Naval war has never really been my thing. Battling on water, I mean. I disliked the concept when it strong-armed its way onto the Total War series by way of Empire: Total War, so to review a game that is centrally based around that very concept was, to say the least, a different experience. Even after playing this game, I can’t say that I really enjoy naval combat, but I was at least welcomed to a positive experience with Naval War: Arctic Circle.
The first thing you’ll notice right away is a different interface, largely due in part to being a different developer—Turbo Tape Games—and the interface probably not being optimal for strictly naval combat regardless—after all, who needs to see all of the details of land when you are going to spend all of your time out on the waters? Of course, there is also some aerial combat since your fleets generally move at too slow a pace to completely avoid airstrikes, but I digress.
The graphics are elegant as ever, though you’ll also have the added bonus of seeing three-dimensional representations of your units if you so desire.
In true Paradox grand strategy fashion, Turbo Tape has taken great pains to create as realistic an experience as possible, perhaps only bettered by actually being on a Dreadnought yourself, taking each surface unit type and even the weather into consideration with every move you make. This is not a game you’ll just pick up and learn how to do in one go, unless you’re already trained in naval combat through Hearts of Iron or Europa Universalis, and even then we’re not making any promises.
As you work diligently to fight against either NATO or the Russians, keep in mind that this is not real time strategy in the sense of StarCraft or Red Alert; though you can speed up time, but it’ll automatically pause to inform you about every destroyed ship, every destroyed enemy, every sighted enemy. Great for realistic warfare, but definitely something that will frustrate you if you take the game with the wrong approach.
For some, the game can be a little too constricting. Perhaps the best example is in the missions of the game, one of which requires you to complete the seemingly impossible task of destroying three elusive naval combatants in a very short period of time, and it’s seemingly impossible because not even Rapid-Clicker StarCraft could pull it off. Fortunately, there was recently the release of the Mission Editor, which does permit you to change the restrictive nature, but it was certainly hell trying to pull it off in the meantime.
The best way to describe the actual gameplay is primarily about fretting over where to place this unit and that unit, hoping your strategy and plans will come to fruition as you sit back and watch the rest play out in front of you. There isn’t quite the same level of micromanagement involved in between all of the hectic environment, but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming when you have accidentally left one spot open and you see everything fall apart in front of your eyes. In truth, I think this game helped me realize why I’ll never actually play out a naval battle in Empire.
All naval warfare pains aside, the game itself isn’t bad at all; in fact, it provides a great stepping stone into more involved Paradox games, right after you’ve finished training off the considerably more simplistic Total War games. If naval combat strikes you as the sort of thing to get out and try, then Naval War: Arctic Circle would serve as a good platform for it.