Paradox is an interesting company to observe – in the span of a few short years it’s gone from a niche-developer/publisher that was only known for fairly hard-core strategy games, to the company that brought you Magicka, one of the craziest, most fun titles around. You can’t help but feel they’re one step away from becoming a true name in the industry (which they rightly deserve), and it’s fascinating to watch them grow and deal with their new situation.
Maybe because of this, the tone of this year’s convention seemed a little bit more subdued than previous ones – growth for the company was positive, but not as crazy as it was in years past. They’ve had many successes: Crusader Kings II essentially made the world realise how personable grand-strategy could be, War of the Roses brought Battlefield-esque medieval combat to the masses, and Magicka continues to ruin friendships all over the world. Further to this, they’ve improved their backend and DLC strategy, improving their reputation as a service provider, not just as game smiths.
But it’s not all been great – Paradox is still trying to improve its quality assurance processes and take a tougher stance with its partners. Magna Mundi, a fairly high profile mod-to-game project that was long overdue and probably over-budget, was finally shutdown amidst threats of legal action and a community that was crying conspiracy. Neocore Studios seems to have left the fold following the poor showing of King Arthur II, and even the recently acquired Paradox France was let go, and we were told three projects that hadn’t even been announced were also shutdown. Other titles like Gettysburg: Armored Warfare, Game of Dwarves and Warlock: Master of the Aramco released to mixed success.
To kick off proceedings, there were a few announcements at the show. Paradox Development Studios announced new expansions for two of their titles: Victoria II: Heart of Darkness and Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods. The latter came as no surprise, as the CKII team has been consistently churning out new content since the game’s launch last year. The Old Gods focuses on the Pagan factions, with a special focus on the Nordic Vikings. Features include an earlier start-date, a new pagan interface, the ability to have landless characters, and a general improvement to the Pagan nations, including the Zoroastrian lords.
Victoria II: Heart of Darkness’ improvements are more subtle, but will be a welcome addition to the base game. There’s a new naval combat system, a re-working of the colonisation system and more ‘flavour’ events like international crises (which gives minor nations more meaning), and a newspaper system to keep track of global events.
There was only one new ip announcement, which was Leviathan Warships. This is an interesting little title, a turn-based tactics game where you control a small flotilla of ships and have to battle against the AI in campaign, or against other people in competitive multiplayer. It can support up to four players, and Paradox want to make it one of their first “platform-agnostic” games, so you can play together across iOS Tablets, Macs, Windows PC’s AND Android tablets. We’ll be writing more about this game in the coming week.
Other announcements include Magicka: Wizards of the Square Tablet, which is essentially a tablet version of Magicka. Not strictly speaking within our remit, but it does sound like a credible threat to humanity so we thought we’d make you all aware what’s coming.
Aside from announcements, there was the usual set of presentations and interviews, but there was also an unusual amount of hands-on time as well. We were fortunate enough to get decent two-hour blocks with Cities in Motion 2, Europa Universalis IV, Impire, March of the Eagles AND The Showdown Effect.
All of these games are really coming along in leaps and bounds. The Showdown Effect has really improved since we saw it last year, and it proved a real satisfying challenge to get used to the twitch controls and the fast paced action. Plus, the way in which the gameplay neatly wraps around the theme of over-the-top action hero combat from classic movies is just a real joy to watch. Everything from the maps, the voice-acting and the tongue-in-cheek nature of the design, it was all a pleasure to experience.
Impire was pretty feature complete when we saw it at GamesCom, but playing it really allowed us to appreciate what a good game this is going to be. The engine is solid, the graphics look gorgeous for what it is, and the interface is fairly intuitive and easy to get along with. There’s a lot of depth to the game as well, with the actual management of your dungeon and how it grows and evolves, the questing system, both through basic objectives but also through an ‘outside’ area that you can explore, as well as the RPG elements associated with the development of Baal, the master of the dungeon.
Cities in Motion 2 was also fun to play. The original game had some good ideas but certain basic design decisions, like having a generation-spanning time period and fixed cities meant that the long-term game could be a bit boring, and the whole concept was fairly limited. Cities in Motions 2 is set purely In the modern day, has larger cities and city-zones, and these cities evolve dynamically depending on what you do. After going hands-on with it, we reckon this is going to be a great addition to the simulation space.
We had multiplayer Master Class session with both March of the Eagles and Europa Universalis. I’ve been playing Paradox grand-strategy games for years, but never really dabbled in the multiplayer side of things. Being in a room with seven other Journalists all trying to get to grips with the game’s complexities, as well as stab-each other in the back was such an eye-opener. Playing these games was so much fun, although March of the Eagles and Europa Universalis IV are very different games, with very different focuses. More on this later.
Games of the Show: East vs West
Our Game of the Show though definitely goes to East vs. West. This is a spin-off title based on the Hearts of Iron III engine, from the same guys who brought you Arsenal of Democracy. If you imagine Hearts of Iron 3, which was essentially a war game with some supporting systems to give you something else to do as well. Then imagine someone’s come a long and made it less prescriptive, longer, and completely reworked and improved every single system. Voila, I give you East vs. West.
The name doesn’t exactly give it a way, but essentially it's grand-strategy in the Post-World War II/Cold War era. You get to choose any nation, as always, and guide it from 1946 all the way through to the ‘official’ end of the Cold War in 1991. This is a ‘long game’ in its purest definition, and there are robust political, economic and diplomatic systems in place to help you guide your nation through a very tense era. Being a Cold War game, there’s definitely a lot of thematic focus on the threat of nuclear war, with a Doomsday clock that slowly ticks down to Noon depending on the events of the game. It was hinted to us that shit gets real should that clock hit noon. Stay tuned for a more in-depth preview and an interview for this game.
That’s for another year – stay tuned as we’ll be releasing some more in-depth content regarding many of the games we saw this year over the coming weeks, as well as interviews and news snippets. Paradox definitely have more up their sleeve as well, so you should keep an eye on them as the year progresses for any further announcements.