A new Paradox grand strategy game. There's a sentence to elicit excitement in almost any strategy fan. Paradox Interactive may have risen to importance in PC gaming as a publisher for exotic and innovative titles. But they still have the beating heart of a games development company, and that heart has made some of the most successful strategy games of the last few years.
Paradox's own games are fundamentally about maps; great big rich maps full of data. All the data you could ever want, in overlays and mouse-overs', in popup windows and most of all printed in bold letter across the countries themselves. A wash of facts and figures packed tightly together to form world; and those numbers tick away in real time beneath your gaze, a miniature history marching onwards at your command.
Mechanically there isn't much more to them than that. They're now all being built in the same engine, with the same real-time with pause system, and similar approaches to interface design, territory upgrades, and troop movements. If you've played other paradox titles March of the Eagles is going to feel familiar.
March is probably the most tightly focused of Paradox strategy, covering only fifteen years from 1805 to 1820, on a map that stretches from Iceland to Egypt. The economic and diplomatic systems have been paired right back to the bare minimum needed to raise armies and pick fights with people, giving you more time to focus on the main attraction for this instalment. War, an expanded combat system, new territory occupation mechanics, and victory objectives. You'll spend most of your time in March of the Eagles sending thousands of tiny men to their deaths.
Rather, you'll spend a lot of time pitching stacks of numbers into each other and then watching them diminish.
Oh there's more to it than that, troop compositions, army generals, flank tactics, unit experience, terrain and season penalties. There are all sorts of little things affecting the fates of you miniature soldiers But it's all more fiddly than it needs to be, and all rather unendearing. You'll find have to do a lot of micromanagement in March, since the computer can't be trusted to behave in a sane fashion regarding troop ordering. It becomes a chore and I often found my self just pitching giant stacks of troops into the fray and accepting the heavy losses just to get things over quickly.
For a game all about war, March doesn't actually do much to make war terribly engaging. You won't face tactical challenges of any great complexity, since fighting against the AI mostly consists of chasing its armies down as they dash at random across your territories. And it's impossible to tailor ones armies or tactics specifically to an upcoming battle because the game is always very vague about the composition of other peoples forces.
At a strategic level the computer performs a little better. Its quite capable of forming coalitions and picking the best moments to gang up on stronger opponents. Its a little erratic if left to its own devices, (The AI makes horrible choices when taking territories off an opponent during peace negotiations) but its reactions to the player always manage to seem grounded enough.
I have to note that I didn't get an opportunity to try out the multiplayer. There isn't a server browser since this isn't really a genre well suited to pickup games. The game does support up to 32 players over internet or LAN (although you're going to have to fight over who has to play Brunswick). The general opinion seems to be that the multiplayer is pretty good, and it certainly would solve the problems I've listed above. The AI ceases to be relevant if you can find 8 players for the major powers; and micro becomes equally impossible for everyone without the pause function. As I said I haven't had the opportunity personally, but I do suspect, given what I have seen, that if you can find enough people multiplayer is going to be the best way to enjoy March of the Eagles.
There is still one thing that leaves me struggling with recommending March of the Eagles. It's not so much that there is anything wrong with the game itself, everything hangs together quite nicely. It might be a little rough around the edges but it's still a perfectly functional game. And that's the thing, it's all there and working but March is just an average sort of a game, from a company who has released some exceptional games. The Napoleonic Wars are hardly under represented when it comes to War-games as a whole. The crux of the problem is I can't figure out who March of the Eagles is for. Paradox fans are going to be disappointed to learn that it lacks the characters and personalities that humanised previous Paradox titles and filled them with memorable stories. And it just doesn't have the depth or nuance you can find in dedicated war-games. Sure if you're not a hardcore War-gamer or a long time paradox fan; March is more accessible than a lot of war-games, and it can't compare unfavourably to games you've never played. However unless you've go some particular desire to play only this particular time period I can't help but feel I should be recommending that you take a look at Crusader Kings 2 or wait for Europa Universalis 4. Now those are more expensive options, but March just doesn't have the same degree of polish or long term replay value.
In short if you're a war-game fan, you probably already own something that does Napoleonic warfare better. If you're a Paradox fan looking for you're next hit after CK2 grab The Old Gods DLC instead. If you're interested in trying Grand Strategy for the first time, there is a demo out for both this and Crusader Kings 2; but I suspect you'll have more fun with the latter. If you are part of the curiously specific group of people looking for a light weight multiplayer war-game that plays like Risk dialled all the way up past eleven. Then this is the perfect way to spend an afternoon with friends. The rest of us, however are probably better catered for elsewhere.