Paradox Interactive’s CEO, Fredrik Wester, is an outspoken man. He’s one of the most honest company directors you’ll ever come across in the games industry, and he’s not afraid to lambast his own games - most of which are hardcore strategy titles like Hearts of Iron and King Arthur. The games are intricate and rewarding, but getting gamers into them can prove problematic.
“Our games leave you high and dry in the first ten minutes,” Wester told us. The trick to making their games accessible is not to make the game itself simpler, but to hold the player's hand as they're gently introduced to the game world and its rules. “We don’t want to dumb down the experience. We want it to be challenging, but not a chore to learn.”
Total War developers Creative Assembly are masters of introducing complex strategy elements to a more casual audience, and Wester is keen to note that their slickness hasn't gone unnoticed among people who played Paradox's RPG/RTS King Arthur: The Role Playing Wargame. “A lot of people would like to see Total War-like design decisions and maybe we should have chosen that path, done things that make it simpler for people who are used to the same gameplay style,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that it’s actually Fantasy: Total War, but it’s an obvious comparison.”
Paradox have focused on making things more Total War-y for their upcoming RTS King Arthur II. "We’ve been working with a more in-depth tutorial in the second game," Wester said. "We will also have a pre-campaign to help people come into the game. A lot of people would like to see more Total War-like design decisions, like how to scroll with the mouse, things that are done in the Total War series."
Wester's other touchstone in ease of access is World of Warcraft. "I think a lot of people are mixing accessibility with ‘dumbed-down’," Wester said. "If you take a game like World of Warcraft that’s an incredibly complex game at level 80 - but you don’t figure out that it’s complex because you learn as you play."
For most people, Christmas is a day, but for us, it's a whole magazine. This year we're celebrating with Crimbo the Christmas Panda, who adorns our cover. What does Crimbo have for good boys and girls? Why it's an enormous twelve page feature on Blizzard's new games. From Mists of Pandaria to Heart of the Swarm, to Blizzard Dota, Christmas elf Rich McCormick has scooped all his Blizzcon news up into a big snowy wordball. Oh, and every reader gets a free copy of King Arthur - The Roleplaying Wargame.
You can read it all in the latest issue of PC Gamer UK, which should be on shelves shortly and arriving with subscribers right now. It's also available online, digitally through Zinio and Apple Newsstand, and it should already be with subscribers now.
Our second enormous feature this month is the Christmas gift guide, in which the PC Gamer staff dress up in their Christmas outfits and bring you the best novelties for your oversized stocking. There's graphics cards and gaming lights, touch screen gloves and a Minecraft pickaxe, Tim even dares taste the infamous Baconaise. He was rushed to hospital shortly afterwards. He will never eat bacon again.
In our previews section this month, Chris Thursten tells the story of twenty hours as a straight laced Jedi Consular in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Meanwhile Rich saves the galaxy from the killer spaceship robots in Mass Effect 3's new multiplayer mode and Graham learns how to kill a man humanely in Introversion's darkly comic Prison Architect. You'll also find previews of King Arthur 2, The Secret World, Crusader Kings 2 and Ghost Recon Online.
In reviews, Graham gives his definitive verdict on epic man shooter Battlefield 3, while Tom Senior discovers his inner pimp in Saints Row: The Third. Richard Cobbett straps on his spandex to check re-review the now free to play City of Heroes before quickly descending into villainy in Payday: The Heist. We also manage footballs in Football Manager 2012, defend dungeons in Dungeon Defenders and murder greenskins in Orcs Must Die! You'll also find verdicts on Might and Magic Heroes 6, Stronghold 3, Take on Helicopters, Renegade Ops, Deus Ex: The Missing Link, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, Airline Tycoon 2, Train Simulator and Dead Rising: Off the Record. Finally, Steve Hogarty reviews The Sims 3: Pets.
Elsewhere in the issue, Adam Oxford checks out the best gaming laptops, Dan Griliopoulos uncovers the secret history behind the making of Football Manager. We also take a look at the Witcher 2's 2.0 patch, and reminisce about Croft Manor in Tomb Raider 2.
Want to know what the PC Gamer staff has been playing lately? Well it's a good job we have the Now Playing section then isn't it? In his last ever PC Gamer article, Craig Pearson builds himself and his girlfriend little place in the country in Minecraft before becoming one with the force. Graham shares the shame of how his addiction to Fifa 12 tore him from Supreme Commander's embrace, Richard Cobbett cries his way through Limbo's looming arachnids, Tom Francis gets stuck in an infinite loop replaying the Diablo 3 beta over and over again and Tom Hatfield makes a meal of attempting to cook soup in Project Zomboid.
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The witch queen of the Orkney Islands has given King Arthur a cursed wound that can never heal. Since Arthur shares a mystical connection with the land of Britannia, his pain is the nation’s pain, a bit like how we all feel sad whenever Prince Philip talks. In Arthur’s case, it blights the world to attack by really big monsters.
