Posts Tagged ‘PC’

I was extremely excited when Valve teased their plans for the future. A controller that could prove a credible alternative to a Keyboard+Mouse set-up, a Linux based OS based around their Big Picture Mode and Steam itself, and the news that they’d be working with hardware manufacturers to create ‘Steam Machines’ – essentially small form-factor PC’s that would run SteamOS and ship with a controller. Why was I excited?

Ok, it wasn’t so much about the SteamOS. I’m not a ‘hardcore’ PC guru by any means, and I probably wouldn’t touch Linux with a barge-pole for fear of breaking the world, or something, but I’ve been enjoying the slow emergence of ‘couch gaming’ on my PC. The Steam Controller could open up more options to more genres of games. Obviously, there are some games that you just NEED a keyboard and mouse for, especially playing competitively online. That’s fine, that was always going to happen, but I still think once people get used to it the Steam Controller will still be a useful and widely-used device. If gamers can get used to motion control, they can get used to this.

I spend A LOT of time on my PC. I work here, I play many games here now (especially strategy games), I write my novel here… When I leave my computer, it’s usually to go eat, to go to sleep, to go out, or to spend time with my girlfriend. None of these things involve me hooking up my 360 or my PS3 (sometimes we game together, but not often). As the years have passed since I first acquired my 360 and PS3 (I think 2008/9 and then 2010, respectively), I’ve been using them less and less. And now the ‘next’ generation is here and I can’t get excited about it. I like console gaming, I have a bit of console gaming in me from my Nintendo days, but more and more I’ve become entrenched in PC Gaming. But I don’t like that I spend so much time in my office.

Imagine then a device that lets me take my Steam Library to my couch, instantly accessible, and thanks to the Steam Controller and SteamOS, almost as user-friendly as the current home console. I know, I know – you can do that already. Many dedicated PC Gamers do but I don’t think I’d be able to build my own machine for cheaper than a home console and the size of a home console, which is the point here. Plus, I’m not hooking up my current PC downstairs because my office is my office, and my living room is my living room. The Steam Machines, as I envisioned them, represented an affordable small-form factor PC which could play most, if not all of my games, and would complement my gaming habits and allow me game on the couch once more. Steam gets so many games you’d never see on a home-console, and even the ones you do are generally cheaper (especially compared to current XB1 and PS4 games). Plus there’s the steam sales, so long term you can buy and acquire more games for your money. Before Valve started making noises, I was actually considering buying a PlayStation 4. If I could spend £500 on that, I could spend £500 on a Steam Machine instead.

Perhaps I was expecting too much.

At CES this year, thirteen Steam Machines were announced and given details. Out of those 13, only four were competitively priced against the home consoles, and the specs vary (although thankfully the cheaper machines still seem competitive). IBuyPower’s (which was actually talked about in December 2013) seems similar, if not a tad better, as does CyberPower’s. Valve have also come out and stated that AlienWare’s offering, which hasn’t been giving any official details or prices yet, is supposed to be ’embodiment’ of what a Steam Machine is, so unless I’m utterly wrong about what Valve were expecting, then that’ll be similar to iBuy and Cyber’s machines, I imagine.

Apart from three that are still ‘Price TBD’, the rest were all over $1000, including one ridiculous behemoth from Falcon Northwest that could cost up to $6000.

This is not helpful.

It’s now that I say “You’re doing it wrong”. I know this is just one guy’s opinion, on his own blog no less, but there’s been a lot of confusion and scepticism coming from different markets over the Steam Machines. Hardcore PC guys don’t see the point in a separate machine, as they all already have decent rigs that they’ll be happy with. Maybe they’ll try out the OS and the controller separately, but they probably won’t buy a new machine until upgrade time, and even THEN, there are already plenty of decent, respectable high-end pre-built PC’s on the market. A lot from the same manufacturers who’ve offered up some Steam Machines as well. They seem to be marketing these things as just another bespoke high-end PC, which is not really helpful to anyone. It’s nice, but not what we need. I can’t remember who it was, but one of the companies making the pricier machines, when asked about their high pricing, replied “We’re not trying to compete with console pricing”.

