In addition to the hands-on sessions with Paradox’s other games, a few journalists were brought together to have special two-hour sessions with both March of the Eagles, and Europa Unversalis IV. I’ve been a Paradox fan for years, but I’ve never really gotten involved in the multiplayer side of things – mainly due to a lack of friends to play with and Paradox’s traditionally poor backend coding for multiplayer. It was a truly transformative experience – the politics, the tension, the drama... the f***ing Lollards. It was a fantastic experience, and it’s changed the way I look on Paradox games. First up let me tell you a tale of March of the Eagles:
The Eagle’s Destiny
We have a destiny. The German people expect leadership; they expect strength... the lands along the Rhine cannot rule themselves, so we will rule for them. Not the Austrians, not the French, not the British... we are the masters of the Deutsche Reich, and Prussian people will rejoice as we take them towards a higher purpose. But Napoleon, his relentless ambition threatens to engulf us all. Between his ‘Grand Army’, and the traitorous Russian dogs just dying to reclaim the Polish land we are besieged. The Austrians resent us, the Scandinavians are suspicious of us, and the English ignore us. We are surrounded, we are alone, and nothing will stand in our way.
The main problem I had with March of the Eagles when playing it solo is that, essentially, it was a ‘Lite’ version of a typical Paradox game: a kind of Napoleonic Hearts of Iron, crossed with some elements of Europa Universalis and Victoria, yet missing a lot of the features that make that game interesting. Even Hearts of Iron III, which was all about fighting World War II, has some sub-features and elements that helped facilitate you fighting World War II. Not here. To a paradox veteran, it’s a little bit disappointing as a game. But as a challenge, as an exercise in military manoeuvres and fighting across a wide variety of fronts, it certainly can be quite fun.
All of the Eight major powers in the game – UK, France, Prussia, Austria, Spain, The Ottoman Empire, Russia and… Sweden(?) – have key territorial objectives they need in order to achieve ‘dominance’ on both land and sea. Typically, many of these exist within the borders of surrounding nations (although there’s more objectives than required, so you have options), so there’s plenty of potential to conflict. Whether these matches play out along historical lines depends who you play as and what the AI ends up doing. The UK and France already end up at war with each other, with the French coalition of Spain, The Netherlands et al already in place. If you’re playing outside of those, it’s up to you which side you want to join.
As a single-player experience, it’s interesting but not fantastic. As a multiplayer exercise however, the gameplay transform into something incredible. Now, this is not something unique to March of the Eagles – our hands on session with EU IV (which I’ll come to later) was equally as intense and fun, however March of the Eagles simplicity and focus really does it credit in the multiplayer setting. Alliances and political intrigue are given new meaning when you can actually talk to a person controlling the other nations, odd AI coding or pre-set bias due to the era need not be heeded, and tactics and strategy are taken to a whole new level.
I was Prussia. Not a huge nation by any means, but historically it was a rising prominent force in Europe, easily rivalling Austria for control of the independent German states. It didn’t have much of a navy to speak off, but it had a strong, professional land army that had seen it grow since the past couple of hundred years. To the south was Austria, controlled by a lovely chap from PC Gamers US, and we decided to become allies instead of engaging in the traditional rivalry that our nations were known for. To the west beyond the Rhine, the French Grand army waited, with The Escapist’s Greg Tito flexing his muscles and waiting to send his forces out to assert his domination. Across the seas, Great Britain had naval dominance, but lacked any kind of foothold on the continent: logistical problems would plague PCGamesN’s Rob Zacny for the entire game. Spain & Destructoid’s Fraser Brown, forever in the shadow of France, was already part of the French Coalition that was at war with the UK, and the Ottoman Empire resided out in the sticks – friends with no-one, enemies with no-one, with the entire Mediterranean ripe for the taking. Rock,Paper,Shotgun’s Adam Smith eccentric rule would bring him close to victory. Sweden to the north lacked a controller, so the AI was free to run amuck there... and to East? Russians. So many Russians. Bjorn and his treacherous Russian Empire ran along our eastern front – watching, waiting... preparing for the right time to strike.
