Europa Universalis III - The TCancer Review
Review - posted by Jason on Thu 18 January 2007, 07:34:13
by Johan "kris" Kristoffersson
Europa Universalis III – III as in 3D?
When a third edition of a game is released then it is generally safe to say that it is a popular series. What every sequel needs is new content and either more or changed game play. If it has not changed enough then it was not valid for a new game and if the “wrong” change is made then it may alienate its loyal fans and the concept may not work anymore. Europa Universalis III (or EU3, the popular acronym that I will use) has struck a pretty good balance with changes that are clearly enough for a new standalone game, but with game play that still feels like in the earlier games. While the game has changed to a 3-D engine, it does not change the way the game is played. But let’s trace back.
Europa Universalis I, II and III all are historical grand strategy games played in real time. EU3’s game scope covers the whole world over 300 years. The world is divided in provinces and is played between 1453 and 1792. You can play the game from any date during the game period and take control of any country present during that timeframe. This is a change in EU3 as in the earlier games you played out scenarios. Another notable change is in how the game follows history, but more about that later. The game play revolves around diplomacy, warfare, colonization, exploration, trade, and country/province development.
Below I will describe and give my opinion on every part of the game. Finally I will give you the conclusions, which I bet anyone with much knowledge of the game is probably most interested in. Now this is much too big a game to try on every thing before a review is written, but if anyone have additional questions, ask me in the forums.
It shows when I play EU3 that the developers, Paradox Interactive, have grown and have more resources at hand. Several of their earlier products were rife with bugs and early on had a lacking AI. They have come a long way since, for at the point where I write this down I have not encountered one single crash or one single confirmed bug. Also, the AI is fairly challenging even if it can’t stand up in a 1-1 fight with a experienced human player (which goes for every strategy game ever made). Also, the UI has improved in several ways, it is more streamlined and there are several little additions that makes things easier to look over. There are now “alerts” on the top which you can look over for important information about things you can do and problems in your country. They both give information and remind you of things you can/should take care off. There is also a new bar that displays vital information that made me wonder how I could have lived without it before. It displays all the things you currently build/produce, all your armies, and finally it also shows battles and sieges. Since you can also can click on that information and directly move to that hotspot, it helps a lot in managing your country. Especially if you play as a big empire.
I can only come up with one complaint about the UI, which is how the new 3-D engine and its portrayal of provinces didn’t make it clear what terrain you will fight in. Thus far I had no idea whatsoever if I fought battles in forests or fields for example. It would be nice to see some tooltips or information as, apart from sometimes having a "-1" penalty, I didn't have any idea about the terrain.
The map in question features plenty more provinces compared to EU2. I would say most changes are good and I have few complaints. At least no large ones, since I'd say that of two thousand players I am sure no two could completely agree on a map.
A big change is in how history is portrayed in the game and how it takes historic elements to enhance game play. For quite a few, this may have been the single most controversial decision, as the game is more likely to deviate from history than in EU2.
First up is how you can start at any date and the game is researched to be historically accurate at your starting date, from then on it is up to you to shape history. There are historic “contextual” events that are triggered by the situation your country is in, but nothing to enforce history on you. Yes, that means no more of the country specific events that triggered regardless of how you played. While this change made much sense and improves game play, it also meant the game lost quite a bit of flavour and the games will deviate more from history. Your nation’s monarchs and military/naval leaders are the historical ones, but only at game start. After that you get new random monarchs and promote generals/admirals for a cost (more about that when I explain warfare). This is mostly positive as it opens up opportunities for all countries to get good leaders if they pursue a lot of warfare. A new war system has made possible the addition of historical units for countries to raise/hire. This adds not only some flavour, they also have different strengths and weaknesses.
Lastly, they put in a new feature that gives the game more historic flavour, famous advisors. Taken directly from the history books, these men help in improving your country. I will tell more about them in the next section.
Manage your realm
At the heart of EU3 there is the country managing part, how you want to shape it and how you want to improve it. There are several new features that improve on this and make it possible for you to further personalise and shape your chosen nation.
