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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

Paradox Interactive

 

Developer

Paradox Interactive

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2006

 

 

- Interface is simple, intuitive and well-conceived

- Economics, trade, science and politics are combined in an extremely well-integrated system

- Endless replayability

- Colonization is fun

 

 

- Selecting armies and navies is occasionally tricky

- The combat system feels a little over-simplified

- The speed control system can be frustrating

 

 

Review: Kohan II: Kings of War (PC)

Review: Shogun: Total War (PC)

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Europa Universalis III

Score: 9.0 / 10

 

Considering that Paradox has had three tries to get this game right, it shouldn’t be a surprise how polished EU III is, or how well it manages to create the illusion of managing a burgeoning state through Renaissance and Reformation.  What is surprising is how fun it is.  In past EU games, as with Paradox’s Hearts of Iron and Victoria games, the concept of “fun” was almost irrelevant.  The appeal was the complexity, the challenge and sometimes the pure, damned difficulty of having to keep track of and manage so many things just to keep going.

 

europa universalis iii          europa universalis iii

 

Paradox has done a fantastic job here of repackaging and re-conceiving an already excellent concept.  This game isn’t exactly prettied up or dumbed down from past versions, though it is definitely prettier and simpler.

 

The 3D map is simple but aesthetically pleasing.  The new interface allows easy negotiation of a series of scrolls and windows governing all aspects of state management, trade, production, military.  And Paradox has developed an

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ingeniously well-integrated system where every choice in the game affects every other choice.  The decision to focus on naval over land forces, to enhance trade rather than production, to change a form of government -- even the choice of one royal advisor over another -- can either pay off or come back to haunt the player.  Rather than the standard tech tree, players allocate 

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funding to different research and development tracks and periodically choose “national ideas” which can also have major consequences in shaping a nation’s destiny.

 

The real treat in all of Paradox’s historical grand strategy games is the opportunity to play as any nation at any point in the time period covered by the game.  This time around it’s even more fun, and my trial games witnessing some very amusing (and very ahistorical) developments -- a psychotically aggressive Switzerland , a Portuguese fur trade empire in North America and a Scottish Carribean (i.e. try saying “Ach, mon” with a Jamaican accent).

 

The possibilities for colonizing the new world are a highlight of the game, and provide an experience which can be both fascinating and unsettling.  Depending on the state and the time period, the player has the option to choose “Colonize the New World ” as a national idea.  From there, using explorers and conquistadors, players can discover new lands, establish colonies, and gradually grow them into cities.  Various aboriginal populations and states are represented, though they are clearly presented as obstacles in the way of the inevitable rather than contenders in their own right.  A state which is taking colonial territory faces immediate choices (here comes the unsettling part) about how to treat the native population, which all have important consequences as the game progresses.    

 

EU III’s combat system is simple, perhaps too simple -- or at least the complexities are outside the player’s control.  That might be one failure of the game, that it might have been fun had the designers allowed a few more choices in how to conduct a battle.  Unlike in Hearts of Iron II, where I began to dread war because the decisions and micromanagement were such a headache, EU III’s combat is simply a case of organizing armies and marching them toward the target.  The most difficult thing about war in EU III is the political maneuvering required to declare it without causing catastrophic domestic and international fallout.  In my first game as France , I was ruined from within and without when my aggressive conquests against small, pesky neighbors took a toll on my stability at home and made my larger neighbors ally to attack me.  More fun than war, in some ways, are the many other methods of doing in a rival, through espionage, trade domination, or killing with kindness. (Something that works almost too well with those small, pesky neighbors, I discovered, is buttering them up with bribes, alliances and royal marriages before tricking them into one-sided vassalage agreements.)

 

My quibbles are minor.  Clicking on units, particularly navies in port, is sometimes a little tricky, requiring precise pointer placement.  As well, as with other Paradox strategy games, the variable speed settings are mixed blessing.  Maximum speed is usually required during peace time just to stay sane, but things can go very wrong very, very quickly at that setting.   I had a continuing frustration with Naval units who sometimes, after venturing out of port to combat pirates and hostile forces, stayed in harbor, within sight of friendly shores, until they fell apart from lack of maintenance and sank.   Minor bugs exist within the game’s trade system, where messages about trade developments often seemed out of step with what was actually happening in the marketplace.

 

Interestingly, the game feels less constrained by history than other Paradox titles, with random rulers and events, which may displease history purists but is a great thing in terms of replayability.  However, the game makes a few questionable choices to preserve historical outcomes, most notably applying various penalties to non-European cultures for their technological advancement.  While this might be accurate, I was a little saddened that I couldn’t explore real alternate realities, such as European imperialists met by musket wielding Iroquois or expansionist Mali tribesman, already preparing their counter-colonization across the sea.  While it may be obtuse of me to complain about a game called Europa Universalis being too Eurocentric, it does limit the possibilities in what otherwise feels like a game with limitless possibilities.

 

Griping aside, EU III is a quality title by a quality developer who has shown that you can actually fix a game that ain’t broken, and introduce fresh possibilities into an already intriguing genre.

 

- John Tait

(February 1, 2007)

 

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