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Cassidy's Europa Universalis III Retrospective: On the expansions and some of the modifications

Cassidy's Europa Universalis III Retrospective: On the expansions and some of the modifications

Editorial - posted by Trash on Sun 24 March 2013, 17:22:26

Tags: Europa Universalis III; Paradox Interactive

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Our resident megalomaniac and Let's Play enthousiastic Cassidy sat down to write up a detailed analysis of all the ins and outs of Europa Universalis III's expansions and some of its most popular modifications. It took us some time to decypher his hushed mutterings but we're glad to be able to finally share his wisdom and insight into the fine art of mappainting. Come check out the full article of Cassidy's Europa Universalis III Retrospective: On the expansions and some of the modifications



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Europa Universalis III Retrospective:

On the expansions and some of the modifications


by Cassidy


In January, Paradox Interactive issued free Steam copies of Europa Universalis III: Chronicles to the subscribers of their newsletter for free. The Chronicles bundle includes all expansions from Napoleon's Ambition to Divine Wind. For people who never delved into the user modifications and for those reading this article who are trying Europa Universalis III for the first time, this is an analysis on each of the expansion packs and of four mayor different modifications. First, some technical notices before trying these modifications.

Mare Apertum requires Europa Universalis III: Complete or separate copies of vanilla, Napoleon's Ambition and In Nomine patched to version 3.2 to work, as unfortunately EU3: Chronicles does not allow you to install only part of the bundled expansion packs. Not all of these mentioned mods have been updated to work with the latest patch of the game. A search for older patches may be needed to give them a try. The expansion packs are Napoleon's Ambition, In Nomine, Heir to the Throne and Divine Wind. The four mods are M.E.I.O.U., fun2eu, Magna Mundi Ultimate and Mare Apertum.

I will not delve deeply into detailed game mechanics, because it is not the intent of this article.


Europa Universalis III: The Game

Europa Universalis III is a real-time with pause grand strategy game focused on the span of time from the Fall of Constantinople (1453), the traditional end of the Middle Ages, to the late 18th century (1789), with the end date delayed to 1821 by the Napoleon's Ambition and the minimum start date changed to 1399 by In Nomine.

You can start a new game on any year, month or day in this long span of time. The scenario reflects mostly accurate history at the start, but because of player(s) and AI action it will quickly diverge during gameplay. During the game there are a few elements that the player will spend most of his time on. These are diplomacy, espionage and warfare. Depending on which country you have chosen to play with this may also include colonization.

Its warfare system is only a bit more complex than Crusader Kings II's and comparisons with the Hearts of Iron 3 series would be unfair as it is not the main focus. Battle results are based on dice rolls over the basic equation "bigger army = WIN" and usually sending your whole army at once for one big battle between two large stacks of units is the most common way to do it. Sure, there are equations like generals and terrain and even scorched earth was added in one of the expansions, but these elements rarely change that uninspiring formula.

The randomness in battles is something you'll either enjoy, tolerate or rage over as much as when a spearman beats a tank in a Civilization game. I consider such randomness in battles bad, frustrating and more fitting for a computer role-playing game or roguelike than for a grand strategy game. Another issue of warfare is the weak AI, which will only put up a challenge when considerably superior in numbers. Its "strategy" when fighting as your ally can also be grating.

Diplomacy and espionage remains a letdown compared to pretty much all other main Paradox franchises. Colonization involves spending some gold from the treasury to send a colonist to a province close enough to the nearest friendly province with a port according to naval technology and praying for the typical 40 to 60% chance of success to happen.

Speaking of technology, in another downside, Europa Universalis III has no complex tech tree but a very simplistic and highly abstracted system where all you need to do is move sliders towards land, naval, production, trade and government tech research. All these research subjects show the result of you gaining a level in them beforehand.

Europa Universalis III is the baseline Paradox game: a good introduction to the genre. Despite its faults, it still stands as a game where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There is however little reason to play it without the expansions. Unless you want a much easier time painting the entire world map of the game in a single color since world domination was much easier in the first release of the game. Let’s talk about the expansions for a bit.

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Napoleon's Ambition

Napoleon's Ambition added the beginning of the French Revolution as a playable scenario and added two new government types called the Revolutionary Republic and Revolutionary Empire. At first glance it seems very promising to jump right into one of the greatest conflicts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries to fight a quick but very intense campaign.
EUIII however isn't a game that can really translate the complexity of the warfare of the Napoleonic Age into fun and challenging gameplay. Meanwhile, it also added revolution events that can happen to any country in the late game. These would be more interesting if the revolutionaries would be a real threat but the success of these random revolutions is incredibly rare. The most important features to me were the many under-the-hood improvements and patches bundled with the expansion.


