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Europa Universalis

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Europa Universalis are somewhat minimalist, but that's not to say that they're bad. Indeed, they portray the world -- and, yes, the game has pretty much the whole world in it -- in a way that fits with the theme of the game. It looks like an even larger-scale Diplomacy, or for the less boardgame-knowledgeable, Risk. The major difference is with the scale. Instead of the countries and 'areas' that Risk uses, EU is broken up into provinces, and you can see each one. Indeed, the world map is mind-bogglingly huge. This sort of stylization sticks with most of the game. Your troops all look the same, and they do a little marching-in-place animation when you want them to go somewhere else. The boats are the same way. Indeed, the whole thing feels like a somewhat animated board game of epic proportions.

So, while I wish that there was a little more oomph to the graphics, I can't deny that the lack of graphical clutter helps a great deal in understanding the overwhelming experience of your first game.

The sound is pretty minimal, but it's there. You've got armies clashing, weapons firing, and the occasional fanfare as something good happens to your people. It's not particularly deep when it comes to sound effects, but the minimal ones there are fine enough. The game has music, and it certainly fits the game, but it can be something of a bear to get to work right. It wouldn't play at all in one of my drives -- the one that the CD cable was hooked into -- and I had to finagle to get it to work in my DVD-ROM drive. You may not have the issues that I did with it, and in fact the game has even more of a strategic tabletop feel to it without the music, but I certainly liked it enough to make it work.


All right. Let's get this out of the way -- the manual that was packaged with Europa Universalis is a terrible game reference. It's absolutely fascinating when you want to read about the world behind the game, but it's nearly impossible to find anything you need to be competent at the game. So, post-haste, make your way to Strategy First's website and nab the new PDF version. It's got a few formatting issues, but it also has a Table of Contents, which is an absolute godsend. You may actually be able to find what you need. I'd prefer if it had an index as well, but a little is better than none.

With that technical issue out of the way, let's get to the game itself -- and, to put it simply, Europa Universalis portrays the Eurasian sociopolitical world in game format better than any other game before it, and more importantly, it makes it entertaining to take part in.

Your first game of Europa Universalis is likely to completely overwhelm you. When you've taken over all of Ireland and Great Britain in the tutorial, and you look in the grand world map and realize that that's barely a few pixels on the screen, you may start to shake uncontrollably. At least, I did. The tutorial itself is a little weak in some places, and I had some problems with the sections completing properly, but it definitely drives home a few points that need to be driven before you jump full-fledged into the game.

The game consists of a number of scenarios, and takes place from the end of the fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century. Major turmoil was the name of the game in Europe at the time, as was the expansion and colonization by the various powers that be. Along with this, the religion of the European world was shifting between Catholicism and Protestantism, along with the two major sects of the faith of the Muslim.

EU takes all of this into account, and more. You have to worry about the stability of your country, the various alliances and treaties, and a complex trade simulation involving centres of trade and merchants and monopolies and all sorts of other things.

As I said before, it can be a little overwhelming at first.

Something of a paradigm shift of the way one plays a strategy game is also necessary. In games like Risk and any other RTS, the goal is usually either sole domination or team domination. In Europa Universalis, there is no way to take over the entire world. The other countries would gang up on you and obliterate you. Instead, you must weave a delicate balance, colonizing, making treaties, and occasionally declaring war when absolutely necessary. And the whole political structure is nothing like any other game of the sort. Treaties are made to be kept, not broken, and the world gets terribly pissed at you when you start to violate all of the agreements you've made. And armies are vastly simplified from their normal strategy counterparts -- three types of units, three types of ships. These sorts of changes make the game more manageable.

But given time [and it does take time -- a lot -- to get really proficient at EU], the massive complexities of the game start to become manageable. Indeed, the scenarios that come with the game can be played such that they ease you relatively nicely into becoming a master.

You can also play Europa Universalis over either a LAN or the Internet, but it doesn't have any built-in matching service support, so you may have to set up times to get together with your friends to play. And while I imagine that a game of EU would be absolutely fascinating to play with other people, it's such a time investment that an entire weekend would have to be devoted to a truly solid game.

There are a few weird issues. Loading the game, especially in the tutorial, can seriously screw up the various objectives and achievements. And gameplay-wise, you get a lot of messages that you may or may not want and getting the game to hush is something of a pain. But EU definitely shines more than it dulls.


This game has a definite learning curve, and it's frighteningly steep. Even an experienced strategy gamer like myself had some problems handling everything in the game, and I often simply ignored certain aspects until I felt that I could control them well enough. The manual doesn't help, and the obtuse tutorial isn't much of a guide either. The best way to really get into Europa Universalis is to jump into one of the easier scenarios [look at the difficulties] and start playing. You'll pick it up soon enough. Definitely check out the tutorial first, however, as there are a lot of screens that you need to keep track of. The AI in EU is shockingly solid, behaving like a real group of nations should. It makes for a refreshing game, and a considerably more challenging one at that. Prepare to be bewildered at first, but a head-first plunge or three and you'll be ready to take on any challenge.

Game Mechanics:

EU is heavily mouse-driven, with some important keyboard shortcuts to remember as well. One of the really nice features in the single player games is the ability to speed up and slow down the passage of time. This can make the sometimes tedious build times manageable. There are a few issues with the text boxes that pop up -- I couldn't make the especially long ones scroll, just move around the screen as I tried to slide the slider. It also crashed once on me, but it was while I was trying to start a game, so it wasn't a fatal error. Nonetheless, it was a bit bothersome.

There's a lot of gameplay here -- and, unfortunately, perhaps Europa Universalis bites off a bit more than it should have. While I can unabashedly recommend it for any hardcore strategy gamer -- there are untold hours of enjoyment to be found in this game -- those who are looking for a more casual endeavour would probably do best to stay away. With such a complex system, only those willing to devote time to 'cracking the nut' will be successful. Once the nut is cracked, however, an entire world of plotting, scheming, and building awaits, and it's amazingly deep and wonderfully enjoyable. Just make sure you don't have anything else to do with your life . . .

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

P200, Win9x/NT/2K, Video Card w/ 2MB RAM, 64MB RAM, 180MB HD Space, 2x CD-ROM

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Europa Universalis II Windows Evil Islands: Curse of the Lost Soul

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