Game Review - by James Allen
The historical strategy et has been dominated by the Civilization series of games. Considered by many to be the pinnacle of the genre, the series spanned history over thousands of years. Europa Universalis concerns itself with the period of expansion and colonization, 1492-1792. Traditionally, this time period has never been a focus of computer games, just a side note in the marching forward of history. Will Europa Universalis set a new standard for historical real time strategy, or be sacked and annexed like so many lands before it?
Europa Universalis comes with several scenarios spanning 1492-1792. You can experience the Age of Revolutions, the Thirty Years War, the War of Independence, or taken them all on in the Grand Campaign. You can control one of several major countries in each scenario. Although there are only a maximum of six major countries in each scenario, over ninety different countries are included. With a simple alteration of a text file, you can control any of the minor countries in each game (although this isn't officially supported). This adds up to a lot of gameplay; the default setting is 1 month per minute, and if you play the Grand Campaign (all 300 years), that's 60 hours to complete the scenario, and that is simply including just one of the included scenarios. For those conquerors who wish to dominate the real world, a multiplayer option is included, although this make take a while, and really is just an added bonus to the already expansive features of Europa Universalis.
The sound is slightly limited in Europa Universalis. There are 58 different sound files (I counted all by myself) depicting anything from troop movement, to combat, to construction of buildings. Like the graphics, they just serve as an small accessory to the gameplay. You won't hear anyone complain about the sound (except the fighting sounds get annoying after a while), but it isn't groundbreaking either.
Here is where Europa Universalis really shines. The gameplay advances in real time, which is a different approach than in games of the past. Since time is always advancing, you tend to lose track of your units, especially in far off lands. This perfectly captures the way it must have been for the sprawling empires of old. If everything does become too much, you can pause the game to regain your composure. You can choose from either army or navy units to carry out your wishes. Conquistadors can explore unknown territory, while your troops consists of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and your navy is comprised of warships, galleys, and transports. Although the variety of units could be better, it's not necessary, and would only add more confusion to an already complex game.
There are many different traits of Europa Universalis that interact in a web of realism. The most important is stability, a measure of the loyalty of your subjects. If you do some act on unkindness, such as declaring war or changing the state religion, the probability of rebellion increases. Tied in with stability, religion plays a very important role. The selected tolerance for other religions other than your own has an effect on your relations with other countries. This is consistent with the religion-dominated society of the era. If you care to expand your borders through more peaceful means, you can colonize distant lands (especially in the New World, Except The Native Americans Were There For A Long Time Before 1492). You can set up trading posts or colonies by sending 100 colonists on their way (colonies need to be coastal or adjacent to a city). You can expand your colonies by sending successive waves of colonists, eventually morphing into cities, which increase your taxes, among other things.
Of course, you must interact with other countries, and this is done through diplomacy. One of the keys of Europa Universalis is to establish a catalog of allies to assist you in your destiny. You can engage in royal marriages with other countries, or military alliances. Commonly, the larger wars have two sides with several countries each. Declaring war is also an act of diplomacy. If you have a casus belli, you can declare war without any decline in stability. The end of war is always implemented by the signing of a peace treaty, even if you have obliterated the opposition. If this is the case, you can annex them, and take the entire country over. Depending on how well you did, you can demand land or money from your rival. The geography of the world fluctuates over time, and you country can go from a world superpower to piddling nation overnight. Thus is the fickle world of Europa Universalis.
The final aspect of the game is trade. Economics is the lifeblood of your nation; if you have no money, you can't improve your standing. Merchants can be sent to centers of trade, to barter there way up the financial ladder, and give you more funds. Your money can not only purchase troops and buildings, but can be applied toward research as well. You can improve your land and naval technology, stability, trade level, and infrastructure, all simultaneously (as opposed to the one-at-a-time method of Civilization). The remainder of your income goes to the treasury. Choosing the correct balance of research items is paramount in successfully attaining your goals. With all of these aspects to gameplay, it's a triumph that Europa Universalis is relatively easy to learn, especially if you've played similar games. The gameplay, in short (too late), is amazing.
The world in Europa Universalis is depicted as a map, much like a game board that EU is based from. Although this isn't close to the wonderful 3D accelerated graphics found in many games today, they are very clear and easy to understand. The actions by the walking troops and the hammering smiths add a notion of fluid movement to the surroundings. While not stellar by any means, the graphics do a wonderful job a conveying the outstanding gameplay, and that's all we really need.
The unquestionably complete Europa Universalis is a wonderful and engaging affair. With over 90 countries included, several scenarios, and complex yet approachable gameplay, Europa Universalis shines in the truest sense of the word. Truly a grand game, Europa Universalis delivers on so many levels.