The 4X-headed hydra of global strategies. An introduction to the genre

Many people like to talk about the complexity of games. And often the difficulty of passing the next project cause high demands on the reaction rate. But today we will talk about games that stand apart and look a little arrogantly at their peers. Mastering 4X strategies doesn't require being able to shoot with incredible accuracy or react faster than a mongoose wrestling a cobra. Rather, prepare to spend a lot of time grappling with the genre's main problems, and whether it's worth trying to climb over the huge threshold of entry is discussed next.

The acronym "4X" perfectly describes the most typical game of any strategy of this kind. First, we, like newborns, explore(eXplore) the world around us, grabbing everything in a row. Information is probably one of the most important resources in any strategy. Next, we begin to explore new territories, expanding(eXpand) our holdings. More control over the world around us will bring a lot of resources later on. That's what it's all about: as soon as we have values in our hands, we begin to exploit them mercilessly(eXploit) for the sake of infrastructure development. And if your opponent dares to take a very tasty piece of territory, it's a good idea to destroy it(eXterminate), although it's not obligatory. Of course, there are many other layers of gameplay like diplomacy, technology tree, espionage, micromanagement, but they largely depend on the specific project.

Knowing how to play 4X strategy is not easy, but even harder - to create them. Each project of this genre is a hodgepodge of ideas that need to be balanced and made to synergize with each other. Make sure that the player, turning the cogs in his head, set in motion the huge mechanisms of a truly monstrous empire. Without pathos in this matter, I think we can not do without, because 4X strategies have enormous scale.

But back to the developers. Now the entire genre is held, in fact, by three fairly large studios. The first is Firaxis Games with its series of "plug the tank with lances" simulators called Civilization. Then - the Paradox studio, which holds the authorship of several successful series(Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron) and a couple of independent projects in the genre(Stellaris, Imperator: Rome). These guys like to cover their games with millions of DLC. The third - a French development team Amplitude Studios, under their belt so far only Endless series, which consists of three representatives of the 4X genre and a Bagel. We'll come back to them closer to the end of this article, at the moment all you need to know - the key players on the market, releasing the highest quality projects.

It's the one that's at the top of the list here. The background is always present, but the main thing is the gameplay. It's largely meditative, at least for the first few hours: exploring technology, exploring the world, developing the economy, capturing territory, and so on. I know it doesn't sound like much fun, but don't jump to conclusions. The further the game goes, the more teeth the game shows: you have to fight with hostile neutral troops, build relationships with your neighbors, and adjust to global events that promise their own sticks and carrots. And no one relieves you of the previously mentioned duties, so the tension builds up. During the wars and grab your head: the economy rolls into the abyss, the population is already there, and the troops still have to command.

And it's all wildly addictive, though downright scary at first. However, if you stare at the 4X strategy long enough, sooner or later it will start to stare at you. I think many who have already experienced the charms of the genre are familiar with the thought: "Well, just this one more move and then sleep. Well, here's more this technology will study - and go to sleep. As a result - five o'clock in the morning on the alarm clock, huge bags under the eyes, and the number of moves exceeded two hundred. Contributed a lot to this excellent soundtrack, under the influence of which you sprawl out on a chair and keep clicking the mouse on everything in a row.

One of my acquaintances liked OST Stellaris so much that he even had an idea to try the game himself, although he doesn't like strategy. But he never bought Stellaris, so to take this opportunity, Cupcake, if you're reading this, buy it!

Each game is flavored with a little pinch of randomness, and therefore - unique. The element of randomness in 4X is not very much, and it is only necessary to increase the replayability. In the first place, this is facilitated by global events. For example, a general convention of scientists is announced to exchange experiences, after which science will be on the rise for some time. Or an epidemic breaks out, which begins to rapidly reduce the number of inhabitants in your cities. Such events force you to adjust your next steps in order to make the most of the situation.

If you were at least a little interested in the genre of chronicles - 4X Strategies will please you. At the expense of enormous freedom and random events you can "write" your own exciting story. About the Indians who overtook the Old World in development and came to conquer Europe. About India's conquest of the Middle East and its emergence as a vast empire in the 12th century. Or about a valiant hero with the surname Shepard, who rebuffs the biosynthetic race that plans to destroy all life in the galaxy, though it seems that this has already happened somewhere. The abundance of settings in the genre will allow you to easily find something appropriate.

