March of the Eagles Review

This Napoleonic wargame redeems its flaws with tense multiplayer matches that foster alliances as fragile as L'Empereur's.

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The Napoleonic Wars are a great setting for strategy games. After all, the conflict between Britain and France engulfed practically all of Europe from Iberia to Russia, revolutionized warfare, and spawned numerous temporary alliances in which vanquished enemies became (unreliable) allies. Paradox Interactive, which previously released a Napoleon-themed expansion for Europa Universalis III, has delved into this period again with March of the Eagles, an accessible wargame with delightfully cutthroat multiplayer.

It's never enough.

At first glance, March of the Eagles appears to be a grand strategy game akin to the Europa Universalis series. For instance, every province has a majority nationality, there is an "idea" system that includes techs that don't directly involve killing people, and numerous improvements ranging from roads to increased "development levels" can be constructed in provinces. But these systems are extremely misleading: demographics don't matter because oppressed peoples rarely revolt, conquering territory is a more cost- and time-efficient way of raising money than introducing your people to flush toilets, and idea points are mostly earned via combat (which leads to absurd situations like Napoleon learning how to lower interest rates after killing tens of thousands of Prussians). In short, March is not Europa Universalis: Napoleon. Instead, it's a more complicated version of Risk, played in real time, on a map so large that Russia alone has more than 800 provinces. Thankfully, only the less-numerous city provinces actually matter in the grand scheme of things, but Russia still has 88 of them.

While the sheer scale of the map may be intimidating, March is actually a fairly newbie-friendly wargame, but one that grizzled veterans can also enjoy. You can use brute force to smash a path to victory or indulge in more-advanced tactics. The basics are simple: your country produces money and men, and you can spend those buying a plethora of country-specific infantry, cavalry, and artillery brigades as well as naval vessels and supply wagons. Then you merge a group of units to create an army or fleet, put a historical general or admiral in charge, give other generals control over the army's flanks, and sally forth to conquer. If you don't want to do much micromanagement, then all you really have to keep an eye on is attrition and the security of your supply lines.

Alternatively, a little micromanagement allows for a much more refined and efficient approach. You can personally arrange the order of battle for each flank in an army and give every commander instructions that he will try to carry out in future battles. For example, you can order an army's left flank to use its cavalry as a shield and rush its other units to help hold the center, while making the right flank wait for the best moment to throw its elite guard units into the fray. Armies can also be given special orders for things like forced marches and scorched earth tactics. Careful use of these options can dramatically increase your country's effectiveness on the battlefield.

Mehemet Ali's beard, while impressive, was not enough to drive Napoleon out of Egypt.

There is one truly aggravating aspect to March's combat. AI soldiers have a knack for escaping from battles before they can be annihilated. That isn't inherently bad, but they often retreat behind your lines and tend to bounce randomly around the map like Ping-Pong balls whenever you attack them. This was a problem in earlier Paradox games but seemed to have been fixed in its more recent titles. Thankfully, a large, well-managed army has a good chance of avoiding that annoying "feature" by quickly destroying enemy forces.

While the combat in March is, on the whole, quite satisfying, the flavorless single-player campaign is not. It just doesn't feel like you are fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. For example, France or Russia could win the game without ever fighting each other, because victory is achieved by occupying a set of country-specific provinces. Russia could easily win the game by preying on the Ottomans, Prussians, and Swedes while France is bogged down in a war with Great Britain. Also, there are very few historical decisions, so you can't exile Napoleon to Elba. Meanwhile, some of the game's historical events can occur without a logical reason. For instance, Tsar Alexander and Napoleon meet on a raft on the Neman River (as per their peace conference in 1807) even if they have never been at war.

March's multiplayer (which supports up to 32 players) is far more interesting, because it manages to capture the spirit of Diplomacy, the classic board game devoted to forging all manner of secret alliances and backstabbing your allies. As in that game, alliances are extremely useful but ultimately fragile because there can be only one winner. The trick is gaining other players' trust and exploiting their weaknesses at the right moment. For example, in one game, the Russian player was able to capitalize on an unnecessary war between Great Britain and Spain by secretly subsidizing both. This kept Britain preoccupied for years while a Russo-Austrian alliance carved up the Ottoman Empire. In secret dealings, Russia goaded France into attacking Austria by insinuating that the Austrians planned to attack France. The Russian player solemnly promised to fight alongside the French against the Austrian menace.

Napoleon rage quit soon after.

Once France declared war, the Russians stayed true to their secret accord with Austria and smashed the French armies. The French player quit after the Russians occupied Paris. Thus, Russia became the mightiest power in Europe. Had the French player invaded England during the Anglo-Spanish war and ignored Russia's "warnings," then things might have turned out differently. The random human element and intrigue make multiplayer a satisfying experience worth indulging in frequently.

