Monday, March 15, 2010

Rise of Prussia Review

Rise of Prussia, developed by AGEOD and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Reduced unit count and smaller geographic area makes the game easier to control, comprehensive orders and postures for historically detailed units, variety of leader attributes, mostly informative interface, capable AI, play by e-mail, nice 2-D map, unique setting
The Not So Good: Too similar to previous titles, needs more smaller scenarios
What say you? A smaller scale makes for a more intimate and relatively simplified strategy experience: 6/8

If there’s one country that’s been waiting far too long for its due, it’s got to be Prussia. I mean, it’s like Russia, but with extra “P”! You simply can’t get any better than that. Thankfully, the grand strategy forgers over at (this must be shouted) AGEOD have crafted another title: Rise of Prussia. Following a series of mostly successful games, it looks to be about time to grab your musket and head to Germany to shoot some Prussians and/or Austrians during the Seven Years' War. To be honest, I didn’t realize the conflict was so large (or even existed, actually), spilling over from the French and Indian War that gets much more focus here in the States. Let’s see how AGEOD’s engine has adapted to the 18th Century conflict.

If you’ve played any of AGEOD’s previous titles (Birth of America, American Civil War, Napoleon's Campaigns), then you know exactly what you are going to get in terms of graphics: a very nice 2-D map. Rise of Prussia continues the developer’s tradition of offering a detailed rendition of the region (this time Germany) with a nice artful style that looks great. Additionally, Rise of Prussia contains seemingly historically accurate portraits of most leaders in the game, when white wigs were all the rage. This really helps to immerse you into the game: you are playing with actual people, instead of rectangles with lines in them. There are no battle effects to be seen (just numbers counting down), but this is not a big deal: I would much rather see nothing than a crappy 3-D scene. The music selection is also period-specific, putting you in the mood for historical bloodshed on an epic scale. In short, Rise of Prussia gives you a great presentation for 2-D wargaming.

Rise of Prussia features the Seven Years’ War, a major conflict from 1756 through 1764 pitting Prussia and Great Britain against Austria, France, and Spain. The game includes three tutorials to teach the basics of the game, from the interface to the command structure to attacking enemy units. Once you have the essentials down, there is a short scenario introducing the start of the war and six larger campaigns offering different starting dates. All of the main scenarios end in 1764, starting from 1756 through 1762, depending on your level of dedication. Like previous AGEOD titles, Rise of Prussia suffers from a lack of short scenarios to ease you into the grand campaigns: it would be nice to have small missions sequestered to a portion of the map involving only a couple of armies, but my constant, annoying pleas remain ignored. One thing Rise of Prussia has going for it is the smaller (relatively speaking) map: it makes for a more simplified game (in a good way), with less geography to worry about and lose units across. Victory points are earned by controlling cities and destroying enemy units, and high national morale means an instant victory. If the AI isn’t enough of a challenge for you, play by e-mail is available, although the 100+ turn length of the grand campaigns would require a significant time investment.

The interface of Rise of Prussia is pretty good. Most information is displayed on the main map, from the terrain to weather and resources. Units statuses are also shown on their icon (posture, strength), offering a quick glance at the effectiveness of your military. The new addition to Rise of Prussia is an army outliner, partially stolen from Europa Universalis III, which lists all of your army units along the right side of the screen for easy access. While this is quite nice, it does not allow you to see a list of corps or brigades that are independent of an army, making the outliner only useful for finding a handful of units. Here’s hoping the feature will be expanded in the future. I should also note that it can be difficult to differentiate between countries, as the portrait backgrounds look too similar for Prussia and Austria (blue and gray…seriously?). The comprehensive ledger shows a list of all of your units, in addition to victory conditions and possible replacements, but it’s very unwieldy and should be more streamlined.