To you sir I say, “Then what’s the point in you?”

You see, I have a suspicion that I might be the perfect target market for this product. I’m a PC Gamer at heart, but I have a healthy respect for the console gaming experience. I just lack the dedication, funds and know-how to go down the DIY route. Given my job and the current economic climate, money is the most important factor for me. I don’t have a problem with the next-gen consoles per say, but given some of the measures they’ve taken and the cost of games, the Steam Machine could become a credible alternative to the console experience – the fourth console. But that means next-gen prices and specs. Zotac’s offering, which I included in the ‘good’ list, is actually $599, but I’d happily pay a bit extra against the fact that I wouldn’t have to buy any games with it straight away, and even if did, they would be way cheaper. I also think that curious or dissatisfied console gamers would also be a perfect market to target, for many of the same reasons although again, it’d require a competitive price-point.

It doesn’t help that Valve are being incredibly passive about all this. They’ve not put out any direct messaging about who they really want to target with these machines. They’re trying to open and flexible and “hey man, chillax”, and that’s fine, but its lead to what we’ve got now. Considering Gabe Newell himself made a quip about Valve’s 65 million accounts versus Xbox One’s 3 million sold units, they could go a little further to position these machines as console alternatives. I don’t mind the existence of the high-end specs; I just would prefer they’re not the majority, as I worry how that will affect the future of this idea.

I want to take my Steam Library/PC Gaming in general to my couch, and I should be able to do it for the same price as the console boys and girls (not counting game prices etc…) . Am I being unrealistic? Maybe, but a man can dream.


So, whilst pretty much everyone else in GAME was queuing up to get Grand Theft Auto V, I had a copy of ArmA III Deluxe Edition in my hand. It’s not that I didn’t want to get GTA V… I think tech wise it seems like a fantastic game, although from what I’ve heard about the characters and world you live in, I feel there could be a few things that put me off. Anyway – it’s £44.99 in GAME on the 360 and I can’t be bothered to bargain hunt, so I’m going to leave it a bit. If a PC version ever does surface, might go for that instead. I don’t really game on my console much at the moment.

Funny thing was – I already owned ArmA III. I was given an Alpha Key ages ago for coverage purposes and it’s been updating to the latest version as time has passed, so it’s full review code now. I don’t really have much history with the ArmA series in general. Even professionally, I think ArmA II was released before my time (or it was early days and so passed me by), and I never played them in my own time. I’ve reviewed the past two Operation Flashpoint games that Codemasters have put out, but we all know they don’t really count, given the direction Codies took that franchise. Still, I’d always been interested in the idea of ArmA, of an ultra-realistic military shooter, and the dynamics of online play associated with it. Like a lot of my gaming habits though, they’re driven by whether or not I’ve got friends to play them with, and I never did with this. It wasn’t until DayZ came along that I bought ArmA II and Operation Arrowhead to try it out. Because it was the ‘flavour of the month’ at the time, a lot of people I knew were playing it as well, so it was easy to get people to play with. Still never played ArmA ‘proper’ though.

So why buy ArmA III, then? Well, on some level I respect what Bohemia have been doing over the past couple of years, especially with the DayZ project, and so I guess I want to show them they’ve earned my money. Mainly though, I wanted it for the manual and the controls scheme layout that comes with it. ArmA III is such intense game as it is, trying to remember all the controls is a hassle I don’t really need. The engine improvements over the last game means that there’s no better time to jump into this series, especially with DayZ Standalone (Which uses a combination of the ArmA III engine + others) coming sometime next year.

Side Note: There is actually a project that’s ported the original DayZ mod into ArmA III, called ‘Zoombies’. I haven’t check it out yet, but you should. You still need ArmA II + OA installed for it to work, for some reason.

Haven’t played much of ArmA III to date so far… my last playthrough was a weird one… it was basically like the film Jarhead, except I did manage to kill one person, right at the beginning. Highlight was definitely the muppet who crashed the helicopter full of people.

