Let me walk you through it, because it’s a bit tricky at first. Paradox Entertainment is a company that claims to own the rights to several characters created by late author Robert E. Howard — though these claims are generally dismissed as the books have lapsed into the public domain.
Paradox Interactive, a software publisher, was started as a child company to Paradox Entertainment. Since being founded in 1998, the company has cut ties with Paradox Entertainment and has become its own entity. Paradox Interactive publishes PC games — mostly historical or fantasy strategy games — developed by a number of different companies, including its own child studio, Paradox Development Studios.
It’s the name Paradox Development Studios that you really need to look for. While Paradox Interactive publishes games with a wide variety of quality and ambition, the ones that come from their Swedish in-house studio are almost always instant classics.
Paradox Development Studios (from here on simply “Paradox”), creates games in-depth, open-ended historical strategy games. These games are so distinct and consistent that they have earned their own named sub-genre: “grand strategy” games. If a game is described as “grand strategy,” buckle up, because you’re in for a fun ride that will suck dozens of hours from your life.
The first one to get me hooked was Europa Universalis 3. Terrible title, fantastic game. You take control of a real life nation from some historical period ranging from the 1200s to the 1700s and lead them in whatever way you choose. Each nation has strengths and weaknesses, and each nation has a set of “national goals” for you to try and accomplish, or simply ignore.
Multiply the vast the timeline with the enormous number of nations and the extensive variety of ways to play and you have a game that really feels like it will never get old. Want to play as Native Americans and try to avoid getting wiped out during colonization years? Want to see if you can lead Japan to a conquest of mainland China? Want to try to turn South Africa into a wealthy, globe-spanning empire? None of these will be easy, but they’re all possible.
Though I played 100+ hours of EU3, I have to say my connection with a Paradox game peaked with Crusader Kings 2. Though slightly smaller in scale — it focuses on smaller provinces centralized in Europe — it ramps up the intensity by giving you control of a family tree instead of a nation. It’s your job to preserve your family’s power by passing laws, negotiating for titles, marrying off your daughters, handing out honorary names, choosing a spouse to breed capable offspring, and — of course — claiming power and land through conquest.
It’s a dramatic, engrossing game that feels appropriate given the world’s renewed fascination with historical/fantasy politics thanks to Game of Thrones among other politics- and treachery-based epics.
Speaking of George R.R. Martin’s franchise, some dedicated fans have created a total conversion for CK2 that let’s you play the game in the Song of Ice and Fire’s world. It’s a truly incredible mod, and one of my favorite gaming experiences ever.
Using CK2’s fantastic engine, Paradox released EU4 earlier this year, which looks amazing but which I have yet to sink my teeth into. And I still haven’t mentioned Paradox’s other flagship franchises — Victoria and Hearts of Iron — which many strategy fans claim are still the deepest and best (and most complicated) games you can play on PC.
In short, Paradox is one of my most trusted and beloved game studios. I can always rely on them to engage and astound me, not through cinematic narrative (which is where most big-budget games go with their design) but through immersive and open-ended gameplay.
Thanks for the share, Paradox!