Browsed by
Tag: Strategy

Civilization V – The Verdict

Civilization V – The Verdict

The Civilization series has been hailed as many different things by many different people. A board-game writ large. An all-encompassing empire building masterpiece. A shit turn based combat game. Well finally with Civ V you can scratch that last one off the list. The combat has finally caught up with the ambition of the rest of the pieces in the Civilization puzzle. Hexes and single unit per tile rules have made a striking change in how the game plays, without allowing military action to overpower everything else about the Civilization series that has earned its place as one of the PC’s all-time greats.

And earn its place it has. For a PC gamer from a young age, I can think of no other series which has consistently batted away rivals for a space on my hard-drive. For me, Civilization has been a constant, igniting an interest in world history that remains to this day. Although I could debate the usefulness of having a large array of dull historical facts at my disposal (thanks Civilopedia!), let’s instead say that for a game to have a profound effect on a persons interests even outside gaming is a remarkable achievement. The Civ games you see, are educational without being preachy and in your face. You can take it simply as a game, a finely tuned balancing act of the multiple strands of human achievement, from culture, to science, military and the economic. Or you can take it as an engrossing experience that weaves a unique historical narrative every time you play it. Now I’ve just gone and done the exact opposite from what I was attempting to do with this review, I made Civ sound boring and worthy. Civilization is first and foremost an engrossing and enjoyable game, it’s horrifically addictive and makes unreasonable demands of your time that you’ll be only too happy to provide it with. But beyond that, beyond the ‘really good game’ part is something more. And for me that’s what makes Civ a truly special series and Civ V a truly special game.

That something more is the narrative, weaving history and a very personal fiction together to create a unique story each time you play. As a veteran of the series I could probably bore you for hours, explaining how in Civilization IV my preference was the Mongol nation, with whom I’d bully and conquer my way across the world. I could detail my glorious French nation in Civ V, cultured and benevolent in their interaction with the city states, propelling me to glory despite having started out on a small island.

The story of my sad little Indian nation is my favourite Civ V tale though. Having decided to have no more than 3 cities and be a pacifist, all was going well until neighbouring USA and England decided to form a ‘special relationship’ with one another. The basis of that relationship was my utter annihilation unfortunately and any plans for pacifism were soon shown to be rather naïve. Fortunately they underestimated me and the nearby Iroquois proved a useful ally in the ensuing war, my magnificent Trebuchets proved to be the undoing of both nations and I razed each of their cities with a baleful sigh, all the while wishing we could have been friends instead. In fact both the English and Americans turned on each other at the last, presumably in a pathetic attempt to win my favour. I turned my back on them in disgust, leaving the Iroquois to finish them off, while I turned my eye towards the domestic and continued down my path towards a cultured and refined society.

The years following the war were prosperous for India, my happiness and culture reached new heights and a long Golden Age propelled me towards a cultural utopia. The friendly Iroquois meanwhile were expanding across our continent growing into a large thriving nation building over the ruins of the backstabbing English and treacherous Yankee scum. I was once more guilty of being horribly naïve and it was not long before the once noble Hiawatha’s hordes were spotted on my borders. They overran me completely. Though the battle of Mumbai left many Iroquois corpses at the foot of my small, proud nation, my refined and docile peoples made for poor soldiers. Delhi, my capital was the last to fall, the rivers surrounding the bustling and happy city ran red with blood as unit after unit of Iroquois warriors bombarded her walls. Delhi’s walls shattered and my once proud nation fell by the wayside, destined to be little more than a footnote in the history of the world. Fuck you Hiawatha, next time I’m going Aztec!

Civilization V isn’t the perfect entry in the Civilization series, the AI has issues with its use of units (though a recent patch has certainly made it better at combining arms and using naval units) and the general AI focus on war and war-making can be tedious. Fair enough if you share a border with Ghengis Khan, but there’s something slightly wrong about having Gandhi as the head of a despotic state hell-bent on world domination. Multiplayer still isn’t fully implemented and veterans may find their options fairly limited (play by email for instance, is not yet possible). Worse, the lag and simultaneous turns mean that combat between two human players loses a lot of the tactical intricacy. Instead of concerning yourself with unit placement, flanking and terrain advantage you’ll be chasing shadows as units flit about randomly, with both players desperately trying to gain the upper hand.

