Paradox Interactive are, without any particular emphasis on whether this is a positive or negative, a rather extraordinary game developer. The list of games they’ve had a hand in is both long and incredibly varied – both in subject matter and general quality. It features such gems as Hearts of Iron 2, King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame, Europa Universalis 3 and (arguably) Victoria; and such stinkers as Fort Zombie and Actung Panzer. They are known primarily for four things: complex gameplay, sloppy coding, almost DRM free game files and (yes, I will mention it) Magicka.
So, in order to both celebrate and denigrate this eccentric developer, enjoy my musings on my personal favourites in Paradox’s catalogue, in no particular order.
Hearts of Iron II
Hearts of Iron II was my first tentative fling with Paradox, and tentative it was. Lended to me by a friend, my first response was a sort of gargled noise at the back of the throat, followed by slight weeping and a bout of murdering on Call of Honour 3: Medal of Battlefield (or whatever). After I had turned off Medal of Heroes (and washed the jam off my face) and calmed down, I gave this game a go on co-op, with my pal patiently explaining (in between curses and physical altercations) how the hell the whole thing worked. The second I annexed Bulgaria as Turkey in 1936, I was hooked.
Flash forward about a year, and the grand Slavic alliance of Romanian (me), Poland, Czechslovakia and Hungary (friends on co-op) had conquered Europe, the UK, Russia (all the way to Vladivostok!), India, Africa and colonies in South America by 1947. This alliance (known amoungst ourselves as The Blessed Sons of the Great Prophet Zarquon) and its victories was the product of hundreds of hours of LAN and wireless co-op gaming, and was only stopped by a complete failure to invade the USA due to a pathetic combined naval force. HoI2 (as it’s known) is hard to learn, easy to master, so if you’re into strategy gameplay and co-op, this is very much for you. The game is military based, with fairly quick and streamlined combat mechanics, and extremely simplified economic and political mechanics. Here, the joy is in swiftly crushed and annexing your enemies, and *clears throat* RULING THE WOOOOOOOORLD, rather than the slow and subtle economic and political dominance intended in the slower and more complicated Europe Universalis and Victoria.
Europe Universalis 3
Unlike Hearts of Iron II, EU3 should only be played multiplayer with careful supervision, a LAN connection, and a lot of patience. Unlike most Paradox games, it’s fairly stable – the problem is the sheer amount of reloading you will have to do for each player to avoid destruction. EU3 is certainly ambitious. The player takes control of a nation in 1399, and leads them through over 400 years, finishing in 1830. This will take a very, very long time (the furthest I’ve played to is about 1630), and requires a careful balancing act between maintaining a stable economy, an adequately sized army, and a good image on the world stage. Constantly invade smaller nations with no reason, and your country will soon be ostracised and/or crushed by your stronger neighbours. The military mechanics are underplayed, and are as simplified as the economic aspects of HoI2, they usually devolve into who has the most men. Despite that, war needs to be carefully thought through (particularly in Europe, where the lattice of royal marriages and alliances turn any provincial conflict into a large scale war), and the peace agreement is the most important part. Full annexation is rarely an option, and so the focus is on squeezing as much as possible from your opponent after giving them a sound thrashing. EU3 is a great blend of the best bits of Victoria’s economic and political mechanics (without all the dead weight) and the great feeling of success that Hearts of Iron invokes.
Eugh…I had to think long and hard over whether to cast Victoria in a negative light or a positive light. To make my personal feelings clear: I do not enjoy playing this game, and indeed never do play it. However, saying that, Paradox themselves deserve credit for creating it. Confusing? Welcome to Victoria. I’ll try to explain. Victoria’s economic mechanics are truly impressive.
The game maintains a constantly fluctuating and evolving global market, one that dips and wanes with every war, revolution or technological advance. The population of your country is categorised in great detail – aristocrats, officers and capitalists, clergymen, craftsmen and clerks, farmers and laborours, and (of course) soldiers. Each element of your population produces and consumes different materials (except aristocrats of course, they only consume!), requiring the player to carefully manage the balance of the population. Too many middle managers, and the country will become starved off raw materials and food, too many laborours and farmers, the culture and learning of your country will fall behind.
If you have the patience and the sheer willpower, this game is an undoubted achievement. If you want to have simple fun, this isn’t the best game to play.
Magicka (no, I didn’t forget)
Despite Paradox’s already large library of good games, it was Magicka that made their name amongst your average gamer. The game was co-developed along with Arrowhead Studios, so it’s somewhat unclear whether the catastrophic game bugs and crashes on release should be blamed on the new, young and inexperienced company – or the relatively old company known for it’s sloppy coding.
Regardless of this, the game is pretty undeniably fun and amusing. Only quite amusing however, as most of the jokes are pop culture references, the least imaginative form of humour. Thankfully, the gameplay is enjoyable and rewards experimentation and creativity. Multiplayer is a fun diversion, but becomes a tad too messy to be played effectively casually.
This game was a big diversion for a company that specialises in historical strategy games, but certainly a successful one. What else is there to say? It’s a fun game.
That’s All Folks
If you have your own Paradox favourites, tell us about them in the comments – this list is just my personal picks, there are plenty to choose from!
Paradox have already added to their library of catastrophically badly coded games with Gettysburg: Armoured Warfare, and I daresay there will be many more to come. I can’t wait.