Summary: Sick of Civ III? Maybe you want a strategy game with a stricter historical slant? Europa Universalis II delivers turn based strategy in spades. Read Jakub's review for the full monty (on the game, not Jakub).
Publisher: Strategy First
Europa Universalis 2 official page: http://www.europa-universalis.com/ The original Europa Universalis was as fine a strategy game as we’ve ever seen here at FiringSquad. Combining strongly executed elements of diplomacy, religion, trade, conquest and balance of power it is by far the best historical strategy game ever.
Its weaker points, such as the graphics and sound effects, did nothing to detract from its addictiveness and remarkably deep gameplay. EU suffered from some other issues that gamers felt the need to address – such as the inability to play smaller nations. These flaws were quickly remedied by mod teams, who took advantage of plain-text data files to fix historical inaccuracies, correct imbalances, and introduce ‘what-if’ scenarios.
It’s all about the history
The EU games are concerned with the grand sweep of history from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. They must walk a fine line between keeping events historical and plausible, and giving the player enough freedom to do things that his chosen country had not or could not have done at that point in history. Possible historical events such as “what if the English HAD conquered France in the 100 Years’ War?” can be answered here. Historically, they had – Henry V beat France into submission and Charles VI accepted Henry as his son-in-law and heir. If Henry had been healthier and lived a mere two months longer, he would have been king of both England and France.
Europa Universalis started in 1492, when the general make-up of Europe was quite similar to the way it ended in 1792 (with only Russia, Austria and Poland having significant border changes.) Nations also lacked character – historical events were few and far between. They followed historical paths, but those were quite rigid. You could always count on Spain to colonize all of Latin America, or that Russia would almost always expand into the East. Other than that, nothing really happened to them.
Europa Universalis II, on the other hand, adds a whole slew of historical events. These are added onto volatile countries whose borders were far from stable, and quite different from what they ended up being in the end.
SIDEBAR: Windows 95/98/ME/2000
Pentium II 266
64 MB RAM
DirectX compatible graphics adapter (at least 2mb video memory)
16 bit DirectX 8 sound card
Pentium III/Athlon 600
256MB of RAM
Improved, but not great…
Seeing as Europa Universalis II uses the same engine as Europa Universalis, the improvements in graphics and sound effects are minimal. The most notable graphical differences involve the ability to change resolutions (from 800x600 on through 1024x768 and beyond), and the addition of several new animations for the Revolution-era units. An unfortunate side effect of changing resolution is that the interface does not scale with the resolution. The base 800x600 menus are still used in higher resolutions, resulting in an incongruous look (much like Baldur’s Gate II’s high-res settings.) The graphics in the game consist of plain maps in different modes, with provincial boundaries. The overall effect is similar to looking at a Renaissance map, with the notable difference of continents and countries being drawn to proper scale. “Homely, yet highly effective and stylized” would not be an improper description.
Sound effects did not go through any major revisions, excepting the addition of a vast library of contemporary music (from medieval through Renaissance to Enlightenment). Considering the great variety of scores and a game-developer’s budget, the quality is excellent. Best of all, they are on MP3 format and their titles and composers are listed in the back of the handsome manual. As for the effects themselves, they have changed little except to be less annoying and grating. Notifications and battle-effects are far easier to stomach over a long game.
EU2’s interface is, as with the first EU, bar none the best ever in a strategy game. It is fully customizable, easily accessible and self-explanatory. Pop-up hints appear on many items and menus can be customized to four settings. Almost any kind of event can be set to pop up, play a sound effect and pause the game, pop up, go into the main bar below or not even show up. As the game goes on, you may find yourself changing the style of these notifications, and definitely if you switch between countries. Austria, for example, is not likely to care that pirates are marauding in the Sea of Japan, but the Portuguese definitely will.