In Nomine

Arguably the best expansion pack for the game. In Nomine ended the conquering and handling provinces of a different religion being too easy. They did it by making it no longer possible to move tolerance sliders to heavily persecute buddhist heathens, conveniently nonexistent on a given Catholic country, while tolerating muslim heathens.

It also implemented missions to further guide and improve AI behavior, and gave 1399 as a new start date. Another good change was increasing in the threat rebels present without making them more frustrating.

As an expansion centered on religion, In Nomine also improved the simulation of the Protestant reformation in Europe and added new options from being able to influence the college of Cardinals in Rome to get a Pope loyal to one's kingdom, to become the Defender of the Faith, for prestige and a justification to declare war on any heathens or heretics attacking anyone with the same official religion of the defender.

The patching and gameplay improvements of In Nomine are arguably the best as well. Maybe because most of the new features are more related to country management than to warfare. I think the later expansions didn't really improve much on gameplay and sometimes added unnecessary features that simply were no fun to play around with.


Heir To the Throne

The Crusader Kings Super-Lite expansion. My take on what it did to the game is simple: it made Republics absurdly superior government systems compared to all types of Monarchy. Heir to the Throne does this by determining the next ruler of a monarchy at random, which means the current ruler may die without a heir and has the nation crumble due to becoming the lesser part of a personal union or even fall into succession wars.

Heir To the Throne also added a new value only for monarchies: legitimacy. When negative, it increases rebel spawn chances and other bad things. And that is it.


Divine Wind

Arguably the weakest of all expansion packs for the game. Other than for under-the-hood patches, Divine Wind splits an ahistorically united Japan into an equally ahistorically divided Japan. It features only three major daimyos, rather than the dozens of different clans of the Age of the Warring Clans which were already featured in the Magna Mundi Platinum 2 mod long before this expansion's release.

Besides that, it brought minor changes to China and some interface changes. I don't really have much to say about it. However, it added Facebook and Twitter links in the main menu, so depending on your opinion of the critical importance of having such in a grand strategy game's main menu, you may think differently of its worth.

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THE MODS

From the expansions we'll now move to the modifications to discuss their finer points.


M.E.I.O.U.

First of all, I haven't played it for more than a few hours, because I didn't enjoy it. Even Magna Mundi Ultimate, despite all its frustrating features and bugs from being a rushed port of Magna Mundi Platinum 2 to Divine Wind, is still better and less frustrating.

The first feature you'll notice if you install this mod are new graphics and, unless you have a really powerful PC, the fact it runs much slower than vanilla or any other mod. The only noticeable aspect of the mod, other than the changed map and graphics, is a scenario available at a much earlier starting date.

I tried playing that scenario as Pagan Lithuania surrounded by Catholics and Orthodoxy. Because the game was so slow to the point of near unplayability, most of the new gameplay features were forgettable and there was a lot of unfinished content, I gave up.


Magna Mundi Ultimate

Magna Mundi is a name both loved and hated among those who know it. A modification created to give Europa Universalis III "greater challenge and historical plausibility", it changed much since its first incarnations for the base game and apoleon's Ambition.

Associated with the polemic figure of its modder Ubik and an unfortunate part of a completely failed case of a modification turned into game, Magna Mundi Ultimate was the last version of Magna Mundi. It’s a rushed port of the same mod from In Nomine to Divine Wind and is plagued by instability and other problems. Unfortunately, if you don't have Europa Universalis 3: Complete, this is the only version of Magna Mundi you can install.

This is a combination of increasing the difficulty of the game artificially in single-player to make up for the deficient AI, often in bad and hamfisted ways, with good features that arguably make up for that. For instance there is much more sensical core gaining over provinces, improved religious simulation including minorities, a far more challenging and powerful Holy Roman Empire, National Ideas being much more important, the Sengoku submod for Japan and the increased challenge of colonization.

As for the bad features: Three piracy systems are running simultaneously. This can almost destroy any fun in this mod. The piracy system already was a love/hate feature of Magna Mundi because it is very random and penalizes the player for success out of the blue, like many of the worst features of Magna Mundi. In the Ultimate version, you have to deal with it and the annoying whack-a-mole pirate units spawning in coastal areas at the same time. Only if a very annoying voice actor narrated "Piracy activity uncontrolled in" events and the Barbary pirates events it could have been made worse.

On this new two-tiered piracy system slapped with the default one, it is anything but historical as alleged by the authors. Pirates didn't make a huge effort to loot poor backwaters like it commonly happens in this modification, turning any poor coastal province into such a drain the player country will be more powerful by selling poor coastal provinces to an ally as a trojan horse. Expect to see pirates as often in Arkhangelsk and Finland sailing the frozen White Sea as in the Caribbean.