I’ve been spending most of the day fiddling with Photoshop in order to make my ArmA III experience better. With the ‘Deluxe Edition’, you get a paper fold-out map of Atlis & Stratis. I’ve spent the morning scanning it into my computer and tweaking it a bit in Photoshop. Even thought I could always just get the paper version out, having a digital copy is also going to come in handy, as I have an app that’s a great mapping tool for stuff like his. I’m making it available to anyone who’s interested, as from what I can tell there’s no other decent maps of Atlis/Stratis available online at the moment. You can grab it from my personal DropBox here.


It’s also available on GamePlan, if you want to download either the free trial or the premium version of the app (iOS & Android). As you may remember, I dabbled in PR for a while representing this neat gaming app called GamePlan. For a quick refresh, it’s an app that lets you download high quality maps onto the device for planning and orientation, either pre, post or mid-game. It’s an amazing tool for games like DayZ, where you don’t start off with a map, and even when you do find one it can be easier sometimes to glance at a tablet or phone then it is to load up the map. Works quite well for RTS’s as well, if you want to plan how a game is going to go before hand or whatever. Sadly the app never took off (probably my fault), and the designer has moved on to more profitable things now, but it’s still available to purchase and it still works. Premium allows you to host a session that your friends can join, and you can make edits on the maps in real-time. Really cool stuff – it’s what I’m using as my ‘second screen’ experience while I play.

In the mean-time, I’ve discovered this quirky little title called Towns. It was £3.39 on Steam today and seems to be curious mix of Minecraft and Kairosoft’s Dungeon Village. Haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, but then the game isn’t quite finished yet either, I don’t think. Happy Sunday!


So, you want to build a Roman Onagertm? Tired of not being able to get through that small pile of wood on the way to the shop? Sick of being terrorised by sandcastles that choke the beach? Want to show the guys in the office who’s really boss? Well today is your lucky day!

Following my easy 17-step guide, you could be in possession of one of the fiercest siege weapons of the Roman era. Rome may have not been built in a day, but it could’ve been torn down again just as quick thanks to this wonderful piece of engineering. Now you can bask in the glory, knowing that anyone who crosses you will get a pathetically small stone in the face.

Prepare yourself:

Step 1: Pre-Order the Collector’s Edition of Total War: Rome II, by Creative Assembly. It retails at about £109.99. If you didn’t pre-order the game, build a time machine and go back in time, so you can pre-order it.


Step 2: Have an argument with your girlfriend about how you spent £110 on a videogame. You won’t win, but there’s nothing she can really do about it now, is there?

Step 3: Open the box containing the Authentic Roman Onager(tm), and spread out the pieces, revelling in the task that is before you.


Step 4: Realise that you can’t see any instructions, then begin a frantic search for them. Scratching your head and fiddling with your beard is advisable. If you don’t have a beard – grow one, and then return to this step.

Step 5: Sigh in relief as you realise they were actually stored under the cardboard holders that held the collector’s edition’s bits and bobs. Make a mental note to play a game of Tabula later, using the game board that appears to line the inside of the case.


Step 6: Stop your girlfriend, who in the intervening time between Step’s 3 and 6, has proclaimed that she doesn’t need instructions and has been trying to assemble it without you.


Step 7: Lay out the Catapult Frame. Pulling the centre rope tight, insert the front and rear cross member’s, making sure the rear cross member has the indent facing towards the sky/ceiling/you. The throwing ‘spoon’ is meant to rest in the indent later.


Step 8: Insert the upper posts, and then insert the upper post cross member into the slots. It should fit flush. If not, you used a wrong piece in step 7. Give up on life and just walk away.

Step 9: Take a moment to consider whether or not you should be using glue, as there appears to be a sizable amount but so far no indication as to when it’s used. Ultimately decide against it, and carry on.


Step 10: Insert the support posts. They will form a triangle between the upper posts and the ‘rear’ of the frame. They may be a bit loose, so feel free to use some of the afore mentioned glue.

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Step 11: Insert the Axle through the left hand hole in the front of the frame. Make sure the latch is pushed up so that it doesn’t impede penetration. In the other hole you can slide in the wooden cover, which looks like a small wooden cup. Put some glue on the inside so that it will secure the other end of the axel to it. The Axle must still be able to rotate freely, even when fully inserted.

