on turn one. Easy kill, right? Well, not so much as like I said, lots of bows and Byzantine Kataphraktoi these lads are not. Likewise, while the light missile troops maintain their shoot and evade attribute, it’s a lot trickier given your massed target won’t charge and can sling more arrows than you can. Yup, time to learn how to fight all over again with finesse key but doing so is all part of the fun.
Visuals, despite the ubiquitous dwarf forests and Hobbit hovels, convey the usual presentation excellence we’ve come to expect. Units are realistically drawn and animated with clothing and accoutrements historical down to the last sandal. This is a good thing because an under dressed Gerard Butler to the contrary, the Persian army was not only one of the toughest, most successful around, it was also one of the most colorful. The designers obviously knew this as well as they knew their history and so have provided a visual feast that rivals really good miniature games. True, Cyrus’ famous eagle vexillum is missing, but the shields of the Babylonian Foot Guard are stunning. I’ve provided a comparison between pewter and electron, so decide for yourself.
Under the Hood
If I could convey only one piece of advice to folks who grab any of the FOG2 DLCs, it would be to click on the button that says Patch Notes. Most DLC releases also come with a free patch update that will impact play even for eras and armies that have absolutely nothing to do with the DLC it launches with. ROP is no exception and launches alongside the version 1.4.7 update. This patch, released the same day as the DLC on 27th September 2018, includes changes in the following areas – Mods (1 update), Steam (1), Gameplay (7), Units (4), Army Lists (8), AI (8), UI (3), Multiplayer (2), Manual (3) and Bug Fixes (10). That’s a total 47 modifications/ Granted, this is free so you’re getting it regardless of whether you’re buying ROP or not, but Byzantium’s commitment to making improvements along-side premium packs is admirable.
Some of these changes are pretty minor, almost trivial, but some may well have a big impact to the point of players needing to adjust how they play the game. There are a bazillion (OK, just 47) examples I could use, but the following list gives a pretty good indication of what you can expect.
- Gameplay – Heavy Weapons now get +100 POA (Points of Advantage) against mounted as well as foot opponents.
- Gameplay – Units armed with 50% Heavy Weapons or 50% Defensive Spears now get the full effect of these weapons at Impact.
- Army Lists – All Sassanid Army Lists completely overhauled with greater numbers of heavy infantry during later periods.
- Army Lists – Number of infantry units available to Byzantine armies significantly increased.
- Army Lists – Praetorian Guard added to first three Imperial Roman lists.
- AI – AI controlled Shock units with missile capability (as in Byzantine Kataphraktoi) will no longer default to shooting vice charging.
- AI – AI controlled infantry in primarily mounted armies will now start advancing earlier in order to keep up (nice).
- AI – AI controlled infantry now less likely to charge mounted troops.
Finally, in a twist so ironic its funny, one of the most significant mods is an anti-mod. The software now switches off any global modifications made whenever the base game is updated to avoid scripting-based crashes. Hysterical, but you get the picture. Take note!
What can I say except go buy it!
This is the fourth DLC on top of the base game, so the software works with nary a hitch, giving realistic results driven by realistic battles fought by realistic forces, both in appearance and performance. People who love ancient warfare will be inexorably drawn to the game, as well as folks from the GMT Great Battles of History rabble who don’t want to pay $70 US a pop for cardboard. For miniature players, this is damn near heaven. I would absolutely love to go into Ancients with lead and pewter, but I dislike the tournament prime environment, don’t have the money and certainly don’t have the time. This game allows me to get that fix without having to open paint bottle one.
Some will say Rise of Persia is mostly about adding new armies and scenarios, but at $14.99 US, I could care less. I’d be willing to bet cash money most readers won’t feel any different. Once again, highly recommended.