Units in Rise of Prussia cover the usual gamut of things that make boom, from infantry to cavalry to marines to artillery to sharpshooters. These units are organized (automatically, according to historical records) into elements (companies, batteries, squadrons), units (battalions and regiments), brigades, corps (is the plural corpses?), and armies. This natural stacking makes controlling a large number of units very easy, as all you need to do is move armies and corps around and all of the subordinate attached units will follow. Couple this with the reduced unit count found in Rise of Prussia and you have a game that’s much easier to control than any of its predecessors. Constructing new units or reinforcing existing ones is a straightforward affair using the revamped interface that features filters meant to simplify the process, which works well. Units are comprehensively rated in a bunch of different areas: offensive fire, defensive fire, initiative, range, rate of fire, protection, discipline, assault, ranged damage, assault damage, cohesion, movement, speed, detection, hide value, weight, support, police, supply, ammo, patrol, and blockade. Not only is that an impressive list, but including it also made my review significantly longer. It’s win-win! Each unit is can be given a number of orders, from simple movement commands to raiding a province to entrenching against an enemy or building a depot. You can also dictate a unit’s offensive or defensive posture and rules of engagement, which determines when they will retreat. For a game that essentially only features moving units around on a map, Rise of Prussia offers up a lot of options to keep it more interesting. The level of detail when it comes to leaders is also impressive: from attributes to special abilities like skirmisher, partisan, hothead, and admired, each leader has distinctive qualities that make them stand out, much more than a generic infantry man found in other games. Leaders can be promoted and demoted, and if you choose to bypass seniority, there is a penalty to be paid in national morale and victory points. The level of detail that was paid to the units and leaders of Rise of Prussia would make and historian proud.

There are a number of variables that must be considered when waging war around the wilds of Germany. Terrain plays an important role, as marshland, bridges, and rich territory can alter your strategic plans. Capturing cities and towns is your primary goal, since this is where all of the victory points are earned. Towns are also where most of your supply is earned, automatically distributed by the computer (thank goodness), so they are doubly important. Supply wagons can carry supplies and units can forage for food, but these are short-term solutions that must be enhanced by capturing territory. Of course, marching into enemy lands has its drawbacks, as attrition from supply shortages and unpleasant weather conditions will take their toll. Combat is completely automated, using all of the attributes and abilities of your units to determine a victor. You can view a detailed battle report to view the kills round by round, but only the truly obsessive will even bother. The AI puts up a nice fight, going after vulnerable units, taking objective locations, and managing its army well; I have no complaints here. While Rise of Prussia features a very detailed engine in which to do battle, so did all of the previous titles, and the lack of extreme innovation is why this game will only ultimately appeal to fans of the series.

If you like any of AGEOD’s previous efforts, then you will like Rise of Prussia. If you hated any of AGEOD’s previous efforts, then you will hate Rise of Prussia. If you were intimidated by any of AGEOD’s previous efforts, Rise of Prussia is a good place to start: the smaller map and decreased unit count makes it easier to handle in comparison. The game would benefit from more shorter scenarios, but you can start the conflict in pretty much any year from 1756 to 1762 until the end of the war in 1764. The tutorials do a decent job teaching the basics, and the interface is effective: the new army outliner makes it easy to access your largest units, but it would be nice to put corps and independent units on there as well. There are a multitude of options available for your strategic needs, from commands to postures to placing units in hierarchical order. Rise of Prussia also seems to be historically accurate, giving you all of the correct units and leaders for each of the starting conditions. The units and leaders themselves are detailed, with plenty of attributes to make automated battle outcomes more interesting. You must also pay attention to supply (thankfully automated), weather, and disease, adding to the strategic depth. The AI is just as good as before, offering up solid competition if you prefer not to engage in a play by e-mail contest. The problem is that we’ve seen this all before, so in the end Rise of Prussia is just Birth of America and American Civil War and Napoleon's Campaigns in a slightly different setting: it all plays out in the same way, so you can think of Rise of Prussia more as a standalone expansion (the game is priced appropriately at $30). The end result is that fans of the developer will be pleased with essentially the same product, and those who steer clear of the series need not apply. Rise of Prussia is the most approachable of any of the games so it is a fine place to start, but it just doesn’t offer that many differences from what’s been available several times over for the past three years.