App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Have you ever wanted a chill city-builder that doubles as an exploration and optimization game? That's essentially the combination that comes together to make Paragon Pioneers work. It's a nice thing to have on your phone to chip away at building a huge empire, even though it has some issues with regard to concept and UI.
Paragon Pioneers is a game about colonizing islands with settlers and eventually expanding and building up control over a landmass to create a self-sustaining and productive settlement. You may start with just a handful of pioneers and manually tapping on island trees to generate wood, but with some time you can have swaths of farmland, a military, quarries, ports with trading routes, and more, all of which can be set up to operate in an essentially automated way.
As you start to maximize the potential of an island settlement, you can send ships out to discover new landmasses to find new resources that let you continue advancing along through the 100+ buildings the game has to offer, but starting on those islands involves once again working your way up through conquering and taming the island to suit your needs.
Before going any further, I'll say the colonization aspect of Paragon Pioneers is troublesome to say the least. The game is very clearly about taking land away from native inhabitants through force, as every island has a series of orc fortresses preoccupying most of the map as a way of gating progress in the game.
This isn't anything new when it comes to other management games like this, but it is worth noting that the city-building aspects of this game require players to engage in acts of exploitation, colonization, and military conquest. That said, one of the things that makes Paragon Pioneers tolerable in its design is its abstract nature. Everything you do in the game is neatly condensed into simple icons and menus that make your actions in the game feel more like figuring out and rearranging machinery as opposed to any sort of simulation.
Build it block by block
With its abstract look and mechanics, Paragon Pioneers is fairly easy to look at and manage even on the smallest of phone screens. The way the game divides land into a grid of squares with each building taking up one square allows for a lot of flexibility and complexity when it comes to how you lay out your empire. With everything being reduced to simple, cookie-cutter symbols, you also don't really run into issues that other mobile city-builders face when it comes to visual dissonance between optimal play and realism.
The trade-off of this simplicity though is that sometimes it can create confusion. Some of the UI and menu language and Paragon Pioneers can be a little too obtuse, leaving you having to guess how to solve certain problems or simply blow things up and rebuild them until they are working as intended. As a game built around experimentation and slow, steady progress, this all ends up feeling like a minor issue, especially since Paragon Pioneers's price tag comes with a guarantee that you'll never see ads or have to juggle premium currencies that can speed up or slow down your play.
The bottom line
There are definitely some not-so-appealing aspects of Paragon Pioneers, but that doesn't diminish what it manages to ultimately deliver all too much. There's a lot to explore and discover with this game, and the only thing standing in your way is your own ingenuity, reasonable amounts of time, and (unfortunately) some orcs.