Guest Author - James Shea
"Kingdoms" is a four-campaign expansion pack for Medieval 2. Adding content related to the Americas, the British Isles, Eastern Europe, and the Crusades, M2: Kingdoms adds some life to a potentially stagnating game. However, the campaigns themselves vary in quality.
For the most part Kingdoms is the same game as basic M2. Everything works fundamentally the same way, and only a few textures are actually "new". The main new content for the game comes from the new campaign maps and the new factions. Specifically, these campaigns are "16th-Century America", "12th-Century Crusades", "13th-Century Teutonic Expansion", and "13th-Century British Isles". Each campaign focuses on a smaller, but more in-depth, geographic area than M2's "grand campaign".
The Americas campaign is about the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, as well as expansion into North and South America. Most of the factions added are native - the Mayans, the Apaches, the Tarascans, and so on. While the Aztecs were present in M2's original campaign, the Americas campaign fleshes out these natives a lot more. North American tribes focus on fast-running scouts, and can gain access to firearms and horses later on. South American tribes are more traditionalist, but have heavy-hitting elite infantry to make up for it. The European colonists and invaders have reduced numbers, but superior technology. There's also room for some weirder units, like Aztec Coyote priests and Mayan hornet-throwers.
The Crusades campaign is my personal favorite. It centers around five factions - the Crusader states of Jerusalem (including Tripoli) and Antioch (including Edessa), the Egyptians, the Turks, and the Byzantine Empire. Crusader states rely on the might of the Knights Templar or Knights Hospitaller, supplemented with local militia and mercenaries. The Egyptians, Turks, and Byzantines are similar to their previous incarnations in the Grand Campaign, but have some new units like Greek flamethrower units. The campaign map is interesting but also somewhat tightly focused - both the Crusader States and the Muslim nations start with one staunch ally and one nearby enemy (Jerusalem vs Egypt and Antioch vs the Turks), so with the exception of sending troops to aid an ally they're fairly linear, strategically.
The Teutonic campaign focuses on the Teutonic Order's attempted purge of Lithuania and Poland. Religion is a big deal in this campaign - Lithuania starts off as pagan and can either stay that way (getting several powerful units from it) or convert to Christianity to ward off the enmity of its neighbors. Conversely, the Teutonic Order can only recruit its most powerful knights from strongly Catholic areas. While the new units on both sides are neat - the Teutonic Ritterbruders being the most iconic for their distinctive surcoats and horned helmets - the actual balance of unit types is somewhat lacking. In addition, the Teutonic Order uses a generic Eastern European voice set rather than the Germanic voice set, which is somewhat disappointing.
The Britannia campaign is probably the most disappointing. Focusing on conflicts on the British Isle between England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the invading Vikings of Norway, this campaign probably reuses the most units from the "normal" factions. Most Welsh and Irish units, apart from a few bowmen and raiders, are simply recolored normal units given a different name.
"Armored Spearmen" become "Meirionnydd Spearmen", "Mailed Knights" become "Mathrafal Horsemen", and so on. While it's not necessarily surprising, given that it's the most "conventional" campaign in terms of locations, it's somewhat disappointing. Still, the gimmick of which culture is dominant in an area is kind of neat - depending on the population, the mercenaries and available units in a settlement change.
Overall, Kingdoms is worth playing for someone who's already played as much of the original campaign as they can. While there's some new gameplay additions, these are limited to little touches - things like boiling oil at castles, for example. The new campaigns are overall interesting, but tend to focus in on a smaller area without getting more in-depth in terms of management or families. It would have been interesting to make the game more personal, but in expansion terms Kingdoms is well worth it for a fan of the original game.
We purchased this game with our own money from Steam.