I tried several times to unite Great Britain under Irish rule in Crusader Kings II. The last attempt ended with relative success: I united the whole of Ireland and Wales into one state by fire and sword... after which my king was assassinated by order of his own wife, and the whole country fell apart into four pieces. Women...
All this outrage is interesting to watch. While you're trying to build your perfect state somewhere in a corner of the world, there are wars raging in the center, conflicts raging, alliances being made, empires falling apart, maps being redrawn. And you are free not to participate in the whirlpool of events, but simply watch, rubbing your hands and preparing to take on your weakened neighbors. Oh, it's a nice feeling when the map is gradually repainted in your colors.

But all good things come at a price. The main problem for newcomers is how to get over the huge threshold of entry. Long live the world's most useless tutorials and incredibly cumbersome interfaces! Tutorials are only needed to show you what you can click on and what will happen. Moreover, you will not get acquainted with all the features, and will only give a basic idea of the game mechanics. Farther through the jungle you have to climb yourself, filling bruises and abrasions.

Interfaces are a separate topic of conversation. They are almost always terrible, but also make them better is also quite difficult. Diplomacy and neighbors; economy of different regions; scientific development; lists of armies, cities, and heroes; strategic resources and luxury resources; quests and faction features... and there's probably a lot more I haven't mentioned. Now imagine putting it all together on one screen. Without turning the game into a collection of buttons and tables, it's pretty hard to pull off a trick like that, so you have to suffer for the first few dozen hours.

I managed to lose the game on the easiest difficulty level in Endless Legend in just a couple of hours. The reason I found fairly quickly - the cities did not increase the number of residents, which is somewhat put me on edge. Gave up and started a new game for the same faction - Lords of Ashes. After 15 minutes, I found that next to the population panel in the city has a little button "Buy Resident. Smashed my forehead with a facepalm and won the game in three hours.
One of the Stellaris reviews on Steam amused me immensely. A man who had played 150 hours was outraged about the introduction of the new economic system. "How do you manage resources now if there isn't even a global market?! I need something rare, I've got warehouses full of everything else, nowhere to put it. Upgrading sucks!" I had been playing for seven hours and already knew that if I clicked on the resource bar in the upper right corner, it would open the ill-fated market. And before that panel was either not clickable at all, or displayed the details of the extraction, which I do not know, that I do not know.Perhaps another significant disadvantage - artificial idiot intelligence. Alas, but often to the level of the player it simply falls short, so the necessary complexity is adjusted by giving the stupid machine advantages. The game becomes more interesting, but I would still like to see the opponent fight back with intelligence rather than a simple advantage in strength. This can be easily managed by clicking on the "Multiplayer" button, just stock up on a couple of liters of tea and a few hours of free time. And spend a couple or three hundred hours on the game beforehand, otherwise your plan to take over the entire world can quickly be broken.

If you're willing to put up with the minuses and want to try and conquer some 4X strategy, you're welcome. To immerse yourself in the genre, in addition to a lot of time, you also need the right mindset. I'm nowhere near a psychologist, and I'm certainly not a pro at 4X, but I can give you some tips on how to properly dive into it.

Probably the first and most important - accept the fact that the first few hours you'll be mercilessly stupid. The reason for this is not the friendliest game interfaces in the genre: there are a lot of buttons, some are smaller than the mouse cursor, and yet can not be placed in the best way on the screen. Add in the extremely shallow tutorials, which usually cover at most a third of the features.

The second, flowing smoothly from the first, is don't be afraid to lose. Even on the lowest difficulty, the AI makes more or less sense, and it, unlike you, has no threshold of entry. Quickly increasing the military force, the bot can easily roll you at the speed of light. In that case, try to rethink your approach to empire development and start over. It's just like "Edge of the Future": Live, Die, Repeat.

To lessen your suffering, take this advice: feel free to read the guides and search the Internet for how even the seemingly simplest things work in the game. Another good help can be a friend who knows the genre and can explain on his fingers. Saving time and nerve cells in person.

