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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Review: Europa Universalis III

It's because of my liberal attitude towards the carrying capacity of caravels that I can boast to boat 10,000 Englishmen across the Atlantic each month - vital shoulders needed for the support of muskets during their righteous rumpus against a rebellious rabble of ex-pats with fancy hats. Europa Universalis 3 has fairly laid claim to the title of 'Zealous Provider of Tweakery', offering the chronic toggler an opportunity to alter and improve virtually every facet of the machinations in their governance of a nation as it steams through the Renaissance/Enlightenment era of European history. My feudal noodle concocted a despotic plan of conquest: I decided to maximise serfdom (which had the effect of increasing my nation's productivity at the cost of popular discontent) in order that a gargantuan English navy might surf the seas. The scheme paid off, and by neglecting the conquest of European land I'd almost fully colonised North America by the year 1600, rebuffing all competition from rival states. However, it was not to be EU3's huge cargo-hold of treasuresome tweakery that would amount to my aforementioned liberal troop-carrying policy, instead, this would swell from the tumultuous tides of minor bugs (I wanted to say minor buggery) that find their home deep in the dynamics of EU3, namely, the too-tempting option to pause the game, divide my armies into smaller companies, then load each of them onto my ships - massively bypassing the maximum volume which should be imposed by the number of transports in the fleet. My justification for this debauchery was that EU3 rigidly defines which ships are able to carry troops and those which are not, with the larger battleships nonsensically unable to stow away soldiers. It would appear that my colonists took a similar revolutionary attitude to the rigidity of my rule, they rose up in force in the year 1620.

By the year 1630, France was mine. The Cosmopolitan swines chose my moment of weakness to sail across the channel and strike a blow against my capital, occupying the whole of Southern England while they were at it. Admirable as EU3's AI may have been to me at that moment, vengeance had to be mine. God was clearly on my side (I'd already claimed 'Defender of the Faith' years earlier), so I allowed the Americans to have their precious America and swiftly exploited my way to 30,000 troops in Normandy by May 1622. Another admirable feature of EU3 is the option to hire Admirals (and Generals), greatly improving the combat performance of units; this would be to my detriment in Normandy because France had superior Generals (accredited to their superior 'Army Tradition' - accrued through victories in land combat - something I'd lacked through years of peaceful, submissive colonisation), for this reason I'd have to win through strength of numbers. I hired a further 20,000 mercenaries using the Ducats I'd amassed through tax and trade with the new world, then I promptly fricasseed the French.

I'd opine that one of the greatest assets of EU3 is its ability to mimic the mindset of the medieval world. Imperialism has historically never been questioned on a moral basis because of warfare's cost in human lives, instead, rules of war were traditionally evoked on the notion of the 'Casus Belli' or 'A Just Cause for War'. Having possession of a Casus Belli equates to the only sensible way a nation within EU3 will be able to declare war without incurring a stability penality, which leads to inefficiency, loss of income, revolts, perhaps even revolution. Fighting without a Casus Belli was the French King Louis' fatal mistake. He'd plunged his army into disloyalty and his nation into a mood for dismembering head from body. I exploited this by utilising another of EU3's nifty additions - spies! My men of the sleight were able to incite troop desertion, forge reputation-damaging documents, hire port-blockading pirates, and instil yet further French unrest.

With the French and their utterly insignificant allies out of the way, I was able to reclaim what I'd rightfully stolen from American natives. I'll take this opportunity to criticise EU3's AI of allies in war, which I'd describe as thoroughly 'A' but neglectfully 'I'. My Portuguese friends showed dog-like loyalty as their boats sailed enthusiastically up and down the channel, occasionally landing wet-nosed mutts in Kent (where there had been a battle two years prior), cheerfully sacrificing their ships to the elements as they stayed out at sea, wagging their sails, gathering barnacles and generally getting soggy, possibly in the hopes that a discarded baguette might be netted and paraded in the English court for all to see.

Battling the ungrateful uprising, I came to realise a painful truth to be learned of EU3: colonialism is fruitful but duller than the terrain of my newly-acquired Holland. If the real meat of EU3 can be found in the competitive strategy of economic and military war, then the bland side-dish could certainly be equated to the acquisition of unclaimed land - the process of which can be summarised with 'click the colonist button until territory becomes your national colour, repeat until 1000 colonists arrive and form a city'. For this reason I'd highly recommended playing as a power with vested interests in the annexation of their neighbours (the Ottomans, for example), the risk being that otherwise you may play the game on full speed, constantly waiting for your colonies to expand, and allowing the events in your heartland to pass by without consideration.

For someone who's fascinated by history, Europa Universalis 3 is tantalising. If I were to choose the date 1452 (the earliest possible in EU3), I'd be presented with an accurate depiction of the factional alignment of the world at in that period; when time begins to flow, however, new history is in the making. I'm not exactly certain how Paradox Interactive have managed to accomplish this. The divergent nature of EU3's history somehow manages to be both feasible and interesting each time I begin a new campaign. The actions of other nations are not merely influenced by your own decisions, the AI displays a believable motivation to accomplish goals according to the pressures and opportunities which present themselves, differing in activities and successes according to some genius randomiser which I've yet to fathom.

The soundtrack of EU3 is both as epic and magnificent as the scale of history which the game hopes to convey. I frequently prefer the in-game audio to my own music folder, EU3's aural accompaniment being so superbly suited to amplifying an atmosphere of noble savagery. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound effects of battle and sieges, most of which sound rather like a drunken tussle with a glockenspiel rather than anything remotely evocative of combat.

EU3's graphics are simple yet attractive and more than enough to convey the details needed to play a game of this type. Oddly, when my old graphics card melted in last month's heat, I discovered that my temporary replacement (a GeForce 3) was not enough to play EU3, which apparently requires 128MB of graphical RAM.

After patching the game, changes were made to the start-up panel, informing me that there is an active mod community for EU3. I believe this is deserving of mention because I'm certain all of my qualms about the game may be remedied either by fiddling with the config files in the system folder or simply downloading a mod that applies a similar result.

There's much about EU3 that I've been remiss to mention, such as the impact of religion on diplomatic relations, provincial stability and justification for war. I've been playing EU3 for months, yet I discover something new and vital every day. This learning process is part of EU3 (also a convenient excuse to cut this review short) and an exemplary reason to stray off the beaten track. Learn a lesson or ten then restart and pick an oft-forgotten nation such as Poland or Ethiopia. Play Europa Universalis 3 and shape your own incredible history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your diction needs a great deal of attention. Make sure you understand the nuanced meaning of specific words before flinging them into the florid stew that is your prose.

To quote from "The Princess Bride:" "I do not think it means what you think it means." Read more and you'll write better.