The introduction of City States changes the pacing of the game, giving more personality to the world map and experimentation reveals they can be utilised in a number of different ways. At a basic level allying with them can bring you bonuses to food or culture, with the militaristic States gifting you free military units. But the clever tactician can use City States in other subtle ways; from having them protect your borders, supplying them with units for proxy wars against other civilizations or maybe you’ll just see them as easy targets for annexation. Once again this feature is slightly undone by the AI. Your AI opposition doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the importance of City States and the tactical or material value they can provide to a civilization. This makes it fairly easy to get all of the City States onside as long as you have a decent economy, which is an easy road to a diplomatic victory.

Civilization V, flaws aside is another fantastic entry into the series. It combines a clean, easy to use UI with crisp graphics and tactical depth. The stories that unfold in each and every game are unique to the player and it will root you to your PC for many many hours. It’s a patch or two away from being the master-piece it could, and perhaps should have been, but it still stands tall and proud alongside the very best gaming experiences you could hope to find.

You were expecting some kind of Civ-based pun here weren't you? A rather good game.

Mount&Blade: Warband – The Verdict

Mount&Blade: Warband – The Verdict

An interview by the universe

You’re late.

I know.

It’s been fucking five months.

Yeah, I noticed.

So – what the hell?

I was busy. Er. Playing Spelunky? You should play Spelunky.

Did you even get round to playing Warband?

Of course!

What prompted you to finish it now?

It’s on sale on Steam, and you should buy it. You still have time!

Oh. So now that you’ve had lots of time to think about it, maybe you can at least tell us what it is first?

It’s an RPG about horses and hats, largely. And swords and arrows and ladies and mercenaries and honey and villages and kingdoms. Or khanates, if you are so inclined. Despite what I said about hats last time, here they’re a reasonable addition to the game, as they’re mainly made out of metal.

Ladies? There weren’t any ladies in the original game besides the useless wives of the lords.

It’s not just the original game with added multiplayer. They’ve redone almost everything to some extent, not to mention all the additions. They’ve gone to lengths such as redefining how much happiness a jar of butter inspires in your soldiers. If you’re used to the vanilla M&B, the changes in the most minute details will strike you at times. It’s not often you see how difficult it is to balance a single-player game.

This might be a good time to remind you that there’s absolutely no point in buying the vanilla version of the game. There’s not one area where the original is better. Everything feels like a better thought-out game and they’re also heavily supporting the game. New, large patches are sent out every few weeks, even though the game is quite old. And unlike with The Creative Assembly, the patches don’t meant that the underlying product is broken.

I want ladies, not game balancing.

But yeah, ladies. It’s perhaps one of the most prominent, if also one of the least useful additions. Wives can serve as a secretary of state of sorts, but that appears to be it. Strictly no sex. Hilariously, when I married my in-game wife, her relationship to me got a severe hit and stayed at -14 until the end of the game. I’m actually rather happy that they didn’t give women a more strategic part in the game, as you generally don’t want those kinds of distractions in M&B.

Then again, you can now play the game as a female character, and it’s more than a cosmetic change. The game warns you that it’s actually a (mildly) sexist bastard and will treat you differently if you choose against beards.

Ladies are more boring than I hoped. Any war stories instead?

How convenient that you’d ask that. Let me walk you through a short period of one of my kingdoms.

Only three nations remain. The Khanate does not count as they hold no cities and most lords have been captured. The Rhodoks, despite their majestic spears (pervert), pose a minor threat with three cities close together and no easy access to my territory. The Sarranids are a different matter as i have never actually fought them for long. Can they keep up with our war machine? How will their mamlukes fare against our knights? Do they have any considerable super units that i don’t know about?

A far-away land until recently, both our and their conquests have now bound the borders of our nations. Minor skirmishes by bored lords over looted villages and attacked caravans have been raising the tension for a while. Open war is near. It’s just a matter of who mans up first.

The Sarranids invade. I lose three cities on the first day of the war. Fortunately I’m a sore loser and end the game, so I don’t get to see how I’m utterly murdered, probably to death.

Your kingdom?

