Paradox Interactive, 2006
Video game review
Europa Universalis III
Incredible depth. Stable. Runs well on older hardware. Not as micromanagement-heavy as you'd think. Expansions remove some annoyances. Supports multiple play styles.
Graphics aren't anything special. No defined goals.
Learning curve "hockey stick" would make Al Gore cry


This game will be responsible for the "lost time" abductees are always going on about. It's the kind of thing where you start playing, and the next thing you know it's 5 in the morning and you have an important meeting in two hours. And yet... another few minutes couldn't hurt, could it?
Astronomical scopeAstronomical scope:

Nobody was thinking small when they designed this game. The attention to detail or the vast range of possibilities afforded when you're playing it will cause you at least once to step back and utter a Keanu-inspired "whoa". Somebody shot for the moon here, and more importantly they hit it.
One of the best games in its classOne of the best games in its class:

If you're looking for the acme of the genre, you need look no further. Even if the game isn't perfect, it's still the pinnacle of the style it represents. This is the Raymond Chandler of crime stories, the John Williams of musical composers, the Shakespeare of plays, the Collie.SU of reviewing websites.
Niche appealNiche appeal:

This may be the best Timed Shoving Pangolins Into Toaster Ovens simulation out there, but if you don't follow the Pangolin Toaster-Oven Shoving Championships it may not be for you. Occasionally, games manage to transcend their genres, but this clearly isn't one of them. This should sound a cautionary note if you're not a fan of the style.
Learning curveLearning curve:

This game may wind up being one of the most rewarding you've ever played, but it's hard to know at first because to get over the learning curve you need a pickaxe and a winch. If you're a fan of rock-climbing, you'll have some idea of what it's like to get into this game. If you aren't, well, just know it's going to be a bitch to learn to play it. Whether this is worth it in the end is another question entirely.

With a grandiose name and a mindboggling scope, Europa Universalis III (after this I'm just going to call it "Europa Universalis" or "EU", without the number) poses an intriguing question, namely: "what would Civilization be like if it was programmed by an obsessive-compulsive?"

At some point in a stuffy boardroom somewhere, somebody asked "what should our scope be?" and someone else answered, simply, "yes". EU models the world from 1453 to 1821 (with the Napoleonic expansion pack), and recognizes nearly every country present on that. Mind you when I say "the world" I mean the entire fucking world, and when I say "nearly every country" I mean, like, Lorraine. And the Creek, in the New World. And Piedmont. And Georgia (which as of August 2008 is more than Russia can say).

So basically if you wanted to unify Spain, say, you could do that. If you wanted to try to take over Europe as the Netherlands--before there even was a Netherlands (so you'd have to unify them, too)--you could do that. If you wanted to try to colonise the New World as Japan, or set the Mongol hordes cascading over Europe, you could do these things too. EU is a game of quite frankly terrifying scope, written by people who, one imagines, don't see much sunlight.

By and large it boils away the micromanagement of Civilization, as well as removing some of its more absurdist propositions. You can't, sitting in 1450, plan to research crack riflemen. If you want to get a leg up over the competition, you simply tell your scientists to put more money into land technology research, and you get that military edge anon. Combat itself is even more abstracted than Civ's roshambo approach, putting a higher value on the abstract concept of "morale," which means that countries with high war weariness or bad leadership will tend to fare poorly (see for instance Tsarist Russia) regardless of how many men they can field.

Conversely, countries with good leadership, who have invested in morale, or who are gung-ho about fighting (or all three) can prevail easily against armies who are substantially larger--meaning small armies with a lot invested in them can be powerful (though you might be hesitant to use them, as historically for instance the German principalities were). On the other hand, this isn't taken too far--the Aztecs still lost to the conquistadors despite being pretty enthusiastic about the whole deal (needy sun gods will do that for you).

Indeed, across the board EU makes it easy for you to play the part of a leader and not a bureaucrat, and by keeping civilization development either abstracted or staggered evenly across time, it largely manages to avoid the tedium that can plague grand strategy games like Civilization. The fact that it is real-time, and thus variable speed, also prevents things from feeling too slow (or for that matter too overwhelming).

This is not to say that the game is without its flaws. The multiplayer aspects lack polish (there is no join in progress)--although there is the intriguing ability for two people to play the same country. There are no clear definable goals and no win condition--so if you are objective-oriented, you may find it a little too sandboxy for your tastes.

Most egregiously, however, is the potential learning curve. Reading the manual helps strongly; it's hard to intuit things. This generally isn't fatal, but it means you're unlikely to have unlocked your full potential without either a good night curled up with the instructions or a few weeks of play to discover everything. Of course, the learning curve isn't insurmountable--and indeed, there's certainly nothing wrong with a game demanding that you know how to play it before you try. But it can be a bit daunting, and that should be called out: this isn't Quake, or for that matter Settlers of Catan. Or, for that matter, Civilization.

It most closely resembles a Risk or Diplomacy taken to the extreme (Paradox has, in fact, made a computer version of the second). It is certainly the pinnacle of real-time grand strategy (itself a somewhat rare genre), and I would suggest it gives Sid Meier a run for his money--although Civilization, as a turn-based 4X game, is not strictly in the same category.

If you have an interest in strategy--particularly grand strategy (as opposed to tactics)--world history, "what-if?" scenarios and alternative history, Europa Universalis 3 is easy to recommend. Particularly if you're willing to put the time into knowing what's going on about you, it's a rewarding experience that proves that there are still folks out there creating unique, compelling games in an era where "unique and compelling" seems to be "put your World War II franchise in the present day for a title before returning to Omaha Beach".
La Chevre
14.08.2008 - 12h24
Comrade Alex
14.08.2008 - 12h26

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