SAN FRANCISCO--Paradox Interactive is one of many game studios showing new games at Game Developers Conference 2009, and we made a point to go and see each of the studio's upcoming PC game titles.
First up: Hearts of Iron III, the next game in the historical strategy series. Our time with the game was spent mainly going over what's new in the new game, which is being developed to appeal to hardcore fans, but also be more accessible to newcomers. To this end, the game's interfaces are being tweaked to include more-accessible campaign quickstarts (there will be four preset campaigns with pre-selected nations and time periods, such as Germany in 1941 as a military superpower, or the USA in 1940 as a burgeoning economic powerhouse). There will also be three levels of toggle-able interface controls--set all nations to computer AI control, the "normal" interface (which will be a more top-level view for newer players), and the more-complex "expert" interface for power users. Experts will find plenty of grist for the mill with the game's expanded number of 15,000 provinces (Hearts of Iron II had 2,500), along with expanded systems for diplomacy (a triangular interface that shows, by degree, how friendly or hostile your neighbors are), production (including a brand-new system that will let you customize war battalions), and technology research (which will now let your nation improve in a specific area with subsequent research projects, and also research individual improvements "infinitely," such as constantly improving infantry rifles, as a means of continuing to have a tech advantage even when you've scrambled up the tech tree and unlocked most every basic tech).
You'll also be able to use a connected set of sliders to manage "leadership" state matters such as research, espionage, diplomacy, or the power of your military officers--emphasizing one or two areas strongly will mean less available resources to develop the other two areas. In addition, in-game politics will be tweaked to make the effects of your judicial decisions "more visible"--for instance, parties may change in popularity over time and lose elections--a sudden drop in the ruling party's popularity might even result in a coup. And also, military intelligence has been rebuilt from scratch with much-expanded espionage options that let you send out more spies to an enemy nation to gather more intel--a very useful tactic to use preceding a war effort so you know what your foe can fight with before you even fire a single shot. What's more, map strategy will be enhanced with two intriguing new features; supply lines (interconnected friendly provinces that can ferry resources) will now appear on the map and act as juicy targets of opportunity, and a new "gradual fog of war," which will reveal, stepwise, what's going on in enemy territory, depending on your level of spy intel and radio monitoring. Hearts of Iron III is currently in an early beta state and planned for launch in a late summer/early fall timeframe.
Majesty 2 will offer fantasy hack-and-slash plus kingdom management.
Next up: Majesty 2: The Fantasy Kingdom Simwill be the sequel to the original Majesty, a cult-classic game that looked a lot like a regular old fantasy-themed strategy game, but had a unique twist--you weren't a hero looking to slay dragons and rescue princesses; you were the manager of a kingdom where such heroes lived, fought, and went about their daily business. The same will apply to Majesty 2, but developer Ino-Co is wrapping the game in a colorful new 3D world and enhancing as many aspects as possible. You'll recruit heroes to your cause who will be tracked in a shortcut menu in the upper-right corner and will be marked with icons to quickly show their status. You'll be able to recruit one of four basic hero types using guild structures, and once your kingdomdevelops further, you'll be able to construct temples that can churn out one of sixmore-powerful, second-tier hero units. Obviously, different units will serve different purposes (high-level mages can blast enemies with powerful magic, while rogues can steal gold from enemies and even gravesites to line your pockets).
The game will offer a campaign with four individual chapters, each of which contains four missions (for a total of 16 in all) that will require you to recruit new armies from scratch each time. However, at the end of each chapter, you'll do battle with a powerful "boss" monster, and after winning, you can seize an even more powerful artifact item, which will remain with you, persistently, throughout the campaign, and grant you the ability to use an extremely strong magical power, though to prevent the abuse of these wondrous trinkets, artifact abilities will have a cooldown delay. The game's single-player content is more or less finished at this point and is being balanced and tweaked, while the multiplayer remains under development, though the current plan is to support multiplayer for up to four players. Majesty 2 will hopefully make its way to store shelves this summer.
On deck next: Elven Legacy, thenow-finished, turn-based, hex-based, fantasy-based strategy sequel to 2007's fantasy-themed wargame Fantasy Wars. Elven Legacy will follow its predecessor with improved graphics, a new campaign story that follows a clan of elves who must hunt down a rogue human sorcerer. This is basically a backdrop that sets up hex-based exploration and battles in a colorful 3D world where your hero character appears in battle alongside his forces on 3D maps where terrain will make a difference (forest hexes will offer defensive bonuses, hilltops will offer height advantages, and so on). Between adventures, you can outfit your hero (who can advance to an experience level of 10) and other army units (who can advance to an experience level of 5) with new skills and abilities. You can get more details in our full review, which will be posted around the game's April ship date.
Along for the ride was also Mount & Blade: Warband, a multiplayer expansion for the original mounted combat game. Warband will offer competitive multiplayer battles for up to 32 players online, as well as enhanced political options to help you with those larger-scale, kingdom-conquering ambitions of yours, including the ability to marry the daughter of a noble whose lands you covet, and subjugating the rest of those uppity landholders as vassals. In addition. Warband will offer enhanced graphics in the form of better lighting and more art assets to make your heroes look more dashing andvaried in many, many different suits of armor. Warband will ship this fall.
And the final game at this stop: East India Company, a game based on, of all things, the historical East India Trading Company, a mercantile powerhouse in the Age of Sail. The game will offer full economic trading gameplay, including the ferrying of goods to and from the New World with a dynamic marketplace with fluctuating prices for each commodity. It'll also feature a hybrid combat system that will let you command a fleet of ships as you would a standard real-time strategy control group by band-selecting your ships and giving them move and fire orders...but will also let you take command of an individual ship and control it manually to get the most out of its firing arcs, multiple shot types (the familiar naval ammunition ensemble of hull-shattering cannonballs, sail-ripping chain shot, and sailor-murdering grapeshot will be available on your ships), and, if you're in the mood for it, boarding enemy vessels. East India Company is scheduled for release later this year.