The practice of F5-F9 also shows itself well. Not sure of some action, such as declaring war - safely save. If things do not go according to plan - load up and try a different approach to the battle, or refuse an act of aggression.

And lastly: never start a new game an hour or two before you are going to bed. What can happen in such a case, I described above. Don't be afraid to experiment and make mistakes, because those are the best ways to learn something.

For immersion it would also be nice to choose a particular game. I'll allow myself to throw in a few options with a brief description of why I suggest this particular project. I also recommend checking the comments, perhaps the real experts will suggest more sensible options.

Perhaps the best candidate for review would be Civilization V. First of all, the game is one of the easiest in the genre. All the classic mechanics are there, without much excess. Second - not a bad tutorial, I personally got used to the game very quickly thanks to him. Third - flexible difficulty settings. The easiest one offers a fairly peaceful computer opponents, and barbarians are much kinder, and never cross the border of your state. The interface is quite friendly, although not without flaws. Of the minuses, perhaps, only the price of the game on the background of competitors. And if possible it would not hurt to buy the two major DLC, which are also not cheap, but are a great addition to the main body of the gameplay.

If you prefer the space setting, then pay attention to Stellaris. Yes, it's a little harder to master, the games last longer, but there are more interesting mechanics. Race and ship constructors, random generation of available technologies, quests and more. That's why Paradox games are so popular among fans. The developers have released a lot of strategies, but I suggest to pay attention to Stellaris because it is the easiest to learn among brothers. Keep in mind that the game continues to evolve, and this is both plus and minus. On the one hand - not boring, new content regularly appears (including paid), on the other hand - some mechanics have to learn all over again. In any case, Stellaris is a very worthy choice to get acquainted with the genre. And where else can you create a race of intelligent mushrooms - badass militarists and xenophobes with a single consciousness?

Of the games from Amplitude Studios we want to highlight Endless Legend. Personally, I found it easier to get the hang of it than in the same Endless Space, although the mechanics are quite a lot. The gameplay differs significantly depending on the faction: there is a race that does without food, while others do not explore anything and steal technology from competitors. At first glance, the game is similar to Civilization V, only more complex and in a different setting. One of the interesting features is the change of seasons, winter and summer. At the beginning of the game the cold weather is rare and short, and in the last fifty moves everything changes exactly the opposite. Winter brings quite solid penalties for almost all factions, so it is worth preparing for its arrival. Sorenesses are standard for the genre: the interface and training. Otherwise, it's one of the best 4X strategies at the moment.

If none of this list hooked you - look at the line of historical strategies from Paradox. Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron, Victoria, and Imperator: Rome are also quite good candidates to enter the genre. Just keep in mind that getting used to them is likely to be more difficult than in the above examples.

4X strategy is a unique genre. Virtually every game hides an abundance of mechanics and features behind a huge threshold of entry. Even if you're not a fan of strategy but appreciate the gameplay component, take a chance and give it a try. Maybe you'll turn the game off after a couple of hours, shrugging your shoulders, and go conquer another AAA project. Or maybe you'll stay to rewrite history and conquer far, far away galaxies.

Many thanks to Mr. Shanti

for his help in editing the text!

When you can't think of a name for a blog, friends always come to the rescue. Best title variants from them (some of the titles were censored):

1. 4X - games that even my niece sucks at2
. Global strategies are more interesting than if it were you at age 40 in your boring job with a mortgage and a loan for a washing machine, and you also have a wife constantly nagging, kids spilled coffee on your papers and generally3
. 4X-strategies: a genre not for wimps, whiners and Kirills who can't think of a name and don't give a c**a to others4
. Office worker simulator without office supplies5
. 4x is a multiplier of your suffering in global strategies6
. Global strategies as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in people over 207
. Paradox games from Paradoxes AND NOT ONLY: no more complicated than outline maps and an Excel spreadsheet8
. Global Strategies - not as painful as a spoonful of sour soup from two weeks ago9
. 4X - feel like an idiot from the comfort of your own home10
. Global Strategies: the games that Cupcake plays. Boozy.






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