Having recently reviewed Crusader Kings III on Xbox One via GamePass, my appetite for console-based grand strategy simply cannot be sated. With the modern political landscape as tumultuous as it is, I’ve been seeking something a little more “up to date” than Paradox’s Medieval banquet — and having stumbled across Realpolitiks, I may just have found it.
As a direct comparison, Realpolitiks doesn’t really stand up directly to the scope, scale and budget of Paradox’s market-leading output, however assessed for what it is as a standalone product, Realpolitiks is quite ambitious and impressive in its own right. Upon loading, you’ll very likely be underwhelmed — the visuals are distinctly PlayStation 2 era, really, albeit at higher resolution. The map is simple and the HUD, in particular, is very very basic.
Scratch the surface however, and the depth of Realpolitiks really begins to show. Players choose a country to take control of, and by clicking on it, a huge range of data from economy and population to military and democratic status can be seen. Click another country and whatever intelligence you have about them can also be seen — as can your relationship with that country.
Click the right stick on another country and you’ll receive a range of options including diplomacy, warmongering and espionage. You can increase or decrease relations, improve trade, declare war, sabotage anything from weapons to voting and do a number of other things depending on your insight into that country, your available technologies and your relations. Good relations, for example, can lead to the formation of a Bloc (such as the United Kingdom).
Starting the game with a large or powerful country such as Russia, the United States or the UK will give you a material advantage in terms of “completing” the game (which is always a subjective measure in games like this) and the game even warns players that smaller nations will struggle to achieve the overall military, economic and political power needed to really compete with the big boys.
Playing as a mid to large nation can vary quite a bit depending on their starting political alignment. Russia, for example, is quite totalitarian and begins the game with poor relations with most democratic countries and groups — including Europe and the United States. A leaning towards Totalitarianism leads to a playstyle that favors war, although the United Nations (which Russia and China are present in) can interfere with such plans. Playing as a democratic nation, on the other hand, is more peaceful in general, but you’ll usually find yourself with more friends in support of your actions.
All of that said, Realpolitiks includes several starting scenarios which are broadly fictional estimates of how the future might go — visions of a European Bloc, an Oceanian Confederation and so on are all present. When these scenarios are used, you might as well throw away everything you know about current, modern politics and just read the situation as you see it — new friends and old enemies rise and fall in these various modes and each one is interesting in its own right.
I mentioned Technology Trees earlier, and advancing your political, military and scientific capabilities is essential to success. Obviously, bigger and wealthier countries generally have access to more technologies to begin with, whilst smaller or less well-established countries need to establish some fundamentals before world domination can be contemplated.
On the downside (and bearing in mind that I am not too far into Realpolitiks yet) I haven’t noticed a few things that I might expect to be here. For example, the concept of driving a truly green agenda isn’t really present, and nor have I seen any major consequence for continued reliance on fossil fuels. I am saying all that having not yet been in a nuclear war — so perhaps I am completely wrong and it’s all about the triggers.
However you look at it, Realpolitiks is an ambitious and interesting game from a smaller indie developer that obviously has real passion for the subject matter. This is grand strategy on a budget, but in many ways it still achieves the same level of just-another-ten-minutes addiction as its more famous genre darlings. If you like games that consider either strategy on a global scale, or indeed the modern geopolitical landscape, this is one for you to look out for.