Mine, yeah. Gone are the days of simple rebellions and the other kingdoms take upstarts relatively seriously now. It’s as you’d expect of course, with huge territories being increasingly difficult to maintain and control. In the end, I was losing as many castles to treason and my knights deserting me as to direct enemy action. Unfortunately, the mood of your knights and lords has more to do with your interpersonal relationships than the success of your kingdom. There’s also an annoying see-saw effect: if you get along well with one of your lords – say you give him a village – your relationship with the rest of your subjects will suffer.

So I found myself in an idiotic position where I didn’t want to designate rulers for my lands as my relationships would suffer too much. Besides pillaging, lands are the best source of income, so I was struggling to raise anything but very basic armies.

Fortunately that brings me back to the good parts of the game, as they’ve actually greatly streamlined the way you actually gather money from your lands. It was really satisfying to see that it’s now automatic, so you don’t have to travel from one side of the map to the other to get money from a few poor villagers. Mount & Blade: Warband officially features automatic horrors of feudalism!

Actual war stories, as opposed to this strategy nonsense? I want to kill men with sharp objects.

As I’m sure you will. While the battles have improved, they’re still somewhat basic and get repetitive after some time. But not more than other in most other action games! I really think they’re excellent, but could be much better. As of this iteration, they don’t make for wonderful war stories. You tend to try to single out enemies, kill them during short dogfights and then turn to the next. The fighting mechanics are still really fucking good and that’s what the game originally shot to fame with. It just puts any other medieval/fantasy game to shame. I’ve been playing Oblivion lately and it’s just completely pathetic in this regard.

Right. And that extends to Multiplayer?

Yes, it’s got multiplayer.

Yeah, but, you know, talk about it. This is supposed to be a comprehensive review.

Nay. I specifically decided not to talk about it at all besides saying that in my opinion, it’s different and excellent. If you want the details, go read other blogs or reviews. It’s all the web is talking about.
I’m a terrible salesperson. CAN YOU SEE? Telling people to go read other resources online. Sorry Chris.
I’m also out of ideas on how to end the revi

Victoria II – The Verdict

Victoria II – The Verdict

The age of iron, steam and gunpowder! Of great games and nation building, peeling back the last curtains of the uncivilised world to shine with the glorious light of European enlightenment, while back home people and politicians forge national identities that stand into the modern day…

That’s what the history books would have you believe. They were wrong. So very wrong. Nobody really got much done. They were too busy mopping up Jacobins every time they fell from the sky. Whenever anyone tried to invade Iraq they were immediately taken up in arms against by raving packs of Anarcho-Liberals. The Tzar had a particularly hard time. By 1860 or so the whole Russian state was chequered with anarchist banners, shedding states in a desperate effort to maintain national unity. He’d have probably dropped more, but I don’t think they actually exist. At least the bleeding heart  liberals would be pleased with the complete European disinterest with Africa. Though who could blame them. It’s a big blank mass interspersed with those tribal groups cinema has been gracious enough to donate screen time to.

Victoria II then, is plagued with issues. First and foremost as I see it is the afformentioned intermittent Jacobin storms that rage around the planet. One of the major distinguishing features of Victoria II from Europa Universalis 3 or Hearts Of Iron 3 is the POP – a representation of social groups within your nation, and their concerns. Should you fail to sufficiently cater to the needs of your various POPs, and sooner or later the more militant POPs begin amassing, intermittently sprinkling your nation with stacks of angry rebels. Sure, the 19th and early 20th centuries were an age of such movements – the Paris commune, or the Russian revolution’s multitude of armed political groupings for example. But as Victoria II handles it, there’s little respite, and little strategy to defeating them besides periodically sending your armies on a roadshow when the clouds break. Unless you’re the AI. The AI just cannot cope with these rebel movements; I saw Russia basically all but taken over – the rebels don’t actually seem to be able to take over a state, even if they’ve captured most of the lands. Mexico is basically awash with enemies. Curiously, both nations were still in the top 8 of the leaderboards, which seems to indicate another of Victoria II’s problems: The economic side is too easy.