My personal favourite is the new “national ideas”, your choice among them will really shape out the strengths of your nation. The national ideas come under naval, land, exploration, state and culture, with 6 choices for every branch that means 30 choices in total and of them you can choose 10 over the course of the game. These choices will be important, especially the early ones as they can give you a vital bonus in your preferable field or open up new options for your country to pursue. Apart from all the choices that give you some economical or military bonus there are two special choices. “Quest for the new world” will make it possible for you to hire explorers and conquistadors to explore the world, a choice you want to make early or not at all since it is less useful later on for obvious reasons. The other one is “Deus vult”, which is very useful if you want to wage war around the world since it basically makes it much easier to declare war with religious enemies.
The other thing to shape your country is the use of “domestic sliders” which were present in EU2. These have only experienced some slight changes in the benefits and disadvantages you get from them. For those who have not played EU2, I can say that these sliders shape the domestic policies in your country, what kind of army you put to field, who is more powerful there and whether you are more focused on naval or army traditions.
Government type is now something you can change, there are quite a few different choices and you unlock more choices as you progress in technology. The different government types give different bonuses to your country, but the most significant choice could be whether you are a monarchy or not because as a monarchy you will get involved in all the succession business, inheritances of countries and personal unions. Not only beneficial, but gives you more interesting options in diplomacy.
The historic advisors are not only a thing of flavour. You can at any time have a maximum of three of them on hire. They cost a pretty small sum of money and give you different benefits. There are two types: ones that give a bonus to technological advances and ones that give you a bonus to the acquiring of human resources (merchants, colonists, spies, missionaries and diplomats). They are all very useful, both for smaller and larger countries. These advisors are only hireable for the country who owns the province they hail from for one year. If they are not hired within that time, then someone else can hire them.
Provincial improvements. There are many more new provincial improvements around in EU3 than in EU2, all of them unlocked through technological advances. It is the standard fare of economic buildings, stronger fortresses and order improving buildings. Most of them feel vital at one point or another, but they are significant investments. Like before, some of the most expensive buildings (manufactories) give both an economic and technologic bonus.
This is one of the things that have changed the least. There are still several linear branches that you research until you get to the next level. One new branch is present, governmental, added to the old land, naval, production (formerly called infrastructure) and trade branches. Biggest difference is that the branches unlock more things, like all the historical unit types under “land technology”. Countries in different parts of the world are in different technology groups as to simulate mostly how Europe advanced faster than others over the timeline of this game.
There are a couple of new features in diplomacy, most notably the ability to sell provinces. This time around the “royal marriages” have a much more central role than in EU2, as they precede both “personal union” and “inheritance wars”, which are both triggered when a nation’s monarch dies without an heir. There are otherwise many options in diplomacy, pretty much all you can expect from a game like this. As for the peace deals, you can now make further demands (or have demanded from you!) than the normal money and province deals. You can now also demand that they release a country under their realm, like having the United Kingdom release Scotland. Further on you can demand that they don’t keep claims on your territories if they had them. Forced religious conversion and forced vassalisation are still in the game like in EU2. For those who want to play around in a diplomatic game there is a lot to offer, but for real success you will need money so playing a small country will be a tiresome business. It should be noted that alliances are no longer groupings of alliances, they are individual deals between countries. From my experience, no more than three countries are ever in an alliance with you.
On the diplomatic side there is also the Holy Roman Empire, which this time around is handled in a much more open and clear way. You can easily look over which countries are the electors, whom they will vote for at the moment and which countries are the members. Also the benefits of becoming the emperor can be seen and it is quite substantial. Becoming the Papal controller also works in a similar way, you have to convince the electors to vote for you and then get some bonus.
Here is the thing I suspect most players will dig into the most and will be hard pressed to avoid regardless of playing style. War and battles basically work the same as in EU2: when two hostile armies are in the same province they fight out a battle with “fire” and “shock” phases. The biggest changes are in the army composition. Instead of having just numbers of infantry/cavalry/cannons, there are instead 1000 men regiments and those regiments will replenish their soldiers over time if they are not in battle and you have the needed manpower. Your troops will also be of different historic troop types, which you get more choices from with technology. Yes, there are also now specific unit types for different cultures, for example Latin knights in Europe and Arabian cavalry in North Africa.
The battles are also easier to look over now as you can see exactly how many soldiers died on a given day and how many men are left in each regiment involved in the battle. The “dice rolls” that were once hidden are now shown with different positive and negative modifiers as to give you a idea of how the current fire or shock round is going (if the hundreds of dead soldiers didn’t already tell you that). It should be noted that warfare this time around is considerably cheaper than in EU2 since your troops are replenished instead of you being forced to recruit new men.
