Game Review - by James Allen
One of the most surprising strategy titles of early 2001 was Europa Universalis, a title published by Strategy First that simulated European history from 1492 to 1792, implementing ideas not presented in previous titles, such as religion. So, released in the same year, we have the anticipated sequel Europa Universalis II. It seems that a forming tradition in the ranks of Strategy First is releasing a complete new edition rather than an expansion pack (see Kohan), and EU2 follows in this institution. As with Kohan, are there enough new additions to this great strategy title to warrant a full purchase? Will Europa Universalis II conquer the Old World and the New World, or go they way of so many small countries of no consequence?
There are a number of single player scenarios and multiplayer options available. Firstly, there is a good set of tutorials, which describes all the aspects of this involved game in s short interactive scenario. There are many single player tutorials, which start in a different year and mostly conclude at the end time of the game: the Grand Campaign tackles the entire scope of the game, from 1419 to 1820. You can choose (except in the U.S. mission) from any of the hundreds of countries to lead to victory, which was not found in the original EU. If you want, you can even play multiplayer games against foes from around the world. There are enough different options to make EU2 replayable, especially with the nature of the gameplay.
The sound in Europa Universalis II is a very standard affair. Most of the time, you won't even notice the sound during gameplay at all. There are 59 different sound effects (I counted) that note certain events such as battle, creating armies, and cheering. The battle effects are entirely too repetitive and get annoying after a while. It would have been nice to see a greater variety in the sound department of Europa Universalis II, and as it stands, the sounds are below the average.
The gameplay is the hall of Europa Universalis II, and though there aren't many changes from the first game, this is still one of the most complete historical strategy games around. Let's try to cover all the things to do in the game, shall we? First, the brunt of any international superpower is having a superior army and navy. Troops can be recruited from any of your cities, and ordered around. Troops suffer a larger amount of attrition when moving during the winter months, so calculating the time of your wars is important. You can also send troops to far away lands using ships and transports. Each unit has a certain maintenance cost, so having the largest army in the known world comes at a price. You get money in two flavors: monthy and yearly. Yearly income consists of census taxes, and trade tariffs. Monthy income comes from trade, taxes, interest from loans, or production from factories. Trading is an important aspect of the game, as you can gain large amounts of cash sending merchants to the centers of trade in the world. You can balance your budget, allocating your income to several different areas such as research. You can improve your standing in several different areas, such as land and sea technology, trade, infrastructure, and stability. You can invest in promoting public officials or constructing factories. Stability is another important aspect of your country, and is a good indication how you behaved your population is. If you have low stability, you better be prepared to put down rebel uprisings and general discontent. Declaring war lowers your stability, since the people are reluctant to wage war on other countries.
Speaking of waging war, diplomacy with other countries and your relationship with the world can improve your position in life. You can use diplomats to improve (by giving gifts) or decrease (by threats) your relationship with other countries. You can enter in trade agreements, royal marriages, military alliances, military access agreements, and even vassalize other counties. There are two main ways of annexing other countries: diplomatic (by taking over a vassal, which is very, very hard) or military (by force). You might have a Cassus Belli with another country, which is a permanent clearance to declare war without any additional loss of stability. During peace negotiations, you can only fully annex another nation when you control their only province, which means that it takes several different wars to eliminate another country, which may not be historically accurate, but discourages taking over the world (I guess). You can also demand ducats (the currency of the time) in return of peace. Religion is another important aspect of EU2, and this might be one of the only games that models this significant attribute of the time. You can set tolerance levels for each religion in your realms and the known world. Countries (or your own provinces) will revolt or have a general decrease in relations if you have a low tolerance for their religion. You can attempt to send missionaries to provinces to covert their religion, but this is both expensive and time consuming.
In you own country, you can set a domestic policy using sliders, which is a new feature in EU2. For example, you can favor plutocracy or aristocracy, and free trade or mercantilism. You can move a slider one space every ten years for a small price, and each domestic policy end has its own special privileges. Once the year 1492 passes, European nations can start to colonize the New World, by sending settlers overseas to form new colonies. On top of all this, random and historical events can completely derail your plans, and you can finally customize which messages come up in windows and which don't, which was a sour point of the first game. The goal of all this is to accumulate victory points, which can come from winning wars, doing trade, having good diplomatic relations, or completing tasks. In the end, there are so many different parts of the game that Europa Universalis II is one of the most satisfyingly complex strategy games I've seen in a long time. It's fun and stuff.
The graphics are not the strong point of the game, but Europa Universalis II does a good job of emulating a board game feel. The interface has the feel of commanding armies in a slightly abstract manner, from a commander prospective rather than on the battlefield with your troops. I will say that the interface of the game is pretty easy to use, but it does sometimes get cluttered, trying to differentiate between all the units and actions on the map. There seems to be no noticeable difference between EU2 and the original EU in the graphics department. Just like the sound, the graphics in Europa Universalis II are just there to supplement the gameplay in the most basic of forms.
For those of you which have experienced the joy and excitement of Europa Universalis, there probably isn't enough here in the second version to promote a purchase. But, if you have not played either version, EU2 is a great way to introduce you to the wonderfully complex gameplay found in the Europa world. Europa Universalis II is a very complete historical real-time strategy title, even with sub-par graphics and sound. Fans of strategy games should not miss this title. Napoleon awaits.