PC Games Reviews
PC Review: Europa Universalis III
By Babak Setayesh Jan 21, 2007, 11:48 GMT
Colonize distant lands, vie for global supremacy, and convert heathens to your cause with this grand strategy game from Paradox Interactive.
In the year 2000, the PC gaming world was sadly without any worthwhile historical strategy games. Enter Swedish developer Paradox Interactive and Johan Andersson. Andersson and his team created something wonderful, a game that harkened back to KOEI's simplistic but entertaining Romance of the Three Kingdoms titles. Europa Universalis was born, and the odyssey began. A sequel, the well-received EUII, quickly followed. Almost six years later, we are presented with the third title in the Europa Universalis series and it doesn't disappoint.
If you have ever played any of Paradox’s other games, among them the WWII game Hearts of Iron and the superb Victoria, you have a good idea what Paradox likes to call "grand strategy". The types of games that come out of this magical workshop are the Holy Grail for strategy gamers. Accurate, action-packed, stimulating, and most importantly, fun, they epitomize what a truly detailed strategy game should be. As such, EUIII is Paradox’s crowning achievement. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Sweden were a major colonial power, or how things might have turned out if a united Germany emerged in the 17th century instead of the 19th, then this is your game. Be warned, however: EUIII is not for the faint of heart. It is, at its core, a niche game with an admittedly steep learning curve. For fans of the genre however, it is a dream come true.
EUIII covers possibly the most interesting period of European history. Set against the beginnings of the modern European nation-state, the game takes you from the age of exploration, to the Protestant Reformation, and through to the Enlightenment and the political and social upheaval of the 18th century. And, if I may say so, it does a thoroughly fantastic job of it. Like the two previous games, it immerses the player in a historically accurate game environment with a sweeping, epic scope that evokes a strong sense of romance and adventure for what was, what could have been, and what will be.
The level and depth of game play in EUIII is quite simply astonishing. The player is presented with so many options that at first the game may seem daunting. Once mastered however, the game quickly ramps up into a truly engrossing, fast-paced experience that, when you finally decide to stop for the night, will leave you in a trance-like state, totally unaware of the physical world around you for the few moments before you pass out. For starters, there are a staggering number of ways you can build your empire. You can focus on colonizing far-off lands, building an economic powerhouse, converting other nations to your chosen faith, or simply overpowering your neighbors. Perhaps the most challenging and rewarding aspect of EUIII is trying to do all of these things at once. If done right, you can dominate the game, although this can only truly be accomplished with the larger powers. Every country is playable, however, offering a nearly limitless set of challenges. You can play as a small European duchy, slowly and methodically expanding your influence across the continent, or as a remote African nation trying to fend off the ever-expanding colonial powers while maintaining your fragile tribal confederation.
The game maintains an almost perfect balance between military, political, and economic choices. Every decision has a consequence associated with it, and there are a multitude of factors to consider. Ignoring one aspect of your nation’s development is almost always disastrous. For instance, do you risk the stability of your nation by going to war over a few provinces, or hang back and try to maintain the peace so that you are better equipped to handle more substantial future conflicts? How do you maintain the balance of power? Are you going to create and maintain buffer states to physically separate you from your enemies, or negotiate well-balanced alliances to make your foes think long and hard before attacking you? You are faced with many such choices throughout the course of the game. Constant war will almost certainly deplete your resources and paralyze your empire, while long periods of peace will leave you vulnerable to ambitious foes. From time to time, historical events intervene and provide you with different options to consider. Do you appease power-hungry nobles to avoid destabilizing your realm or steadfastly consolidate your power and deal with the consequences? Likewise, colonization can be an expensive and time-consuming process for the few who can afford it, but can payoff handsomely later on. Choose wisely, for your enemies are relentless and unforgiving. The only drawback to this sort of play is that sometimes, it can be too much to handle. Grinding out tough choices and constantly weighing options while paying attention to everything else often requires schizophrenic devotion, especially on the harder difficulty levels.
Luckily, managing your far-flung empire is relatively easy (if you consider how many things you are doing at once). The interface, now in its third iteration, is refined and quite simplistic for a game with such depth. The first difference players of previous EU games will notice is the all-new 3D map. Although somewhat less warm and charming than the 2D paintings used in all previous Paradox titles, the 3D map adds just the right touch of realism. The way information is displayed has been slightly reorganized, with a catch-all summary bar to help you keep track of vitals and well-arranged dialog boxes to manage your government. The music, as always, provides an elegant backdrop to the game that avoids becoming annoying or repetitive. Calm, peaceful melodies give way to heroic, inspiring crescendos. In fact, I would say that the game has a totally different feel without the music, as if it adds something that is not easily replaced. That said, I would have liked to see a bit more variety, although you can always provide your own tunes to play along with.
Graphics are not the only area where the game has been improved, as EUIII adds a number of refinements to the original formula. Each nation now has a selectable government type that provides certain bonuses. Converting your nation to a theocracy, for instance, improves your chances of converting provinces to your chosen faith. Historical figures offer unique services that boost things like investment in trade technology or the number of colonists produced. As a nation progresses, it may choose to adopt different "national ideas" that grant bonuses in different areas. These allow the player to pursue different strategic aims and orient their nation towards a particular goal. If you want to create a scientific powerhouse that will crush the world under the might of its ideas, adopt the Scientific Revolution, which decreases the cost of researching new technologies. If you want to seek out and settle new lands, the Quest for the New World idea will enable you to hire explorers and conquistadors. The economic model seems to have undergone a bit of a refit as well, as inflation is somewhat less exaggerated, although I really couldn’t tell. Unit types are more varied and troop movement, combat, and siege mechanics have all been tweaked in order to remedy some long-standing headaches.
One of the hardest things to achieve in any game is truly making the player feel like a part of the game world. It needs that magical element, that certain character or feeling that captures the essence of the game climate and keeps you coming back for more. Civilization has it, and EUIII certainly does as well. From the music, to the graphics, to the game play, EUIII captures the period with an extraordinary, epic quality. The player community, while small, provides a healthy amount of interesting mods, as well as being a great place to share history-like "after action reports" and post suggestions to the development team. Overall, EUIII provides an engaging and rewarding experience for the strategy gamer, and I highly recommend picking it up.
- Deep, engrossing grand strategy that offers months, if not years, of satisfying play
- Vivid 3D map and refined interface make it somewhat easier to manage things than in previous versions
- Great attention to historical detail
- Built-in support for mods provides potential for even more
- On occasion, managing the game feels like work
- Can be a resource hog at times