512MB of RAM
GeForce 2 GTS 32MB
Hercules GameTheater XP
Pioneer 5X DVD-ROM slotload
Stick with what works
Gameplay has changed very little since the original Europa Universalis. Armies, technology, generals, explorers, wars and diplomacy are all almost identical to how they were in the first game. The typical Europa Universalis game involves the creation of strategic alliances and royal marriages. Alliances allow you to secure yourself or single out a victim for attack, while royal marriages help improve relations and minimize the effects of negative actions such as declarations of war, particularly if you lack a Casus Belli. ‘Casus Belli’ is Latin for ‘Lawful cause for war’, or a good reason for one country to war on another. For example, if a national (ie, historically-belonging-to) province is being held by that foreign country, or that country somehow slights another, that victim nation will have a Casus Belli. A Casus Belli also goes a long way to having your Stability hit reduced for declaring war.
Diplomacy is key in the EU games. The most important concepts are the Relations rating and Bad Boy rating. Relations is a score from –200 to 200, with highest being best. Good relations with countries mean those countries are less likely to go to wars against you – they may even break their alliance with other countries hostile to you rather than declare war. Countries that have good relations with yours will look poorly on nations that declare war on you, and vice-versa.
Relations improve quicker with countries that have royal marriages, and even quicker if you are allies. These relations worsen based upon religious differences and your tolerance towards those religions. Declaring war against allies, vassals or royal cousins of a country tends to have disastrous effects with that nation. Declarations of war, annexations (whole or partial) also tend to worsen your Bad Boy rating.
Bad Boy rating is a score, invisible to the player except in general terms (your reputation) which indicates how other countries view your actions. If you are a warmonger, wholesale conqueror and breaker of treaties, your Bad Boy rating will worsen. The worse your reputation, the more likely countries are to go to war with you despite your relations with them. If the reputation hits disastrously low levels, do not be surprised to see constant declarations of war, as well as unreasonable peace demands. Bad Boy is the ultimate key to the Balance of Power concept so prevalent in EU.
Trade, technology, exploration
Trade is vital to a healthy economy, particularly early in the game. There are Centers of Trade (provinces which are ‘capitals’ of an economic region that tends to disregard national borders) that all countries can send merchants to. To send a merchant costs money, but if successful, that merchant will gain part of the trade present at the Center of Trade. The benefits of controlling the province with the CoT are two-fold. One is that you gain all the extra tax income from trade tariffs, the other is the ability to deny access to the trade center to any you have diplomatic relations with. There are penalties to denying access, but if the CoT happens to be large and important to the enemy, the benefits tend to outweigh any negative consequences.
By bringing the peace
One of the finest features of the game is the Domestic Policy slider. Domestic policy defines the character and nature of your government, with alternating drawbacks and benefits depending on the setting. A highly tolerant nation will have few Missionaries and colonists, but be less likely to suffer from religious differences. A country that embraces mercantilism can lay down trade embargoes left and right, and pays very little to place its merchants. Unfortunately, its restrictive trade policies make merchants less likely to flock to its banner. A centralized country gets great technological and production benefits, but random effects often target centralization and bring the country towards a decentralized setting, forcing the player to spend preciously rare setting changes to maintain centralization. Only once per decade are you allowed to meddle with your policies, and each time at the cost of one stability point.
Stability ranges from –3 to +3, +3 being the best you can get. With a +3 stability, your taxmen work at their best and your people are less likely to revolt. However, should stability drop, it needs to be raised through investment in the budget window, taking away resources better spent on technologies. Declarations of war, changes in State Religion and random events all hit Stability quite hard. Large, religious and culturally diverse nations are very expensive to raise stability for – yet another reason to avoid warmongering.
Missionaries, treaties, religions
The 16th and 17th centuries were a time of great religious upheaval – the rise of Protestants and Reformists and great religious wars. Provinces will automatically change religion based upon historical settings, and countries may change their official religion if it is historically plausible. Why change from good-old, safe Catholicism? Well, if your entire country is already Protestant (a la Sweden), then Stability is as good a reason as any. If you have colonial ambitions, Protestants are immune to the vile Papal decrees in the Treaty of Tordesillas, which allows Spain and Portugal to attack any other Catholic nation’s colonial possessions without a declaration of war or diplomatic penalty. Protestants also get 25 ducats per province at the time of conversion (from the sale of Church property) as well as technology and military bonuses. The huge hit in stability during the time of change, as well as dramatically worsened relations with Catholic neighbors, and some other penalties may discourage players from the switch, however.
