Paradox is known for some in-depth, complicated games. The Clausewitz Engine, the brains behind “Europa Universalis”, “Hearts of Iron”, and many other signature games is a stern taskmaster. One of the distinguishing features of the engine is the pausable real-time time flow it supports. Most RTS games feel very frenetic with things happening all over the place that require the player's attention right now. The grand strategic nature of the Paradox's games, however, replace constant activity with a series of thoughtful decisions, which the player then watches unfold upon the world stage. The flow of time is how the game presents the outcomes of your decisions, for good or ill.
“Naval War – Arctic Circle” (NWAC) is different, but similar. The setting is smaller than many Paradox games – NATO, the Nordic Alliance, the United States and Russia have decided to fight over the mineral wealth and strategic advantages conferred by the newly defrosted Arctic Circle. Despite absolute scientific proof that global warming is a myth, temperatures have risen in the Arctic to the point where large areas are ice-free year-round. Lying under the newly-accessible areas are oil and mineral riches yet unclaimed. The 4 sides in the game aim to claim them and will fight to do so.
Luckily, it looks like the fight is going to be on a modest scale – that is, no strategic nuking. The various sides will be deploying frigates, subs, aircraft carriers, planes (bombers, air superiority fighters, etc.) missiles and all sorts of other tactical goodies to secure important areas. Given that the Arctic (unlike the Antarctic) does not have any land under all that ice, most of the fighting will happen at sea. There are a few land-based assets (land-based airports can be important, as they are so hard to sink) but the focus is on naval warfare.
You job is to control your side's units during these confrontations. The setting is near future (2030) so it has a very different feel from medieval or WW2 based RTS games. There is more emphasis on simply finding the enemy, especially when facing subs. The wise commander will spend a portion of his setup time on recon, just to find out what the enemy has in the area, before attempting to engage.
Engagements themselves are rather hands-off affairs, befitting current naval warfare. Ships don't engage in many broadsides anymore. Carriers have planes they send out to attack distant targets, frigates have helicopters to spot subs at a distance, and subs launch torpedoes from as far away as they can manage. Victory will go to the force that can identify the enemy as quickly and as far away as possible, and that can bring enough force to bear at those distances. This is not your standard RTS.
This unusual play style brings changes to the way that time works. The smart player will be more deliberate, more thorough, and more patient in setting up patrols and running recon missions. NWAC allows time to run faster and slower and this is a game where knowing when to go faster or slower is more than just a way to stave off boredom. It is not clear how well this will work in multi-player.
Controlling the units is a little strange, in that the player will be called upon to control so many different types. One minute you can be in charge of an aircraft carrier leading a battle group, the next you will be flying a lone copter trying to hunt down a sub you glimpsed a few seconds ago. The individual units seem to behave more or less as expected – boats are slower and turn more slowly than aircraft, for example – but this game is not about the experience of actually being in any particular unit. This is not a flight simulator.
Despite the abstraction of control for the individual units, the development team has put some time into researching the real-world their capabilities. Your missiles will have realistic ranges, your planes believable damage-absorption capabilities, and so forth. Fans of modern naval military hardware will have a field day debating how well they did.
NWAC is not a game that is going to sell a zillion copies. It is not a casual game and many RTS fans will find the pace somewhat sedate. The stealth aspects and long-distance combat combine to make this a thinking man's tactical RTS. There is definitely a learning curve, not only for the controls (boats, planes and subs all have different weapons and sensors you can employ) but also for the different units on each side and the armaments that can be employed. There is potential for a deep game here, for those who have the patience to explore it.