In the 80 or so years – game time, mercifully – I played through my campaign as Sardinia-Piedmont, later Italy, I scarcely once hit a major budget problem. It’s just too easy to keep accumulating funds once you’ve got set up. In 50 years I didn’t once have to public spending, or touch taxes. I might have had it a little easier because I opted to go with Laizez-Faire economics, meaning you don’t have to build factories, instead leaving it to the whims of the free market and it’s capitalist champions to lay down the capital… even so, it’s just too easy. The result was seemingly a budget that basically never went into the red, besides the odd dip – a minor blip – when I needed to raize new particularly large armies. My grand railroad scheme to cover the whole country in tracks scarcely dented the books. I literally couldn’t spend fast enough, and evidently other nations were not struggling despite their economies allegedly coming under siege by militant factions.

The opposing AI doesn’t put up much of a fight either. The early half of my campaign – the unification of Italy – put up a little challenge, requiring me to carefully time my military acquisition of Austrian held territory with wars against an ascendent Prussia, later Germany, while slowly acquiring the allegience of the rest of the peninsula. This was quite fun; until it became clear that the Jacobin invasion of Austria had ended their hope of halting my aggression and I sailed into statehood, putting Austria underfoot, to boot. Awash with money, I had little to do but accumulate armies and ponder where to go next. Skimming over to Africa I quickly notice that – despite it being 1870 – scarcely one change had been made to the political borders in Africa south of the Sahara, and only token efforts north – mostly by the French. It gets worse. Britain seemed disinterested in it’s Imperial mission, doing little more than slowly accumulating allies worldwide. Enough to keep it number 1, granted, but not much else besides the occasional invasion of China. Resigning myself to boredom, I slapped a quick invasion force together and conquered Iraq, only to find those wiley Anarcho-Liberals there too.

All these weaknesses come all the more bitter because there’s a lot of potential in Victoria II. In depth politics adds a refreshing dimension to shaping your ability to influence affairs compared particularly with Hearts of Iron 3, requiring you to attempt to meet -or reject- your citizen’s clamour for political or social reform as the game progresses. I particularly enjoyed the diplomacy game, especially during the afformentioned unification of Italy, requiring you to compete against the other great powers for influence – and thus power – over lesser nations. If the game lived up otherwise, I could certainly see myself enjoying a campaign as one of the powers competing in the great game for Afghanistan and Persia. The economics focused heart of the game certainly shows some potential, requiring you to decide on – or indeed, have elected- the economic principles guiding your nation, and focusing your acquisitions on economic goals – the sub-par balancing however means it’s rarely taxing enough. There’s a lot of promising features added to Victoria II that definitely show it has potential.

All said, in it’s current state of release however, Victoria II is a weak offering. The extent of it’s failings is demonstrated quite clearly by a stickied thread on the official forums pointing out fan made fixes, which certainly demonstrates what a sorry state of affairs it is in. It will be made all the more galling when Paradox inevitably release patches masquerading as expansion packs maps a few months down the line. It’ll be a particular insult if they charge for a complete political map / mechanics for Africa. I hope things improve. As any Paradox game however, it seems we must wait a year and a gold edition down the line before it’s any fit state to play.


King Arthur – The Verdict

King Arthur – The Verdict

The land of Brittania in the age of Arthur and Merlin is a strange one, various Sir’s, Ladies, Knights and Kings travelling around various provinces with footmen, bowmen and other-worldly creatures in their retinue. It is a world where Scotland is but a note in a Chronicle, a place where the mystical Bedegraine forest guards hidden secrets.

Read More Read More

East India Company – The Verdict

East India Company – The Verdict

The East India Companies were perhaps the closest thing to Eve Online but-on-earth that history has to show for. They were vast nefarious organizations exploiting and backstabbing each other and whole native populations while cutting a profit. These things destroyed nations. They shaped whole continents in ways still felt today. So why on earth is East India Company so damned boring? I think the simple fact is, Nitro has managed to capture the basic mechanics of early-modern capitalism without embracing its soul.

Read More Read More

Majesty 2 – Hands On Impressions

Majesty 2 – Hands On Impressions

The Hero!

I have always loved the Russian language, I can’t speak or understand a word of it mind, I just find it a nice language to hear. That is helpful when playing this preview build of Paradox Interactive’s Majesty 2 because the majority of the voice overs are in Russian. I won’t dwell on this little occurrence apart from to say that not being able to understand what is going on all the time adds a certain sense of adventure to the game, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Read More Read More