Supreme Ruler Ultimate – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Good update of all the Supreme Ruler series in a single package. Substantial improvements to economy, graphics and game speed. What is there not to love with the ability to go from 1936 to 2070+ with a single nation, at battalion-level, while having dozens of new scenarios and campaign start dates to choose from?
Failed Basic: Game AI, especially Naval AI, still needs improvement, even at the highest difficulty levels, to present a challenge to an experienced player. Some minor graphics glitches, and as with all of the Supreme Ruler series, there is a relatively steep learning curve at start. The often odd “Sphere” system of international politics, while applicable to the Cold War scenarios, does not work well with either the World War II or post-1991 eras and can lead to some odd ahistorical alliances.
A few months ago, I reviewed BattleGoat Studios’ Supreme Ruler 1936, a real-time grand strategy wargame that covered the World War II era and afterwards. Consequently, I was happily surprised when BattleGoat announced a new game, Supreme Ruler: Ultimate, which would encompass not only the World War II era, but all of their previous games as well (Supreme Ruler 2010, Supreme Ruler 2020, and Supreme Ruler: Cold War). The intent of the newest addition was to apply updated graphics, AI and additions, first released under Supreme Ruler 1936, to all of their past games. For a fan of the series, this was good news; I was hoping for a massive update to the series, and this was it. All of the old favorite scenarios, especially my personal fave, the “Shattered World 2020” campaign, were updated to the new system.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, which has its roots in a 1980s-era text game, the Supreme Ruler games are battalion-level global simulations with a detailed economic, production, political and diplomatic system. Players can choose one of hundreds of countries to play, from historical superpowers (the USA and USSR) to ahistorical small countries, such as an independent Texas in the beloved “Shattered World 2020” scenario. Game play is fairly straightforward; as a real-time game, units move, economies function, and diplomatic crises erupt unless the game is paused. A robust technology system takes the game from pre–World War II to the far future, providing for a variety of technology types, from new unit designs to developments that allow for increased prosperity of the citizenry.
As noted earlier, individual units are constructed in Land, Air or Naval (and later, Missile) production facilities, at the battalion, squadron or individual ship size. Based on the requirements of the unit, reserve personnel are taken from the Reserve Pool (which is in turn based on a country’s level of military spending) and used to man the ship, squadron or battalion. Units can then be placed in Deployed (fully manned) or Reserve (no personnel assigned but the unit is in mothballs) mode. Deployed units, over several weeks, build up to full effective strength, reflecting the time required to train, etc. the force. These units can be sent on a variety of missions, from using Engineers to speed construction projects, to attacking enemy units. One word of warning—as many players have noted, there are no “higher level” units (Brigades, Divisions, Corps, Fleets, etc.) in the game. Effectively, players are maneuvering large groups of small units on the map. While it is fine for gameplay, the ahistorical nature of this may turn off some hardcore grognards.
The huge variety of unit designs is stunning; literally thousands of types of land forces, aircraft and ships are modeled, both historical and (in the post-2020 campaigns) potential future units. Players can not only build any type of unit allowed by their nationality, such as the US building the M4A1 Sherman or the M3 Bradley series but can buy or sell designs from other countries. In one of my USA games, I bought the T-35 tank design from the USSR in 1936 and the Ju-86 transport design from Germany; both were better than anything I could build until 1940/41. This is pretty fun for a wargame and not often seen in most other grand strategy games; later I bought the T-34/76 design from Stalin and was happily pleased to see US Army olive drab, with a nice big white star on the turret, of the first one to come off the assembly line. This level of detail is obvious throughout the game; when I sold Shermans to the British, UK markings were on the tanks (not US) and the Soviet markings for my sales to the USSR.
Naval warfare is detailed and exciting. Given the thousands of specific designs in the game’s database and the long time period of the game, it was interesting to watch the shift from surface, to subsurface, to missile warfare. After the World War II era, missile warfare, especially at sea, determines victory, so it is key to build as many missile facilities as possible to stockpile munitions when the shooting starts. One impressive thing about Supreme Ruler: Ultimate is how the dramatic jump in technology effects gameplay. A naval tactic used in 1942 can lead to defeat by 1962; an enemy’s fielding of a new ship or sub class can result in a disaster at sea as your units are incapable of detecting or engaging the enemy force. Or, the enemy’s weapon ranges (determined by the game to the kilometer level) can strike at your older ships without your being able to reply.
Air warfare is much like naval warfare, but with the added issues of basing and aircraft ranges. BattleGoat has finally crushed the old “fly until we run out of gas” bug that haunted many of the past games in the series; now aircraft will just stop at the nearest base if they can’t reach their destinations. Air designs are nationally and historically based, and number in the thousands. As noted before, you can buy designs if you have the baseline technology to build them. Don’t like your C-5 Galaxy? Just buy the IL-76 design from a friendly USSR. While this may lead to a “gamey” approach by some players, it actually adds a lot to the replayability of the game as well as customization by players of their “ultimate” military.
The economic system in Supreme Ruler: Ultimate is relatively unchanged since Supreme Ruler 1936. Basic resources (Petroleum, Timber, etc.) are used by industry, the civilian population, and the military and are critical to success in the game. Simply put, if you can win the economic game, you will probably win the campaign—but if you fail to provide for your country’s needs, the civilian populace will become unhappy, your economic system will begin to collapse and your military will stop moving or fighting. While some technologies can help, such as increased power generation, it will still require the player to build new mines, mills, factories, etc. to meet ever-growing needs.
Speaking of growing needs, global conquest is a challenge in the game. In addition to guerrilla and partisan units appearing and taking over towns and resources, the player will have to deal with increased demands from the population. While this sounds easy, it is anything but simple. In one game, playing as the USA, Japan had conquered China before December 1941. After Pearl Harbor, I decided to liberate China, “In the Name of the Republic,” and not return liberated territory to the exiled Chinese Nationalist government. Much like what happened to West Germany’s economy after reunification, the USA’s GDP began to fall—I suddenly had millions of new citizens but lacked the agriculture, oil, timber and coal to meet their needs. Consequently, my economy suffered and my popularity (important in a democratic system) began to plummet. It took several years of continual building just to meet the basic needs of my super-America.
Despite its many improvements, Supreme Ruler: Ultimate feels more like a massive expansion pack to Supreme Ruler 1936 than a brand new game. There are still some flaws in the game; Naval AI is probably the weakest, as the AI will attempt to send naval units to fight as it does with land units, or will not form them into task forces, etc., which will lead to them being quickly sunk. The Sphere alliance system (Red, Blue and White, for Axis/Communist, Democratic, and Neutral, respectively) works fine with the Cold War scenarios, but causes issues with conflicts or lack thereof in other campaigns. According to BattleGoat, they are working on improving the AI and the alliance system; given their past track record of long-term support for their games, this is promising.
Overall, the game does fine for what it is designed to do—provide a playable, real-time grand-strategy game covering 150 years or so of modern (and future) history. While there are great details hidden behind the scenes, the game seems quite simple and approachable at first. Like any new game, there are the occasional glitches or oddities, but the stable and tested Supreme Ruler system does avoid the constant crashing found in many mainline releases. For any fan of the series, or anyone interested in the genre who is looking for a different perspective, Supreme Ruler: Ultimate is well worth trying out. Now excuse me while I send the US Army into Canada. I just don’t trust those fellows.
Armchair General Rating: 95%
About the Author
Dr. Robert Mackey, LTC, USA (Ret) teaches at the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and is a former assistant professor of military history at the United States Military Academy. He is the author of The UnCivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865, and is a consultant for a several computer game companies, in addition to his day job as a historian for the Department of Defense.