On first starting Realpolitiks II, new players are immediately going to be faced with the tutorial. Unfortunately, this also happens to be the part of the game where the problems start. There’s a lot to get into here, but to keep things fair, let’s begin by explaining the game is and what it does right, rather than dwell on the negatives.
Realpolitiks II is a political simulation strategy game. Players are given control of a country of their choice and are tasked with expanding their power. There are three starting scenarios to choose from: On The Brink Of Tomorrow, which is the ‘standard’ game mode that most closely resembles normal world politics; Pandemic Aftermath, which models the world immediately following the Covid-19 pandemic; and Nothing Ever Changes, which imagines a world utterly destroyed by war and disaster, with only tiny pockets of society clinging to survival. The first two scenarios are largely similar, although countries have different starting stats and there are some different decisions to be made. In contrast, the third scenario plays like an almost entirely different game. There are no recognisable countries left and most of the landmass is reduced to empty, unclaimed wilderness.
It’s clear that a lot of development time has gone into designing these scenarios. Every country has different starting resources and relationships depending on their general global standing, and something as simple as selecting a different starting nation can drastically change your experience with the game. Nothing Ever Changes in particular is a thrilling diversion from the norm if you’re tired of the other, more traditional settings. The lack of shared borders and extreme resource shortages, coupled with the sudden availability of land, completely change the possibilities of diplomacy or cooperation. If you, as I did, worked through the first two scenarios making alliances and avoiding conflict, Nothing Ever Changes will thoroughly catch you off-guard.
Gameplay itself consists of deciding your political actions in a number of different ways. On the diplomatic side of things, you can interact with foreign countries either positively or negatively. Currying favour and investing money in your allies will strengthen relations and enable you to form alliances; in contrast, aggressive actions like imposing embargoes will worsen your relationships dramatically. At home, you can choose to run a vast range of projects to influence different country statistics, as well as react to real-time events presented to you by your advisors. For players with a more aggressive stance, you can create and control soldiers, vehicles, and spies to attack enemy states.
None of that is bad, in theory, but there’s a catch. If you read that list and thought ‘wow, that sounds like a lot of number balancing’, you’d be right. This is where the problems with Realpolitiks II start and it’s most easily summed up like this: the game just isn’t a lot of fun.
There are moments of humour to be found – I particularly enjoyed the dog advisor who grants a +10 bonus to your relationship with absolutely everyone – and a lot of the ‘story’, such as it is, doesn’t take itself too seriously. For all that, however, Realpolitiks II’s core gameplay feels more like balancing a complicated spreadsheet than running a country. Most of the actions you take are simply a numbers game, weighing up the cost of a project or activity and deciding if it’s worth it. To some extent this is the primary mechanic in most simulation strategy games, but in this one the veneer wears particularly thin.
I said at the beginning that the problems start in the tutorial, so let’s circle back to that. A common tutorial technique for games in this genre is to give players a pop-up explaining some central aspect to the game, and then letting them play out a short scenario involving that mechanic. It’s not overly engaging, but it’s a reliable way of getting a lot of information to the player in a way that sticks. In Realpolitiks II, that’s clearly the type of tutorial experience the developers were going for, but it just doesn’t happen. Instead, the tutorial almost entirely consists of a huge amount of reading too-small dialogue boxes. There are a few brief sections where it switches to gameplay to implement the mechanics you’ve just been reading about, but the severe lack of actual stuff to do in this game besides clicking on something and waiting means these tasks are incredibly short.
And, even with its brevity, the tutorial’s gameplay still manages to be so poorly explained that the game needs to give you three separate dialogue boxes telling you what to do.
The result is a very long tutorial that ultimately does a bad job of imparting any lasting lessons on the player. From there, the main game doesn’t particularly expand; while you gain access to new countries and projects, the slow, monotonous pace of the tutorial persists. Almost all the time players spend in game will involve either reading dialogue boxes, resource management, or waiting for tasks to complete.
Combining that lack of interactivity with some very shaky performance – while the game never crashed on me, it frequently started chugging even when I wasn’t trying to do anything – I can’t say that I enjoyed my time with Realpolitiks II. Simulation strategy games aren’t for everyone, but even as someone who does like them, I just could not get into this game. A lot of time has clearly gone into crafting the different countries and their economies, but the actual gameplay is so lacklustre it feels like a lot of that effort has gone to waste.
I really wanted to like Realpolitiks II, but if you’re looking for something to scratch that simulation strategy itch, I can guarantee you there’s a better title out there.