Europa Universalis III PC CD-ROM
Published by Paradox Interactive
Developed by Paradox Interactive
Release Date: 2nd February 2007
For years many held the belief that a real time strategy game couldn’t come anywhere near to being as complex as a turn-based strategy game. Traditionally RTS games relied more on quick reactions and rudimentary tactics rather than the ability to formulate intricate strategies. With Europa Universalis, however, that all changed. Europa Universalis contained all the complexity of a turn-based strategy game and played out in real time. To assist gamers the speed of the game could be slowed down and you could pause the action at any time to make decisions. You could even configure the game to automatically pause when certain events occurred. The ability to pause the game at any point and do as you please before continuing negated all the disadvantages of the game being in real time. In short the game proved to be immensely popular and it was no surprise when a sequel arrived in 2002. Five years later and the release of Europa Universalis III is imminent. Whereas Europa Universalis II simply built upon the successful formula of Europa Universalis, Europa Universalis III does quite a few things differently.
Europa Universalis III is a grand strategy game that allows you to take your chosen nation, which is made up of one or more provinces (there are 1250 land provinces in the game and 450 sea zones), and guide them from the years 1453-1789, a time regarded as the Renaissance and Reformation periods of history. You can choose any year you wish in which to begin your rule but it’s worth noting that the map will change according to the year you elect to begin control of your nation. Your starting point in the game will place you in historically accurate conditions however, once you start playing the events that occur are dynamic and no matter how many times you play the same game (picking the same nation and start date) you’ll never have two games that are alike. Like previous games in the series, Europa Universalis III allows you to conduct diplomacy, wage war, carry out trade, control your nation’s taxes and many other things. In fact there’s a lot of stuff to do and it’s one of those games that make hours feel like minutes.
The first difference most will notice is the move from 2D to 3D but there’s much more to Europa Universalis III than that. It’s worth pointing out that the game has a redesigned user interface. Whilst the first two games in the series were excellent strategy titles it can’t be said that they were very user friendly. I remember taking quite a while to learn how to play Europa Universalis and part of the problem was that it wasn’t always obvious how to perform the simplest of tasks due to the cumbersome interface. Thankfully Europa Universalis III has a user interface that is much more user friendly. I found I hardly needed to look at the manual in order to know what I was doing, which is pretty impressive with a game of this complexity. For this reason alone I would recommend newcomers to the series to simply ignore the first two games and go straight to Europa Universalis III. That said I still feel the tutorials could have been better. There are a handful of basic tutorials and trials to complete and whilst these are good they don’t prepare you fully for the moment when you are on your own. There’s a lot to do in Europa Universalis III and the tutorials simply give you a knowledge of the basics, which isn't really enough for when you undertake a new game. I really like the way all the essential information is close at hand. The Outliner is particularly useful as it displays essential information such as what armies you have, what navies you have, what sieges and battles are taking place etc. It makes keeping track of your units a cinch. If you click on the name of an army for example you’ll be taken right to them. It’s a simple addition but it’s one that works beautifully. You’ll wonder how you managed without it in the previous games.
Of course having 3D visuals and a refined interface is one thing but how about additions to the game play? Fortunately there have been some key additions. You now have access to spies and they can conduct all kinds of espionage. You can now assign generals and admirals to your armies and navies. You can use an army or navy without a leader but they will perform much worse. A concept called Military Tradition has been added to the game and it is gained by fighting battles, exploring and building certain structures. Military Tradition essentially determines the quality of the generals and admirals that you can recruit. You can choose which court advisors to employ (you can have three at any one time) and each one will bring some kind of bonus, such as a research bonus or maybe provide you with additional merchants or spies over the course of a year. Naturally you’ll have to pay for the services but in some cases it’s more than worth the asking price. There are many different types of government and once they’ve become available (through research) you can choose which one you prefer, although they all come with their own pros and cons. You can also play co-operatively online with both players controlling the same nation. There are lots of other additions, far too many to mention here but personally the biggest addition has to be the inclusion of National Ideas. Essentially you’ll have to research the government technology to unlock the National Idea slots. Reaching government technology level one for instance makes one National Idea slot available. There are 30 different National Ideas of which you can choose a maximum of 10. The National Ideas are split into five different categories, Land, Naval, State Business, Exploration and Culture. Each category has six National Ideas to choose from. Each one of these National Ideas gives your nation certain advantages. Quest for the New World allows you to hire explorers and conquistadors, Deus Vult! allows you an automatic casus belli on all religious enemies (and heretics in the same group) and National Conscripts allows a large increase to national manpower levels. Of course the National Ideas add an extra layer of strategy to the game and allow you to play the game in many different ways.
Perhaps the most significant change in Europa Universalis III is the move from 2D to 3D graphics. 3D graphics have been around for some time in strategy game and whilst the first 3D strategy games didn’t look all that great it’s fair to say that for the most part the quality of 3D visuals in most strategy games has reached a certain level of maturity over the last year or so. It’s probably a little disappointing then that the graphics in Europa Universalis III aren’t that great. In fact they are quite basic. The decision to go with 3D graphics might upset some fans of the series. For a start it means that fewer laptop gamers will be able to enjoy the game due to the increased system requirements. It's also fair to say that when zoomed in close the graphics look quite poor, poorer in fact than the 2D visuals of the previous Europa Universalis games. However, the 3D visuals allow you to zoom in and out quite nicely and it also makes it easier for modifications to be made by users.
Deaf gamers will have no problems with Europa Universalis III. Virtually all of the information in the game is given in text. The opening movie that plays when you load the game isn’t subtitled. This is hardly a problem and I suspect most will skip it to get into the game as soon as possible anyway. All of the messages you receive are shown in text and the message log keeps track of them. The tutorials are all delivered exclusively in text. When a nation offers an alliance or trade agreement etc. a small icon appears on the lower left of the screen and clicking on this will show you their message. Interestingly there’s no option to pause the game automatically when a message appears like in the previous Europa Universalis titles, but you can pause the game yourself. On the whole the game is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
There can be little doubt that Europa Universalis III is an excellent strategy title. The new features all help to make it a richer experience and without a doubt it’s the best game in the series. The new user interface is excellent and allows you to see much more information at a glance. The biggest disappointment for most will probably be the 3D graphics. I daresay there will be a fair amount of laptop owners who won’t be able to play the game due to its more demanding nature and reliance on 3D graphics. Those who game on desktop PCs, who can run the game without any problems, will be disappointed that the game doesn’t look much better. In fact in terms of graphical quality the game looks several years old. However, graphical quality aside, there is little to complain about and fans of the series, and indeed fans of strategy games in general, shouldn’t hesitate in purchasing the game when it’s released in early February.
Europa Universalis III is, without a doubt, the best game in the series. Not only is the game more complex due to a wealth of new additions but it's also more accessible thanks to a friendlier user interface. The 3D graphics, and the problems they will cause for some users, are going to be a bone of contention for some but on the whole it's an excellent game.