Besides pirates, a system with factions that start hating you for no visible reason and giving several penalties, the infamous "FRAMED!" random event that gives a devastating 10 points of infamy to the player faction. Then there is the fact that some AI-controlled countries like England/UK and Ottoman Empire gain ridiculously absurd cheats almost to the point of cheese, and you're set to throw your screen out of the window depending on how the game flows. In spite of all the bad features and instability, it still is a better mod than M.E.I.O.U.

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fun2eu

Originally an attempt to change Magna Mundi into something less frustrating, which caused some degree of forum drama. However with the release of Divine Wind, fun2eu, rather than remaining a modification over a modification, was remade into something more original.

It shares some features with Magna Mundi, such as the religious system, the Sengoku submod and the Holy Roman Empire system, but in this transition, the modification lost a lot, of which the dynamic core system is definitively the greatest loss, for its replacement to it is underwhelming.

Essentially, this coring process takes 50 years in the base game for any province. In Magna Mundi, the time it takes depends on several factors including national ideas and most important, on the province belonging to the same culture as the conqueror.

fun2eu tried to up the difficulty without adapting that system, by instead increasing the time cores take to be gained from 50 to 80 years. This snowballs together with research cost increases from owning more provinces, and with inflation. Already inflation is much more difficult to control in this modification and is not so differently from Magna Mundi.

Its biggest and most visible feature is the alternate history 1399 scenario: a world featuring Granada about to conquer all of Iberia and become a Caliphate because the Reconquista failed, with the Berbers well set to be the first to colonize the Americas, France divided between a Republic of Occitania-Aragon to the South and the kingdom of France to the North, a powerful Finland still worshipping the old pagan gods next to a Catholic and united Scandinavia, a surviving crusader kingdom of Jerusalem neighbored by Syria, Mamluks and a still powerful Byzantine Empire which all want to wipe Jerusalem off the map, and several other changes that make for a refreshing new game.

For Divine Wind only, I consider fun2eu the best modification because it works mostly bug-free, its performance is relatively good, it ups the challenge of the game, it has many of the good features in Magna Mundi and none of its boring, hamfisted and frustrating ones, and it also gives a new alternate history scenario that can be very fun.

A word of warning: its difficulty can be deceptive and less obvious than in Magna Mundi. Because of how much longer coring takes and of how more difficult it is to control inflation, rapid and excessive expansion can and will doom a rising empire to collapse in mid to late game.

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Mare Apertum

Created by rpgcodex forum poster copx, Mare Apertum is a vastly improved version of Magna Mundi Platinum 2, compatible only with Europa Universalis: Complete. At first, it was developed as a third party bugfix for Magna Mundi, which retains most of the basics of that mod , including the objectionable pirates and FRAMED! events, yet it ended encompassing gameplay improvements as well. Compared to Magna Mundi Ultimate, it has a much better fun to frustration ratio, in large part because of running faster and having less bugs.

One of the most important and welcome changes compared to its predecessor is that the pirates events won't become more common per coastal province the more coastal provinces you own, which was a blatant example of the faulty idea of punishing success in a videogame, but instead happen less often. This still keeps the extra difficulty, but makes the whole deal with pirates much less frustrating thanks to less popups warning on how pirates are rampantly looting poor provinces for potato.

Compared to Magna Mundi Platinum 2, it also features the end of the annoying factions and a much less strict and railroaded colonization based on plausibility rather than being railroaded on the tracks of history. The AI will usually follow historical colonization, but, for example, a player-controlled Venice can, if they prioritize research of naval technology, give a shot at colonizing Brazil instead of Portugal. Meanwhile an independent Ireland or Scotland can also manage to colonize the United States instead of England, and some of the Scandinavian countries have a chance of beating France for Vinland (Canada), as does Brittany. Although this remains restrictive, it is far more plausible and better looking than a patchwork of every Italian and German minor country colonizing America.

Fortunately, for western countries without access to colonization decisions and unwilling to focus five national ideas on colonization, not everything is lost. All of West Europe has access to a world map showing the colonies of all others, which is updated once every five years, turning early colonial wars into a possibility. Conquering an already established colony is arguably cheaper than starting one, and certain countries start the game far more suited to build a colonial empire through conquest instead of "peaceful" colonization.

The only arguable downside of Mare Apertum compared to Magna Mundi Ultimate is the removal of the Sengoku system for Japan, again abstracted as a single country, but that brought the benefit of the game flowing faster, and there are better platforms to simulate the Sengoku Jidai than Europa Universalis III.

To conclude, I consider Mare Apertum to be the best modification for Europa Universalis III, and I recommend jumping straight away to it. If you don’t have access to a game version without the two last expansion then fun2eu is a perfectly fine choice. Both are much better than just playing Europa Universalis III without modifications.

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