Don’t enjoy having four separate faiths in your nation? Despise the problems with revolutionaries and taxation it causes? Not to worry – just send a missionary. Unlike Europa Universalis, you do not (indeed, cannot) depopulate a province to below 5000 inhabitants through constant war with infidels, then send a colonist to convert them. No, now you have to expend many ducats with relatively low chances of success (often in the 20-30% range) to attempt a conversion, which may last five, six or more years.
SIDEBAR: In French, the word for “left” is “gauche,” meaning clumsy
Peace treaties are handled somewhat differently from the original EU. Instead of gaining stars for conquests, each province has a percentage rating attached to it. Often, the province itself is worth more to demand in a peace treaty than the percentage it gives the player, so multiple conquests may be required to demand a province. However, through this it is possible to demand more than three provinces at a time, or to demand military access or even vassalization.
As mentioned before, Europa Universalis II makes heavy uses of pre-programmed Historical Events to make the gaming experience more true-to-life. The merger of Poland and Lithuania to Poland-Lithuania, the creation of Russia from Muscovy (or Novgorod or other Russian nations), and many smaller, less-significant on the world-stage events are included in the various campaigns.
This is all well-and-good for the history buffs who want to replay history, but sometimes, the events just don’t make sense. Why would Poland have to get increasingly rockier stability and de-centralization events if the player had never agreed to any demands from a random or historical event previous to that? Why do Novgorod or Muscovy not become Russia, despite conquering all the required territories, just because the Byzantine Empire still exists? Would the ambition of the Russian princes be any less? Do they not deserve national shields over all normal Russian provinces?
The problem is compounded in the four century long Grand Campaign, where at the start, in 1400, the world was at a very different spot than it was even one hundred years later. By 1500, nation borders were more or less established, but in 1400… Lithuania had vast chunks of Russia, the Ottoman Empire was nothing but a semi-major power in Asia Minor, the Byzantines still held out in Constantinople, France was halfway under the sway of England and Spain does not yet exist. The New World is not just undiscovered, no one feels the need to discover it anyway with Constantinople still shipping spices from the Mid and Far East.
Yet, for better or worse, certain events will always happen. Columbus will always show up and always head West, even if the Byzantines resurge and conquer the Turks. Granted, there is license for the unchangeable course of history and that, if we had lived the same lives and been in the same situations as past rulers, we’d commit to the same actions. But after four hundred years of play, the 1800 in any given game will very likely be quite different from the historical 1800 – so why do the same events pop up? It would be one thing to deal with a fifty or even hundred year span where not that much can happen, but four centuries is not just pushing the limit – it broke it.
Each province has a culture assigned to it – and each country has cultures that are part of it. If the province belongs to an official culture of the country, then there are no tax or stability penalties. Otherwise, there are costs involved in owning a province whose culture does not correspond to that of the country. One would think, however, that powerful provincial cultures would be absorbed over time into the national culture, or that weaker cultural provinces would simply change culture to the dominant national one. However, that is not the case and makes the game as a continental power even more difficult than those of a colonial – a trend that was not necessary.
· Great Gameplay. At its best, covering a span of four hundred crucial years in the development of civilization, with a strong historical influence that (in general) does not impede free-form play too severely. Details ranging from treaties through wars and Balance of Power make this the ultimate strategy game for history buffs.
· Graphics. Europa Universalis II isn’t the most beautiful game on the planet, though it oozes character. The screenshots aren’t going to attract any impulse buyers, but then again, impulse buyers aren’t like to enjoy such a complex game as EU2.
SIDEBAR: What do you think of Europa Universalis II ? Sound off in our comments section!
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|