Europa Universalis III a review

By Koushik Saha on 19.12.10

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It's hard to be loyal when it comes to video games. Much loved series disappear without a trace sometimes, taking entire genres with them. The industry shifts towards a certain pattern and pins its future on mostly first person shooters and MMOs, leaving fans of other concepts looking to smaller developer. Franchises drop quality in favor of yearly releases.
But there are still developers, like Paradox Interactive, that understand there is a clear market for strong willed gamers with a lot of patience, some free time and an interest in things the electors of the Holy Roman Empire, the mechanics which gave England its huge colonial empire or the how Poland – Lithuania could have dominated Eastern Europe to get lost in something like Europa Universalis III.

And, in an effort to deliver a number of general improvements to the entire game while also adding some more content to the Eastern half of the world, the company has released the Divine Wind expansion, the fourth for a game that has reallybenefited from the content it has received after the official 2007 launch date.


Divine Wind is trying to make more exotic nations interesting to play and shift the focus away a bit from central and western Europe, which might be a bit too much for a game called Europa Universalis. Fortunately, the added mechanics are interesting and well thought out even if in the long term they might not appeal to the entire audience of the series.

The Chinese get three government capable factors, with their rise and fall determined by the characteristics of the ruler and by the slider balance that the player creates. Each of the three factions gives access to some options for dealing with internal or external politics, putting some brakes on the development of China as an empire.
Initially in the game, when starting from the 1399 date, the Bureaucratic faction seems to quickly gain power and any outward looking players will be severely constrained by the fact they cannot actually start wars and they can send out colonists to get some of the nomad dominated areas to the West.

The Bureaucrats are a good idea once the country becomes a bit more advanced and buildings become available, but early on Divine Wind can make Europa Universalis a bit boring for those who aim to realize the power of the Middle Kingdom.

With China the key seems to work in bursts, starting wars when one can and keeping them going when another comes to power even if actual warfighting is not the main concern of the player just because it's not clear when another war starting window might come up.

Japan is more interesting and dynamic. The country has some more provinces and four competing Daymio's generals which fight for the title of Shogun, becoming the power behind the Imperial throne and directing the affairs of the country. There are also some diplomatic options and decisions linked to the other factions and the Japan game seems somewhat more dynamic and interesting than the China based one.

Here too the game aims to make the experience a bit more challenging in the early years and more interesting in the long term. It's a good idea for both Japan and China, countries that could have played a bigger role on the world stage if it was not for the internal divisions that plagued them. Divine Wind pretty much manages to replicate that process, at least for the first hundred years, although some gamers might feel that the move strips some of the “fun” from those who nations.

Another big change is linked to the horseback invaders of Central Asia, which are now set in a permanent state of war with civilized nations and play for money. To get rid of them a player needs to both conquer provinces and then protect them long enough to actually allow a colony to develop, which means my Lithuanian colonists finally have a reason to exist in the game. This makes the game more dynamic for the Eastern powers that need to defend from their constant invasions and finally delivers some uses for those extra colonists landlocked nations get.

New building mechanics lead to much more defensive focus no one wants to lose a College or something like that and only in the late game do players have the resources to quickly develop a new holding.
One potential issue is that wars seem to very quickly escalate because of the new Call allies’ options, meaning that gamers need to be very clear about their declarations of war. Unfortunately when two great powers controlled by the computer face off the result can be a sort of World War I type conflict with XVI century weapons and too ambitious players will also quickly face a big number of countries facing them.

Graphics and audio

The developers at Paradox managed to squeeze a bit more beauty out of the aging Europa Universalis III by bringing in the cloth map idea that was first applied in Victoria II, which means I now play most my games as far zoomed out as I can when the immediate surrounding are at peace, focusing on the messages that arrive daily with the zoomed in view only in use when I am fighting a war and directing troops stacks or when something interesting is happening in my immediate vicinity or somewhere near my allies.

Also from Victoria II the game gets a better message system and a list of all the modifiers that a player can get going is easily available. There's also a new peace negotiation view that allows for more intuitive drawing up of new borders between two warring factions.

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