Unfortunately, getting into multiplayer matches can be difficult, because other players are hard to find. Sometimes, you find people lurking in the metaserver's general chat, but oftentimes they are just waiting to continue a game with friends. It's best to arrange a match via Paradox's forums or through a Steam group. The only other problem is that if the host is using a router, she might have to engage in some port forwarding or put her router in DMZ mode. However, multiplayer is certainly worth such minor hassles.

In terms of its production values, March delivers what you'd expect from a $20 strategy game. The biggest disappointment is that the army sprites are ugly and each country uses its infantry sprite for every type of army, even a homogenous horde of cavalry. Furthermore, the terrain map is bland. Things would be more interesting to look at if important provinces had the occasional landmark, like St. Basil's Cathedral. The score, however, is great. The main theme in particular really sets an "I'm going to go trample over Europe with big armies" mood. There's only about 40 minutes' worth of music, which would be a problem in a longer game, but that is lengthy enough for a quick-paced game like March.

March isn't going to win any beauty contests.

March of the Eagles will likely disappoint fans who desire another of Paradox's grand strategy games (though mods are already improving it in that regard), and the sheer number of provinces coupled with lackluster visuals might turn off people who would otherwise be interested in a cheap, easy-to-learn, and satisfying wargame. Yet the intrigue and backstabbing in multiplayer can be fantastic. If a real-time version of Risk on steroids mixed with Diplomacy's double-dealing sounds appealing, then March of the Eagles is well worth picking up.

The Good
Cutthroat multiplayer promotes backstabbing and short-lived coalitions
Superb soundtrack for sacking Moscow
Combat fit for both brash newbies and capable commanders
The Bad
Problematic implementation of historical events
Erratic AI
7
Good
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Daniel Shannon still remembers the day when his family got a 486 with a CD-ROM drive. He used that PC to play an immense amount of Tie Fighter, Civilization 2, and Doom. Since he grew up without a console he insists that they are a “fad” and refers to them collectively as “Nintendos.” Too this day he is skeptical about anything that doesn't use either a flightstick or a keyboard and mouse.

Discussion

25 comments
LtReviews
LtReviews

Looks good, but I'll be saving my money for EU IV later this year. 

shanthjibu
shanthjibu

AOE2 is the greatest RTS game of all time followed by Warcraft 3...period

Orontes13
Orontes13

AOE2 was indeed glorious.... in 1999. I used to play the campaigns again and again, and it greatly helped cultivate my fondness for the age. But I dont see the point of paying $20 for a mere screen resolution update. From the previews it looks like they did not even bother upgrading the sprites to high resolution. So just a bigger screen with smaller units, not necessarily "more detailed" ones.  

In 2013 I would absolutely rather play something complex and realistic like March of the Eagles than AOE 2, no matter how big the resolution is. Actually we should not even compare the two. I just felt the need to rant after seeing some of the posts here :P


KaSeRRoR
KaSeRRoR

AoE II... HD... MmMmMmmm  9th... April... j*&%UHD*&Y* MU@*

>=)

Strategygamer22
Strategygamer22

I haven't tried multiplayer yet, but I'm having a blast just in single player.

TheKeef
TheKeef

RTS has nothing on Grand Strategy, LOL @ the AOE comment.

xxBenblasterxx
xxBenblasterxx

All of this matters very little as of April 9th the king of all historical RTS's returns in glorious HD and we'll have no need for any other title in the genre. 

TitanPolaris
TitanPolaris

I've bought this and it's a lot like a cross between CKII and EUIII. I can't wait for EU IV later in the year to come out! After the debacle of SimCity, Europa Universalis IV is the PC's LAST HOPE FOR THE YEAR!

ZetA_LatA
ZetA_LatA

Eagles don't march. They fly -_-

burnettaj
burnettaj

I will give it a shot. Paradox makes good stragety games.

UmaSama
UmaSama

@shanthjibu Which is completely irrelevant to this articles since March of the Eagles is not a RTS...

naurglin
naurglin

@Orontes13 I have to agree with you here. Yes, AOEII is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) RTS game of all times...
But damn people, open your eyes! You're gonna pay 20$ for a 1999 game just because of a resolution change! That's plain silly.

System4Ever
System4Ever

@ZetA_LatA What was the purpose of this comment? are you really stupid or did you just desperatly need something to complain about?

March of the Eagles More Info

First Release on Feb 18, 2013
  • PC
March of the Eagles is a wargame dedicated to the era 1805-1815 focused on the dramatic conflicts of Europe.
6.5
Average User RatingOut of 33 User Ratings
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Developed by:
Paradox Development Studio
Published by:
Paradox Interactive
Genres:
Strategy