Note: The other end of the Axle, as in, the one not being glued to the wooden cover, has a metal cog on it. That’s meant to interact with the latch. Later, when you’re winding back the throwing arm, it’s meant to prevent the axle from releasing the tension too early. Have a little play and make sure it works. If you accidentally break the cog off, it should fit back on, and you can always use the glue.


Step 12: Prevent girlfriend from putting the rope in the wrong way.


Step 13: Insert Catapult release rope through the axle centre hole. Tie a not at the end that will secure the rope to the axel. Make sure it’s not the weird metal claw-thing on it.

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Step 14: Now for the fun part. The centre rope that’s on the catapult frame should have six strings in it. Separate them in half, and slide the lower end of the ‘spoon’ or ‘throwing arm’ through them. Be careful not to slide too much through, the spoon needs to be able to move without scraping the floor.

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Step 15: The spoon should hold in place, resting in the indent of the lower cross member. If it doesn’t, get someone to hold it. Either way, turn both the left and right metal wheels on the outside of the frame, simultaneously, to increase rope tension. The more you turn, the tighter the two rope clusters should get and the spoon should lift up so that it’s pushing against the upper crossmember. Turn the metal wheels until you can’t anymore, although don’t go crazy – you might tear the ropes.


Step 16: Grab the metal thing at the other end of the axle rope, and hook it on the top edge of the spoon. Find the little metal rod, and insert it into one of the axle’s other holes, to the side of the main one. Start twisting the axle away from the spoon; this will retract the spoon gradually, with the metal cog on the side stopping the spoon from releasing too early. Rinse and repeat until the spoon is once again resting on the axle.

Note: It’s just as quick to use your hands and rotate the axle manually, instead of using the metal thing. Be careful not to damage the axle cog or accidentally rip it from the wooden cover.

Step 17: Your catapult should now be ready to fire. Put something in it, aim it at your girlfriend while she isn’t looking, and pull on the secondary rope. This will release the metal claw, allowing the spoon to whack forward and fire its payload. Be slightly disappointed at the results – it’s really not that powerful. Contemplate the fact that you spent £110 on this crap, and that the game itself wasn’t as good as it should have been. Pray that the rest of it is better.

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Congratulations! You’ve now assembled yourself a fully working (scaled) Roman Onagertm! You’re now ready to besiege a small sandcastle, and perhaps terrorise the person sitting next to you in the office. Maybe. No refunds.

Serious Business: In all honesty, it’s not a bad CE, all things considered. I still question whether it’s worth £109.99, but the Onager is pretty cool, and makes a great desk ornament. You also get a cloth map of the game-world, and a set of engraved wooden tokens & dice. This can be used to play Tabula, which is an ancient Roman version of Back-Gammon, apparently, (The inside of the box acts as the board), or Tesserae, which is a bit like that game in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. You also get a two-player card game called The Punic Wars, which is actually pretty fun to play. As for the game itself… well, they’re already on Patch 1.2, it’s getting better bit by bit, and I have faith that it’ll get there in the end. I’m also quite looking forward to what they do with their DLC plan. Apologies for not having posted in so long! Also, in case it wasn’t clear – I did get this CE myself, with my own money. It wasn’t a freebie.

English: Logo of Gamescom


It’s that time again folks: The time where we all pack our bags, hop on a plane to the continent, and enjoy all the sausage and beer for a few days. Oh and there might be something to do with videogames there as well, can’t remember.

I genuinely think GamesCom is my favourite time of the year… I still want to do E3 once; just so I can say I have, but I’m so rooted in the European games market (and the PC market) that GamesCom is far more relevant to me as a professional and as a person. The Germans are all so nice as well.

