• Review of ahowl11's Vanilla Enhancement Mod for Rome Total War

    Review of ahowl11's Vanilla Enhancement Mod for Rome Total War
    By Drtad

    One of the newest major mods on the Rome Total War scene, Ahowlís Vanilla Enhancement Mod does not try to make Rome Total War into something its not. While mods such as Europa Barbarorum or Extended Cultures stretch the Rome Total War engine to its limits in terms of what it can do, Vanilla Enhancement has been built from the ground up utilizing Rome Total War modding wisdom and knowledge in order to preserve both the stability and essence of the vanilla game while enhancing it in every way possible, in the vein of other mods that try to keep the vanilla style of the game like the venerable Extended Greek Mod or the newer Barbarian Empires.

    One of the distinguishing features of the Vanilla Enhancement mod is its campaign map. It is definitely a step above the vanilla map in terms of size, scope, and accuracy, but unlike many other mods, it does not extend to central Asia and parts of India. Several mods extend the map to that region in order to include Bactria and sometimes a Saka faction, but of course doing so takes the focus of the campaign itself away from the Mediterranean. While the map does extend to the other side of the Caspian Sea, which is absolutely necessary in order to include Parthia in its historical starting position, it does not go beyond that, and I think that is one major factor that differentiates Vanilla Enhancementís campaign from others. Of course, there are mods that take this Mediterranean focus to an extreme, but Vanilla Enhancement provides a good balance between focus and scope. This is indicative of Vanilla Enhancementís main strength Ė it balances the focus and scope of the campaign in a way not many other mods have done. Additionally, several new provinces have been added, settlement and province names have been altered to be more historically accurate. Most of these changes are pretty simple ones, fixing the blatant errors of the vanilla game, such as making the Macedonian capital Pella instead of Thessalonica or the Armenian capital Armavir instead of Artaxata. Of course the most major change is to the starting position of Parthia, which is actually present on the map in Vanilla Enhancement. However, the new and altered regions are also quite welcome. Vanilla Rome simply has too few settlements in some locations, especially when compared to other regions that are packed with cities, making the map a bit unbalanced. This issue has been mitigated in VE and the game is definitely more balanced, so you wonít see the Seleucids getting wiped out by Ptolemaic Egypt every single time anymore.

    The game in general has been made much more historically accurate. However, it is not taken to an extreme like in Europa Barbarorum. The Bronze Age Egyptians have been replaced by the real Ptolemaic Empire. The more cartoony feeling units (Iím looking at you Eastern Infantry) have been removed or reskinned to look more realistic, while retaining the color scheme of vanilla. The map extension allows for Parthia to have a more accurate starting position that actually makes some semblance of sense. All of these things increase the immersion factor of the campaign.

    Another standout feature of vanilla enhancement is its recruitment system. The vanilla recruitment system isnít quite as realistic as it could be. Many mods devoted to historical accuracy often attach unit recruitment to other types of buildings, such as government buildings, inns, markets, or even religious structures depending on the mod. Such systems are present in mods like Europa Barbarorum, Chivalry Total War, and others. Vanilla Enhancement ties recruitment to a simple and easy to understand colony-style recruitment system, which is not as complex as those found in other mods (like Extended Cultures 5). In this way, recruitment remains as straightforward as it is in vanilla, but is also done in a more realistic way, again finding that balance between historicity and vanilla gameplay that so many people want. In future versions, this system is going to be simplified even more so stay tuned for the upcoming versions.

    In terms of the battles in the mod, they again change up the vanilla battle system but donít take it to an extreme like Roma Surrectum, SPQR or Europa Barbarorum. Battles are a bit slower than vanilla and you have to be more methodical, but they donít take an hour like battles in Roma Surrectum and the speed of running and combat has not been slowed to a crawl. This is not a knock on other mods that have longer battles, itís just that Vanilla Enhancement again tries and succeeds in striking that balance between the more extreme modifications and the vanilla game. I actually prefer battles where the combat is a bit faster, like in Shogun 2, but in vanilla unmodded Rome the combat is a bit too fast for me and slowing it down is absolutely necessary in my opinion.

    The economy system has definitely been made more difficult to manage than in vanilla Rome. At the start, every faction really needs to consider its opening moves well, in order to start effectively building their economies, thus allowing them to strengthen their armies. Many of the smaller factions start out with horrible economies, so the beginning of the campaign is pretty hectic in terms of acquiring new lands and stabilizing economies, which is pretty similar to vanilla in some respects depending on the faction, and is reminiscent of Europa Barbarorum, where many smaller factions start out with a deficit. This makes the early campaign quite hectic with the smaller factions, but it is quite fun and I actually like it. Itís quite different from mods like many in the Invasio Barbarorum series, where many of the larger empires start out with huge territories and armies, but their economies are collapsing. Itís pretty much the opposite of that. I suppose I would prefer it if it was more like the economy system in Chivalry Total War, where even the smallest faction begins with a small surplus, but it is very difficult to grow your economy and you really have to build in order to make your kingdom viable in the long run, but the economy system here is also well done and challenging.

    The graphics in Vanilla Enhancement are quite nice, again striking that balance between vanilla and mods with total graphical overhauls like Roma Surrectum. The units in particular are good looking and again improve the historical accuracy of the game without taking the vanilla feel away from the factions. Some have stated that there are too many additional units and this fact takes away from the individuality of each faction, but in my opinion each player can choose the way they want to construct their factionís armies in vanilla anyway, and I donít think this takes away from the gameplay Ė it just gives you more strategic options and more units to try out with any of the factions in the game, which I find to always be a very fun part of any Total War game. Of course, the factions remain very distinct, as they are in vanilla, just with access to a bevy of new and excellent looking units.

    The culture system is also something that should be mentioned Ė since Vanilla Enhancement utilizes the Rome Total War Alexander engine, it takes advantage of the religion system that was introduced in Barbarian Invasion in order to add more visible cultures to the game, so that provinces can have a dominant culture but be converted over time. This of course adds another layer to the campaign gameplay that was missing in the original vanilla Rome Total War, but of course was added in its expansions.

    In conclusion, Iíd say that Vanilla Enhancement is one of the most exciting mods for the original Rome Total War right now. It is essentially trying to be a Rome Total War 1.5, including all the improvements and historical accuracy we have come to expect, while retaining the sort of Creative Assembly style we have come to know from them. One of the main reasons Vanilla Enhancement is such a good mod to play now in 2020 is that its currently in active development. Its creator is working hard on subsequent versions and is always ready to take the feedback of players seriously. Give Vanilla Enhancement a shot and leave feedback in order to help improve the mod even more. You can find a link to the discord of the Rome Total War modding community where you can interact with the developer of this mod and many others for the original Rome Total War in the description below. Thanks for watching!

    If you found this article interesting, you might like to read some of the Eagle Standard's previous articles. A full list of these can be found here.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Alwyn's Avatar
      Alwyn -
      Thanks for a great review, Drtad, and congratulations to ahowl11 on the recent release of v18 of your Vanilla Enhancement Mod (and thanks for the hotfix, too)!
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Very nice review, I agree!

      Also, now I feel compelled to reinstall Rome:TW and then try ahowl's mod