The original King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame took us all by surprise, wowing Tim Stone to the tune of 86% with a mixture of roleplaying and wargaming. Just like King Arthur, you wandered the British isles, getting into text-driven Choose Your Own Adventures. Also just like Arthur, you gained XP to clamber through a skill tree, and then hopped into battles where you were able to control your troops from a floating position in the sky. Think something along the lines of Fantasyland: Total War.
King Arthur II, confusingly, deals with the same King Arthur. The mechanics haven’t changed much, either – its closest relation is still Total War. There’s even a campaign map: a beautiful, expansive thing, picked out with intricate brushwork that gives it more character than Total War’s functional views. Wander around on the campaign map, and you’ll find quests. In any other strategy game, these would be basic battles, but the collision of RPG and RTS has turned them into little choose-your-own-adventure vignettes. The example the developer gave was familiar to any RPG player: Arthur rolls up, army in tow, to a village under demonic assault. Via text options, he can either choose to engage with the forces in the name of justice, engage with the forces in the name of getting paid by the surviving villagers, or sneak on by and leave the peons to their unearthly fate. But the game’s focus on text-heavy RPG quests doesn’t mean the giant, braintaxing battles of the first game are gone. They’re very much still the focus.
In King Arthur II, those battles are now twice the size, with 3-4000 units able to take to the battlefield at once. You’ll order your little medieval men to fight against cephalopodic giants, fire-breathing dragons and mountain-sized beasts. Just like Arthur did. And they’ll keep coming. Arthur’s pain has torn a hole in Britannia and the monsters that spill forth need to be quenched at the source. Smaller monsters make up enemy units to counter your own archers, infantry and cavalry in the field, but the larger creatures are bosses. You need a huge force and repeat assaults to bring them down.
In motion, these fights look beautiful. The game is as attractive as any Total War game short of Shogun 2, with the added bonus of mountain-sized beasts and spangly spell effects. But magic won’t rule the battlefield entirely: spellcasters take a while to work up their juju, and introducing a lance to their face will stop them from finishing their incantations. Send your fastest riders along a clear path, and there’s a good chance you’ll score an interruption. If you do take the brunt of the magical energy, you’d better hope your units have a resistance to it.
You supplement your medieval men in their scraps with hero units. These supersoldiers can level up, and gain access to their own magical powers. These can be found down specific tech trees, and Arthur’s own actions can influence their focus. Play nicely through the game’s quests, choose the kingly option, and you’ll be seen as ‘rightful’, and gain access to bonuses in lovely, just abilities. Go the other way and ‘tyrant’ it up over your underlings, and you get better at the evil, nasty stuff. Waver and hang in the middle, though, and you won’t gain either. The lesson here is, if you’re going to be a cruel, heartless ruler, at least commit to it. Religion has its own influence, depending on whether your Arthur is a staunch churchgoer, or a strip-naked-in-a-forest worshipper of the old gods. Both religion and morality are plotted on the same graph and dictate the upgrades: so you can roleplay an evil Christian, or a happy clappy tree-hugger king.
It’s not just you and the monsters in the land of Camelot either. The countryside’s spotted with bands of mercenaries and outlaws. These external factions can be smashed in the name of justice and overzealousness, or co-opted as useful, if morally dubious, allies. Their commanders – like the monsters’ leaders – each have their own personality. Some like their armies to stand off and launch arrows, some prefer an entirely mounted force, others like to drown puppies, fashion them into necklaces and wear them into battle. The last one might be a fabrication, but they are monsters.
The biggest barrier to Total War taking over my life is the lack of a narrative over my actions. King Arthur II’s melding of roleplaying and strategy, combined with its liberal stance on historical fact, means it’s enticing me like few upcoming pure RPGS or RTS games are.
Recently, at E3, we got the chance to catch up with the CEO of Paradox Interactive, Fredrik Wester to discuss the company's recent success with Magicka, Mount and Blade and King Arthur. Wester revealed that 90% of Paradox' revenue is now made through digital distribution sales. He describes the company's lack of reliance on retail as "a release," saying that store chains have "not been good for the creative part of the industry."
Wester told us that "this year we’re close to ninety percent of our revenue being digital. Retail sales are like a bonus for us now. We don’t really need retailers any more and that is a release because retailers have not been good for the industry. They’ve not been good for the creative part of the industry, for finding new cool games."
"People complain to publishers that there are only sequels on the market, but that’s because retailers want to see sequels, because they can do their chart diagrams for how things sell and things like that. So one of the things preventing more creative gaming has been the retail challenge."
"I can only say this now because we’re not depending on them, so it’s really relieving to be able to say that."
Wester told us that Steam is Paradox' main partner, followed by Gamersgate. Paradox has recently had big success with Magicka, which as sold more than 600,000 copies since release, and is set to hit a million sales before the end of the year. The entire Paradox catalogue is currently enjoying a 90% as part of the Steam summer sale. You can grab the lot for $74.99 / £55.