I’ve officially been a Freelancer now for well over a year, although this year’s GamesCom is going to be the first that I’ll be opening myself up for genuine freelance commissions. I’ll promote this on twitter, but I find directly appealing to followers about this kind of stuff a bit… tacky? Inappropriate? I don’t know – no offence to anyone who likes soliciting via twitter, it just makes me uncomfortable. Anyway, here’s the deal:

GamesCom 2013 Freelance Pitch

As I enter my sixth year in this business, this will also be my sixth year going to GamesCom – I know the show very well, how it works, the set-up etc… And I’m also on good terms with many of the PR’s, so getting appointments shouldn’t be a problem. I’m professional, I’m good with deadlines, and I’m used to the post-Com grind, so I’ll be able to keep up with the workload. I shall be at GamesCom from Monday 19th August through to Sunday 25th. Typically, some companies like holding external events on the Tuesday, but for the most part the focus will be on business centre appointments on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Sometimes Saturday too but that’s become increasingly rare in recent years.

I am available for PAID Freelance Work during GamesCom 2013. This includes:

* Appointments: If you want to book me into something, or if you want me to try and get an appointment on your behalf I will, and you’ll get any coverage that comes from it. (Previews & Interviews) Caveat: I’m not going to be booking appointments off my own back without a commission first.

* Hands-On: Depending on the release schedule, they’ll be many opportunities in the consumer areas for limited hands-on time with upcoming games. If you want some hands-on impressions of something, let me know.

* Features: General or specific features surrounding any topic.

* Podcasts, Videos etc… If you make a podcast, video blog etc… And you need an extra voice or anything like that, (especially if I’ve managed to get in and see something that you haven’t yet), extra pair of hands etc… Then I’d be happy to do a guest spot. It’s not that I think I’m another Pachter or anything, but hey, I like talking about games, and I know how to speak on multimedia.

* Anything else you can think of.


If you are interested in hiring me, please do not hesitate to get in touch:

Phone: +44 7879640305
Skype: joeruk88
Twitter: @DigitalXentric


Welcome to my first post from my tablet. It’s typical really, I buy a new gadget thinking it’ll improve my mobile life, but to be honest I still before blogging and writing in general on my main PC at home. This keyboard is kind of small. Anyway – I’m not here to talk about my things, I’m here to talk about March of the Eagles, Paradox’s latest Grand-Strategy game set during the Napoleonic Era.

You can read more about my thoughts on the game in the review I did over on Strategy Informer. Essentially, it’s ok, not great, and is a far better multiplayer game than it is single-player. Seriously, I’ve been playing Paradox games for years, but I’ve been missing out not trying to take these games online more often, and March of the Eagles stripped down design and narrower focus means that everything is more immediate. As I mentioned in my review, a multiplayer session of Eagles reminds me a lot of the boardgame Diplomacy.

One of the issues I have with it though is how the game handles technological progression. Essentially, you learn more through losing. Now, I don’t mind the principle behind this – winning a fight simply reinforces the belief that your way is the right way, while losing forces you to look at how you do things and come up with a way of doing it better. In March of the Eagles, all nations get access to the same tech trees, which cover a range of areas from economy, to ship building, to Infantry and ‘Command’. The Great Powers also get an eighth tree which is unique to their nation. You earn idea points naturally every month, and if you fight and lose a lot of battles, your get bonus idea points and so can unlock ideas quicker. This does help redress the balance of power somewhat between strong and weak(er) nations, however it’s not perfect. To really earn enough idea points to make a credible difference, you essentially have to lose all your armies, lose a lot of sieges… essentially be taken to the brink of annihilation, and if you lose that badly, you’re essentially taken out of the game for a very long time.

Take Prussia, for example, the country I was playing as for the majority of the playtime for my review. I ended up fighting both France and Russia, which was essentially a fight I was never going to win. But that was ok, because I made it my mission to take as many of them down with me and psychologically wear both players down through attrition, hit and run tactics, and guerrilla warfare (or as close as you can come to it in a game like this). The thing is though there’s no scope in the game to reward behaviour like that. I really had to fight to keep my armies mobile, and alive, taking out a stack here, thwarting a siege there… in a move that was more troll than tactical, I sent one army into France via Austria just to take Paris, and then left again.

Man, this WordPress App sucks. And this keyboard is REALLY small.

