Total Annihilation: Kingdoms

Total Annihilation morphs into WarCraft.

11_1When Cavedog Entertainment released Total Annihilation toward the end of 1997, the world of real-time strategy was changed forever. With more than 200 units and buildings and its sharp 3D graphics, Total Annihilation left its mark in a way that few games do. There was, however, a fair amount of concern over whether or not Cavedog would be able to get the job done after the departure of Chris Taylor, the designer of the original Total Annihilation. Cavedog passed on Taylor’s notion of jumping right into TA2, and instead wanted to set the game in the realm of Darien. This is the result.

Much in the same way that Blizzard’s StarCraft had gamers playing all three of its different races at different times, Total Annihilation Kingdoms places you in command of each of its four, and the unit roster is kept to a manageable degree (23-31 unit types per race). In between each level (there are 48 total), you’re greeted with a cinematic sequence that moves the narrative forward.

The campaign structure is kept lively – after several difficult missions, you’ll usually get a nice break in the form of a simpler (though no less interesting) assignment. A perfect example is when Aramon is first given the ability to use the Cannoneer (a medium-strength cannon) against Taros – this short mission does a splendid job of teaching you how this unit works without you having to do much more than sit back and blast a seemingly unending stream of marching dead with your new cannons.

15_1The AI, while still not the best I’ve ever seen, is much better than the original. Pathfinding has improved greatly, correcting the original game’s tendency to strand units, and this time around, units are much more prone to engage approaching enemies, as opposed to laying out the welcome mat. Visually the game has improved – the interface looks better, the buildings are cool, and overall the game is a lot less blockier. The environments are hit and miss – some tilesets look fantastic, with lovely terrain features like cliffs and hills. Others fare as merely average.

If you’re new to Total Annihilation, this somewhat improved and easier to wield sequel (or half-sequel, if you will) might actually be preferred to the more superlative original. Vets of the classic should find plenty of fun, but compared to the seismic punch of the first TA, Kingdoms is merely great, and not legendary.

System Requirements: Pentium MMX, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95

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