March of the Eagles review

Tim Stone at

In the European carrion crow community, 1803-1815 is still referred to as ‘The Happy Time’.

Could the Little Corporal have built his continent-spanning empire with goodwill and guile rather than lead and blood? Find out with the help of this Clausewitz-engined curio.

Or rather, don’t. MotE is Paradox’s most militaristic offering yet. From a distance it could be mistaken for a Europa Universalis 3 or Crusader Kings 2 spin-off. In fact it has little of the political or economic depth of the former, and none of the colourful soap-operatics of the latter. The Swedes – with help from French conflict craftsmen AGEOD – have replaced much of the slow slider-heavy social-engineering they’re famous for with the sort of stylish tactical shorthand that makes this old warhorse whinny contentedly.

The new aggro approach is a vast improvement on what went before. In the moments prior to army collisions, I’m now thinking “I wonder if I’ve organised my flanks sensibly, employed my generals sagely, and picked a propitious battlefield?” rather than simply “I wonder if my stack is big enough?”

"Battles are no longer a soul-shrivellingly bland numbers game."

Every army gets two wings, a centre and a reserve. Which brigades you put into each area and which commanders you assign to them determines which tactical orders (counter-punch, hold, feint, etc) you can select before an engagement and, ultimately, how well your battlers battle. With the right combination of leaders, unit types and orders, tiny expeditionary forces can humble huge garrisons, modest home armies hold-up hefty invasion hordes. Battles are no longer a soul-shrivellingly bland numbers game.

The combat enhancements are plainly inspired by operational wargames like Birth of America 2. While AGEOD titles simulate leaders better (in MotE, generals can be teleported between distant armies at the drop of a hat), the newcomer has the edge when it comes to recounting battle tales. Animated arrows in the tac display and chronological commentary in the results window communicate the ebb and flow of scraps brilliantly. Reading about how General X skedaddled on Hour 2 and General Y spotted an opening and sent in his cavalry on Hour 4 is the next best thing to seeing it from the saddle of your own mane-flicking Marengo.

With short 15-year campaigns and target provinces determined by nation choices, there’s an urgency and focus that you don’t find in other Paradox fare. Friendship cultivation and province improvement is possible, but most of the time I’ve found I’m too busy recruiting and expanding to bother with such long-term projects. The pace and constant warmongering is well suited to multiplayer. It also means minor (and, hopefully, patchable) weaknesses such as flawed retreat logic, questionable territory ceding, and improbable CO shortages can’t hide for long.

Expect to pay: $23 / £15
Release: Out now
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Publisher: In-house
Multiplayer: 2-8 players
Link: www.marchoftheeagles.com


Verdict

80

Paradoxiana at its most approachable and bellicose. Engaging engagements, feisty AI, low price.