I don’t mind so much that, as far as technological progression goes, there’s nothing gained through winning. Winning is the reward in itself, and your generals – whether they win or lose – get traits through combat which makes them more effective anyway. But I lost that war – 90% of my towns and forts were taken, and I lost most of my army in a stupid last ditch defence manoeuvre which even at the time I knew was a bad idea but I was pretty tired by this point, and wanted to see if I could defeat the Grand Army.

Anyway, despite losing all those sieges, and that one, last climatic battle, I didn’t earn enough points to even unlock a single idea, because I didn’t lose the “right” way. When you’re facing an enemy as numerically superior like France, and Russia to some extent, you don’t really want to get into pitched battles with them as you WILL lose. Yet because I lost it all in one go, instead of over a series of battles, I didn’t get the full extent of bonuses that losing battles get you.

My armies were in tatters, I had a massive manpower deficit to work through, and my nation was no more technologically effective than it was when I started. I was also essentially a non-entity for the rest of that session. Truces are locked in March of the Eagles, so I couldn’t declare war on anyone even if I wanted to, and I didn’t want to as I had to wait for my army to rebuild, which doesn’t happen quickly.

Forgive me if you think I’m whining – I had no problems with losing that war. I knew it was a no-win scenario and I was kind of proud at what I managed to achieve in the end – I annoyed the France and Russia players so much that I didn’t have to cede over that much territory, and they are now at war with each other because I gave each of them territory the other wanted. Revenge is sweet. The only things I was genuinely disappointed by was my own stupid decision to fight that last battle (It would have made rebuilding a lot easier if I hadn’t of done it) and the fact that I was unable to organise the other great powers into an alliance against France. Well, not one that lasted anyway – Russia started off fighting France with us, then truced out early and attacked me instead.

My issues with the technology system then are ones of design: the progression through loss thing is an interesting idea on paper, I just don’t think it was executed particularly well in this case, which is nothing in itself as there are a lot of things about March of the Eagles, as you’ll see in my review, that are not all there. It’s still a fantastic multiplayer experience though, and I’d recommend giving it a go.

Oh yeah, the Playstation 4 happened, didn’t it? I suppose I should talk about that at some point.

Today I’m going to talk to you about Grand-Strategy games. I like Grand-Strategy games. Typically they can be lighter on things like graphics and visuals, but they possess so much depth and potential options that it provides a nice counter-balance. Plus as someone with an active imagination, I also get a kick out of visualising events in my head anyway. One of the leaders in grand-strategy is a company called Paradox Interactive, and they’ve got several key franchises, each focusing on a different theme. Hearts of Iron for warfare, Victoria for Economy, Crusader Kings focuses on the human aspect of ruling a kingdom and politics, and Europa Universalis is blend of everything.

I went to see them in Iceland recently, and they’ve got a lot of great titles in their line-up for these games – expansions for Victoria 2 and Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, March of the Eagles, a Hearts of Iron spin-off called East vs. West (Which looks amazing). You’ll be able to see my coverage of these games dotted around the place, mainly on Strategy Informer, but it’s caused me to have a bit of a relapse into some of the older games – especially Victoria 2.

Victoria 2 is in itself a bit of a paradox – essentially it’s a game that focuses on the industrial revolution, so the economy system is very robust. You have a detailed population interface, with everyone having different jobs and you have to make sure you provide for all their needs. You can open different types of factories, which all require different types of resources that you can either find from within your nation or export from elsewhere. This is backed up by a very hands-on political system, where you have different parties and philosophies that your people with vote on (some political parties, for example, won’t let you build your own factories, letting the private investors do it for you). There’s also the diplomatic stage, where you compete with other great powers to draw minor nations into your sphere of influence, which gives you priority over trade. Essentially, they didn’t want this game to be a wargame, like the previous title they release – Hearts of Iron III.