The stage was set, and we all went about our bloody business. Austria declared war on Bavaria, which held a land-objective so was an obvious target. I began my methodical conquest of the northern German states. Some I annexed, others I merely vassalised to create a strong buffer region and a ‘wildcard’ military force. Unfortunately, due to a cheeky patch made by Paradox Development Studios, Bavaria starts the game with its independence guaranteed by France. Eager to get stuck in,to aid Bavaria in their plight, which drew Austria into a head-to-head confrontation that he just wasn’t ready for. For good measure, (or shits and giggles, we shall never know) France declared war on me as well, and so the Germans were united in facing the French oppressor.
One of the key concepts in March of the Eagle’s combat system is supply. Every Paradox game has it, and there’s nothing overly different here apart from you being able to build supply depots, and create special supply support units to help you last in the field, but supply is very important. A land province can only support so many units at once, and that number is reduced when it’s an enemy army occupying the land. If you’re over the supply limit of the province, and you run out of the supplies you carried with you, then attrition sets in, and you’ll start losing a percentage of your army steadily over time – typical, the values range from 1-5%, but you can go as high as 10% if you’re really unlucky.
The Italian front with Austria exploded with the clash of bayonets and the sound of volley-fire, small and medium sized armies clashed all through Venice, Lombardy and Piedmont. Meanwhile, I had a rather large stack of 100K+ men pushing straight through the Rhinelands, coming straight for me and my considerably smaller armies. When faced with such overwhelming force, there is but one option: Get the f**k out of dodge. The deeper I could draw France’s bloated army into Prussia, the more attrition it would suffer. It was then a matter of keeping my own forces out of harms way, but close enough to each other and the French so that they could all dog-pile in. It kind of worked – the main army, which when hostilities broke out was trying to finish up our vassalisation plan, was unfortunately caught and quickly decimated, but the others were kept out of reach. Eventually, France got bored playing this game of kiss-chase, and decided to strike south in order to try and deal a decisive blow to the Austrians. Through some deft coordination and skill, we lured France into attacking a smaller (but not too small) stack of Austrian units at the Prussian-Austrian-Swiss border, and then we all piled in and overwhelmed him. The grand army was crushed, and whilst Austria was still engaged in Northern Italy I was free to take my armies into France itself.
There’s a lot to be said for flying solo. You can only have two coalitions in the game, and at the start these are the UK vs. France, Spain, Netherlands and some minor Italian states. Everyone else essentially has a choice as to whether or not they pick a side, and which side they pick. The Germanic Alliance found themselves at odds with Napoleon’s coalition by a miscalculation. That didn’t necessarily mean that we were on Britain’s side, but considering we weren’t going to get much help anywhere else... the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Unfortunately, despite controlling the English Channel, Robbringing Britain’s resources to bare. The French Grand Army, before it pushed into Prussia, first made a stop off in the Netherlands to crush an army Rob had landed on the shore. No English Army was seen north of the Pyrenees for the rest of the game.
Spain, rather than fight Napoleon’s battles for him, waswith asserting its position in Iberia and North Africa. Portugal was quickly vassalised, and Fraser moved on to start the subjugation of North Africa, whilst also trying to take care of Rob’s stronghold in Gibraltar, which occupied Great Britain for most of the game. The Ottoman’s were disinterested in the squabbles of Christians – What was Napoleon to them? A foreigner, imposing his will on other foreigners... it was not their concern. , and for the whole game essentially concentrated on spreading his influence through-out the Mediterranean, whilst also grabbing some land form Austria while it was tied up with France. The only other entity left was Russia – the sleeping bear. Russia cared not for the trials and tribulations of an up-start French emperor, or the woes of the German states.
I knew it was coming – quiet chuckling and whispering between Bjorn and several onlookers, coupled with the fact that he wouldn’t join in our struggle against Napoleon, could mean only one thing. The lands of eastern Prussia hold dominance objectives for Russia, and whilst the Russian armies are vast, why travel so far when what you want is right on your doorstep. After Napoleon’s grand army was defeated, and my forces started pushing into France, Russia declared war on me. Bastard. The Slavs began their methodical conquest of the eastern lands, and I quickly turned my armies around to face a greater foe- leaving Austria to hold the line.