Leaders can be the difference between failure and success. If you have good leaders and the opponents have none then you have a huge advantage. With this in mind, it is really good to know that every country has the ability to get solid leaders. The system for obtaining a leader (except beginning with some at the start of the scenario) is based on how much war you are waging. The more battles you are involved in, the more land tradition you accrue. The same goes for the naval part when you get naval tradition. Then you use up some of that tradition and some money to recruit a general/admiral. The higher the tradition, the higher skills your leader will have. With no tradition at all you can still hire a leader, but their skills won’t be very impressive. There is also the option of using your monarch as a general, but that is risky since you may lose him in battle and subsequently lose him as monarch.
Sieges have not changed much, you still either starve out the defenders or assault the fortress with a simple click of a button. There is one notable change though, a newly fallen fortress needs to replenish its garrison which gives you more strategic decisions. Protect the newly acquired province with your army? Rush in and retake the newly lost fortress the enemy had taken?
Naval warfare also has gone through similar changes as land warfare. You have named ships of different types that you unlock through technology and you see the dice rolls with modifiers. But there are some more details put in. Now all the vessels have “health” as a percentage until they are destroyed and in the battles you can look at all ships to see what status they are in. Also, if you lose a battle your enemy may capture some of your ships and then repair them for use themselves.
Battles and AI. Overall the AI performs really well, even if you will notice some instances where it makes really strange moves which will help you to victory. In some instances it can even prove a challenge for an experienced player, especially if it is in possession of some great leaders and/or lots of cavalry. Unfortunately, the AI lacks in the naval part, mostly because it has a strange obsession with moving around small fleets that are easily destroyed with your better composed fleets. It’s not all bad, even if it is a little sad seeing ship after ship going into the slaughter. Sometimes you get those great naval battles you may crave, especially against nations with a naval focus. I got a positive surprise too when I saw the AI putting out a heavy presence in their colonies, once even putting up men there just before they declared war on me and attacked my colonies.
Economy and trade
The economy works in pretty much the same shape as in the earlier Europa Universalis games. You get a monthly and yearly income from your provinces and trade centres. The monthly income you mostly spend on technology and army/naval upkeep, while the yearly income is the money you will mostly use to improve your country and raise your armies with. Trade is still about sending your merchants into trade centres in competition with the other countries. I noticed that success in trade goes hand in hand with your relations with other countries: if you are hated, then your merchants are likely to be pushed aside, but if you are well liked then you can reap big benefits. There are more economic buildings to build now, which gives you more possibilities to build up your economy.
Religion is a big issue during this time and in this game. Every country has a state religion and every province has a religion. Obviously you want your provinces to have the same religion as your state. To help in that it is possible to convert the subjects in your provinces to your state religion. Different religions have different benefits and you can change to similar ones. All in all, things about religion have not changed much, but there is one exception. The reformation is more dynamic than in EU2 where it happened in a set number of provinces on the same day.
Colonization and exploration
This is for many a beloved part of the game, to create an empire just by colonization. It is certainly harder this time around as you will face much more competition.
Exploration is tied to the national idea “quest for the new world”. If you take that one, then you can recruit explorers to explore the seas and conquistadors to explore uncharted lands. These men (treated like leaders) will cost you money and one of your diplomats (you accrue diplomats over time) and can after that be attached to an army/navy. As you can understand it is best to choose this national idea early as you will have plenty of competition when it comes to exploring and colonizing the world. If you do not choose this idea and go out exploring, fear not, for over time the world will be exposed to you and I am sure there will still be plenty of opportunity to colonize.
Colonizing works pretty much the same as in EU2, except you can no longer build trade posts. Also it is important to note that it is likely more countries will compete with you for the available provinces of the world. To be able to even send colonists you need to have them, they are accrued in much the same way as diplomats and spies. Whether you have any depends on domestic sliders, religion and national ideas. It can also be quite costly to send colonists and unlike EU2 the colonies are no longer overly profitable. Not to forget that it is not sure a sent colonist will succeed in its mission. In warfare it is now possible to take over other countries’ colonies if they are not as large as a city (10 successful colonists sent). That is just converting them to yours if you have an unopposed army there.
