There seems to be several growing trends in video games, many of which aren't very good. Hours of dialog and cutscenes with little in the way of gameplay to be had, overcomplicated control schemes and games that go for stylization and "originality" over solid, and fun, game mechanics. Great Invasions: The Dark Ages "350-1066 AD" wasn't going to fall into any of those ruts, it was going to create an entirely new game-breaking problem to ruin it. It, rather heavy handedly, trades off fun and ease of use for historical accuracy. This is definitely a first.
Anyone who has played the Europa Universalis series will recognize a fair amount of details in this game. From the basics of the interface to the game map, everything seems to draw directly from those games... well everything except for the fun of the Europa series. Heck, even though this game was released long after, it almost seems like a more primitive version of the Europa series. Great Invasions retells the seven hundred year period of the Middle Ages and does so through the eyes of almost all the major countries, heresies, rebellions and religions that existed at the time.
Great Invasions is so thorough in its use of actual history that any who are knowledgeable in this field will likely find themselves noticing things happening in the game at around the same time when they would have come up in real world history. This unprecedented amount of detail to historical accuracy is really quite stunning. However it really doesn't amount to much of anything if the game itself is no fun to play, which is quite obviously a big problem with this one.
There are several types of PC gamers out there; some who read the instruction manual, some who simply install the game and try to figure it out, refusing to use the instructions for anything (we call these players "men") and others who install the game and read the manual when they cant figure it out on their own. All three of these types of gamers are going to have the same problems figuring out this game. Similar games in this genre tend to have mini-novels for instructions while this game only has a small twenty-four page manual, three of which are devoted to the designer, Philippe Thibaut talking about how good of a job he did making the game and how original it is. None of this really helps you actually play the game. The best thing you can do would be to go to the Great Invasions website and look it up there. They have some actual useful information, although it's hard to figure out why they didn't include this in the instruction manual to begin with. Useful if, and when, you can get them to load.
When playing Great Invasions you will control somewhere between four and ten different nations, ranging from the big boys like the Roman Empire and Catholic Church and several lesser known groups, like the Visigoths. This is pretty amazing in scope and was supposedly done to avoid you getting overwhelmed and being kicked out of the game by your nation being wiped out. However things like this are part of RTS games and this is a really horrible decision on the developers' part. Controlling even four nations is a heavy task and requires more multi-tasking than could ever be considered fun without spending weeks getting used to it.
The problems with this game reveal itself from the first boot up. Considering it's no graphical marvel, it loads incredibly slowly regardless. Getting past that you will find yourself picking from one of three gameplay types: Historical, Semi-Historical or Free Campaigns. Historical Campaign is just what it sounds like, you control a group of related nations, varied by what colour player you chose, and lead them to victory. Semi-Historical is much the same, except you and the other three players will also get the chance to acquire other nations at the start of the game by bidding with other players. Lastly there is the Free Campaign where you must bid for all the nations in the game, except for one you start with. This one is really challenging but it allows the most freedom, and feels a lot like playing Risk for some reason.
Graphically this game is still in the stone age of video games and the sound doesn't far any better. The game itself was developed in 2005 and it obviously took its time making its way to North America. This doesn't explain the graphics in and of itself since the graphics do very much look like something from the very early days of PC gaming. They never get very intensive. The sound is pretty ancient just as well, consisting of nothing more than a bunch of almost midi-sounding effects and music. Perhaps the major problem with how sluggish the game runs is the pop-ups that tell you everything that is going on.
Whenever something goes on, be it rebellions, heresies or someone asking for political alliances you get a pop-up. From the minute you start the game you will be deluged with pop-up after pop-up asking you a variety of questions. The most bizarre part of it is that some of the smallest and weakest countries will ask you, their ally at game start, to declare war o the largest and most powerful country in the game with them. It's nice to know that, from the very get go of a game, you could make a decision to cost you several nations in the long run. Your only chance to get to learn the game is to pause the game and take your time learning the controls and what your options are. This almost single-handedly ruins the game for any first time player, or even someone on their twelfth time starting up the game.
The sad part of all of this is that I can see what they were trying to do with Great Invasions. It could have been a great game if more attention had been paid towards ease of use or proper documentation. Having just recently shipped in North America, this game is two years old, and still feels rushed due to how clumsy it feels. A proper historical simulator is a great idea, but as it stands I would much rather play Risk then ever look at this one again.