Fighting a war in March of the Eagles is all about Manpower. A slowly replenishing resource, many things can affect manpower – the amount of territories you control, whether or not you’ve set up supply depots... you use manpower to build new units, but you also use it to replenish the units you have. It’s important then that you try to build up a decent reserve before going to war. Through attrition and fighting, you’ll eventually be left with a manpower deficit that you won’t be able to get back. Thankfully, the game’s set-up in the rate it tries to replenish army unit’s stops your man power from depleting all at once, but as Prussia, I was lucky to get 4K a month, with deficits reaching 60,000 towards the end. My army was dying a death of a thousand cuts, but I was determined that if I was to eventually go down, I’d take as many of the bastards down with me.
Have you ever been in a state of total war? To be surrounded with no help in sight? It’s an interesting feeling. How many times in a single-player game have you re-loaded a pre-war save because the odds didn’t look in your favour. In single-player, you’re used to manipulating the game as much as possible, staging events so that they are always in your favour. But there’s no re-loading here, and nothing is under your control. After Russia, Sweden’s AI decided it wanted a piece too. With Austria tied up in Italy still (And the Ottomans to deal with), the UK fighting Spain (thank god, as they were about to throw their armies at us too), and the Ottomans not giving a crap, I was on my own. I was surrounded. But I would not be beaten.
Bjorn was lazy, and a bit impatient. Trying to take as many provinces as possible at the same time, and lessen the attrition rate, his stacks were smaller, and he didn’t send in as many as I suspected he possessed. Further to that, instead of starving out my garrisons, he decided to assault them instead – quicker, but very, very costly, especially if you don’t have enough artillery. I saw this unfolding, and instead of rushing my returning armies straight in the fray, I waited, I let him to come to me, and when his armies were half-broken and tired, I pounced. In one instance I didn’t even need to intervene – one fortress along the coast that possessed one of the stronger garrisons quite easily fended off an army over double its size. I quickly moped up the rest, and the Russians were thrown back to the darkness from whence they came.
The closing moments of the game, I have to say, were relatively tamer than the opening salvos. France, for one, was in trouble. Despite taking back the lands that I took from them earlier on, putting down Austria was proving tougher than he thought it’d be – Fraser’s Spaniards weren’t being of any help either. Against my better judgement, I accepted the white peace offer he threw my way. T.J. (PCGamer US) was proving capable on his own, and he’d already given in to the Ottomans, who were now content to work on North Africa, so I figured he would be able to cope on his own, and at the time I was still running rings around the Russian army. Sweden was proving difficult to put down as well – I don’t know whether it was a bug, or general AI stubbornness, but despite taking their capital and several key territories, they would not give in, not even a white peace, and I couldn’t commit any more troops there. Eventually, considering their only goal was prestige, I gave in just to get them off my back.
Multiplayer, I feel, highlights the flaws in the game more than single-player. In single-player, you have more time to engage with what little supporting elements there are. Tech progression, for example, is done via fighting, but when you’re in a state of Total War in multiplayer, you only pick techs needed for fighting. In Solo, you can take your time; build up a tech tree before fighting a big war (usually). There are also hinted elements of politics and diplomacy. Emergent nations, for example, that you can set up by defeating someone else and forcing their creation, but that you can’t set up yourself. Province developments and improvements, which apart from supply depots are so prohibitively expensive, there’s really no point in them being there in the first place. There’s no economy to speak off, no progression... what you have at the start of the game is basically it, and you’ll be lucky if you’re able to do more. All that’s left then, is to fight, and I can’t help but feel if Paradox were going to set things up this way, they might as well have gone further. It’s bloody fantastic to play with friends/other people though. Like a game of Diplomacy, just with more to do.
“What!? Damn you!” I hear Fraser shout from across the room. The British have returned. Not only have they successfully defended Gibraltar, but they’ve now landed a considerable army on Spain’s Northern shore. France and Austria are still duking it out, and the Russians are once again pushing into Eastern Prussia. Not even the Ottomans – who finally decide to muck in by declaring war on Russia – are capable of slowing them down. I sigh, knowing that the game is going to end soon anyway, and prepare once again to throw the Slavic hordes out of my country. I have a destiny, and nothing is going to stand in my way.
March of the Eagles is due out on PC February 18th.