These changes will not please people who want to see the game evolve in a more historic way, but it improves EU3 as a game in my opinion.
The event engine was probably the biggest feature in EU2. This time around it has been under some changes. Like I mentioned before, the historic events tied to countries before have now been replaced with more dynamic contextual events that can trigger for a wider variety of countries. This is good since the events you get make much more sense than in EU2 as they are made to fit in the way you play and the state your country is in. I must say though that it feels like something is lost when I don’t see those historic events with lots of nice little information about that piece of history. That is due to the new events not being specific for countries and due to the events being considerably fewer.
The other random events are pretty much the same as before, with one big change. They trigger much more often for bigger countries than smaller ones, without any confirmation I can only guess it is based upon how many provinces your country owns. This is both good and bad. It is clearly more realistic and makes sense for a big country to be more widely affected. But on a game play basis it can be sometimes frustrating to be bombarded by the same events over and over as a big country. Not much better for a small country as it just means even less things will happen to you which could result in boring game play. The random events are also tailored to come up as more fitting for the way you play. Same problem here as mentioned above about frequency, you may end up getting too much repetition.
Spies are another new feature, one you will use if you have the money. Because like with every other thing they will cost you hard earned “ducats” (EU3 money). Spies will be used to destabilize other countries and to commission pirates among other things. They are a nice addition as they give another game play option. Spies are a “resource” you get over time if your country has the right settings, just like diplomats.
Graphics, sound and music
When writing this I was trying to come up with what I was thinking about the sounds, but couldn’t come up with anything. In short they are less obtrusive than in EU2 where the sound of battle made war with my ears and other sounds clearly were hard to miss. All in all I give them an “okay” stamp, although there’s nothing special about them.
I liked the music, but a game you (or at least I) play this much will sooner or later end up with your MP3 player in the background, at least in my experience.
The graphics were for many another big step as we had a new 3-D engine which people felt could change the game quite a bit. Personally, I was worried in my preview about how it could be a big resource hog which made the game play sloggy. I was at least relieved that it did not play as sloggy and slow as in the preview copy. Now, it should be noted that I have a new dual-core computer with a new graphics card and 2 GB in RAM, which I can imagine helped quite a bit. Overall, the performance didn't seem to be worse than other Paradox games which I have on this computer. As for how the graphics look? They look fine, nothing special about them and not much to complain about. The map clearly does look prettier than before, but there is one problem as I mentioned much earlier. I think there is something lost in the strategic part, as you can't clearly determine terrain and therefore you do lose some part of the strategic planning. It is all fine and certainly realistic on a game of this level to have provinces with more random terrain (I think at least whether a river is used is random), but in my opinion that moves one strategic decision into the realm of the dice and that there is no display of the current terrain is in my opinion a big miss. The water effects are tidy, the armies look nice and mountain ranges are also pretty. On the other hand, the “arrows” showing moving armies is still a bit buggy.
Europa Universalis 3 has succeeded well in being a viable sequel. It has put in many new features, has a completely new engine and in most ways does not alienate its fan base. The big exception is of course the move over from a more deterministic historic model to a more dynamic one. That change has made and will make some faithful fans more or less disappointed. Personally, I like having a more dynamic model even if I have some complaints about the events and kind of miss all that historic flavour in the country specific events.
Waging war is more fun, engaging and you really have to think and plan your battles. The new troop types will give you pleasurable choices in how your army will look and navy warfare feels much improved. Colonization is no longer closely tied to which country you play, which will improve it for multiplayer and make it much more of a competition. Again losing that historic feel, but clearly improving it as a game.
Like in the preview, my favourite new feature is still the national ideas, which will help you in personalising your country and complimenting your playing style.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that Paradox have done several things to make this the most easily modifiable of their games yet and their earlier games were easy enough to modify. Most things within the game you can modify in one way or the other and you don’t need much knowledge of “modding” to do it. EU3 also has a multiplayer component, which I have not been able to test.
My final word is that Europa Universalis 3 is a great game and one of the best in its genre. If you like this kind of game, then it is a sure buy. I would even recommend it to those who may be disappointed with the changes that follow history less closely, for it has much to give and after some faithful modding it may even turn out just as you want on that aspect.