Publisher: Paradox Interactive
AGEOD are famed for their technical turn-based grand strategy games that take an uncompromising look at a tight geographical region and time period. In an age where 'dumbing down' and 'accessibility' are fast becoming review buzzwords, their wares are typically intimidating for newcomers yet deeply enriching when when every subtle nuance finally clicks into place. Pride Of Nations is their biggest and most ambitious title to date; using the Victorian era of aggressive imperialism and colonial expansion as a colourful backdrop for the action.
Players start out as the omniscient mysterious driving force behind one of the great empires of the age. Your goal is to forge a mighty global dominion (that's right, the entire world is open to you); which basically means taking advantage of fickle native tribesmen and developing nations by attracting/tricking/bullying them into becoming a colony or protectorate. As well as managing your own infrastrucure, settling on economic policy and keeping your citizens happy, you'll need to embark on a campaign of diplomacy and war against the other superpowers as they attempt do do the same. Since you'll effectively be trampling all over developing countries to fulfil your objectives, I'm afraid you'll need to leave any sense of moral fibre at the threshold... and it's worth noting that correct politics play a much more important role than political correctness. If you're easily offended by such things, do remember that this is a realistic simulation of a very different time.
Managing your empire unsurprisingly requires a liberal smorgasbord of menus. And more menus. And sub-menus. Many of them are clunky and poorly laid out, but at the end of the day, menus are the easiest way to present players with all the facts and options that they need. Aspects such as research and development are largely automated (as it probably would be), making tedious micromanagement optional rather than mandatory.
Once you've learned the ropes and consolidated your position, it's soon time to explore the globe and find some poor, weak and primitive foreigners to co-opt. Doing so is easily the most satisfying part of the experience, as you'll need to deploy missionaries, scouting parties, military units, intimidating battlefleets or thoughtful gifts in order to win them over. Choosing how to approach each individual nation is a fun puzzle in and of itself, since moving too fast can provoke revolutions, mutinies or even discontent from your own populace.
Diplomacy plays a much more important role in Pride Of Nations compared to previous AGEOD. The way I played them, at least. Disputes and even minor skirmishes over territory don't always lead to full-on world wars, and instead result in a tense series of negotiations, treaties and summits as each faction does their best to capitalise on the situation (frequently resembling a tense game of poker or bridge, which is a nice touch as well as a pleasing change of pace). Losing face and reputation in the eyes of your peers is just as devastating as losing land - so needlessly heading into battle and unnecessarily sacrificing thousands of young lives will soon make potential colonies extremely wary of your intent. Not to mention your allies and enemies.
This is probably for the best - because actually engaging in combat is a dull matter of positioning troops on the world map, securing supply lines and learning about the result at the beginning of your next turn. Pride Of Nations certainly isn't for armchair generals - rather, it's for armchair viziers and bureaucrats.
Pride Of Nations' satisfying depth ultimately comes at a steep price. The learning curve is as formidable, complex and frustrating as you'd expect, though the incredibly weak tutorials are somewhat offset by just how powerful each player's empire starts out at the beginning of the game. Infrastructure, tax income and military units are ready to go from the outset, allowing players to get on with the job in hand rather than wasting time turtling... but newcomers will struggle for many hours before learning the complexity of supply lines or quitting in a frustrated rage.
But that isn't the steep price I was referring to. You see, the fact that Pride Of Nations has to realistically simulate the political climate, economics and grand strategy of every nation on Earth means that loading times are truly epic in scale. You'll wait for interminable lengths of time as the AI makes its moves - an it's not an exaggeration to say that you'll spend as much time watching cogs turn as you will playing the game itself. AGEOD missed a trick by not providing the player with something - anything - do do between turns, and it's bound to deter even the most patient of us.
Visually, Pride Of Nations favours a slick and uncluttered interface that prioritises functionality over style. The whole globe is easy and intuitive to navigate, but strangely, it's extremely bland and businesslike compared to its predecessors' lavish backdrops. I'm loathe to criticize the art team for putting ease of use over stylistic flair, but there certainly isn't much in the way of retinal stimulation.
- Uncompromising, authentic and deep grand strategy
- Satisfying colonial mechanics
- Well-implemented diplomacy system
- Crippling wait times
- Ugly UI and world map
- Still much more baffling and frustrating than it needs to be
The Short Version: Pride Of Nations delivers capable grand strategy on a global scale, complete with all of the immense satisfaction and intense frustration that you'd expect from the genre. It's probably the best Victorian-era colonialism sim you'll play this year.