The funny thing is though, as the name suggest, the game is set within the backdrop of the late 19th century colonial era. The scramble for Africa is accurately represented through a colonisation interface, there are the eastern nations you can interact with, and there were a lot of wars during this period. The 1871 Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian-Austrian War, the Zulu war in South Africa… the game’s time span stretches all the way to 1935, so you’ve got the First World War in there as well. None of these events are prescribed in the game – there are tools and systems in place for such events to happen. It’s strange then that they’d focus the game so much on economy, during a time where there was a fair share of fighting. And it’s not like you can sit back and avoid the fighting either. In order to be a great power, you need to have high prestige, a good industry, and a large army, and an easy way to get prestige is to fight wars. The military side of things though is rather tame – you can build three different types of units – Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery, and there are several variations you can get as you climb up the tech tree. (Tanks and Aeroplanes do appear very late in the game as well, although they don’t fit quite as neatly.)

Armies can be controlled by generals, and there are plenty of military techs you can research to make your military more efficient, but when it comes down to it a war is all about making sure your army stack is bigger than the other guys… like how Civilization used to be. At the time, it was a bit of a let down from the wonderful deep combat systems of Hearts of Iron III, and now, playing through it again, I can’t help but think it’d benefit loads from the developments made in March of the Eagles.

What I so like about Victoria 2 though is the long-term goals you can achieve. Crusader Kings II is good for this as well, in a way, as you can form De Jure Kingdoms and Empires eventually if you conquer/vassalise the right people. Victoria 2 has similar system in place for certain countries. Choose any of the Italian states, for example, and provided you can reach Great Power status you can work on bringing the rest into your sphere of influence (or just out-right conquer them), and then form the nation of Italy. Play as either Austria or Prussia (or any of the other German states, I think, although it’s much harder with them), and you can initially form the South or North German Confederation respectively, and then go on to create the German Empire. Austria also has the option to become Austria-Hungary, as it did in history. There are other ones as well for other key nations, some interesting, some not… Denmark or Sweden, for example can form an a-historical ‘Scandinavian’ nation, which I did once, although since the expansion it’s harder as you essentially have to fight Prussia for a particular territory, and you have to work really hard or get some powerful friends to become stronger than Sweden.

In my current play-through, I played as Prussia, with the eventual aim of forming Germany (going through a bit of a Germanic phase right now). The first step – forming the North German Confederation – is the easy part (relatively). You start with most of the key states under your sphere of influence; you only need to fight Austria (and maybe Denmark) for the rest. Provided you get your act together quickly enough, you can attack Austria before they have any chance of forming any decent alliances, and boom, North German Confederation. The hard part was forming Germany though, as the last few key provinces I needed were held by France, who is typically stronger than you, and in my game by the time I got around to looking their way, they had several key alliances which meant I would be fighting a war on multiple fronts. To my shame, I played a game where every so often, I’d start the war to see who joined which side (we shared several allies), and even play it out a bit to see how easy it would be… it didn’t work I, I reloaded to a save I made just before I declared war. Took a couple of goes and some more diplomatic shenanigans before I found a scenario that was favourable.

The ‘Great War’ of 1900-1905 (eventually, wars that contain multiple great powers are called ‘Great Wars’ in the game, to simulate the First World War)  was North German Confederation and my lackeys, Italy, Great Britain and perhaps a couple of others, versus France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Russia. It was the best chance I was going to get, and experience through fighting out the previous attempts gave me ideas to keep the Russians pinned on that front, allowing me to fully concentrate on the French. Essentially, the war boiled down to a massive dog-pile in Strasbourg, with two huge stacks going toe-to-toe for the whole war. Italy proved quite effective in fighting France in the south, while Great Britain kept the French navy at bay and also went for their overseas territories. I used what few stacks weren’t tied up to take out Belgium – which was harder than it should of been –  and support my allies whilst making a play for Paris. Eventually, the French army just broke, and it was only after I’d occupied all of their territories that they finally gave in. Three Cheers for Germany!

It was kind of interesting to watch the balance of power change after that – every nation on the losing side of a Great War has to ‘capitulate’, so they get rid of half their army, and other reparations as well. It removed France and Russia from the Great Power list completely, and at the time of wiring France is in the sphere of influence of The Netherlands, of all places. Russia is in the pocket of Austria, who I’ve just gone to war with as they’ve been sitting pretty gathering strength for too long. So far, the ‘Second Great War’ is going well for me.

All Hail the Fatherland.