Europa Universalis III Chronicles Review
Europa Universalis is the series that put the “grand” in the grand strategy genre. In this third installment, you can choose between no fewer than 250 Nations to guide through history from 1399 to 1820, taking charge of politics, monarchies, economics, the military and colonization. The Europa Universalis III Chronicles includes the original 2007 game along with it's four (!) expansion packs: Napoleon's Ambition, In Nomine, Heir to the Throne and Divine Wind.
Play is centered around the world map. From this global view, divided into roughly 1700 territories, players command their civilization. The game is completely customizable. You can choose one of the eleven preset starting points, each focusing on a particular area or conflict such as the Thirty Years War. Players can start from the very beginning and see everything or create a custom game, deciding their own starting year. Between this customization and the sheer volume of playable nations, Europa Universalis III is almost endlessly replayable.
Unfortunately, it'll take a huge amount of effort from players to invest themselves in the game. The systems are so complex that it would probably take a normal person four centuries to work everything out. The tutorials are comprehensive but impractical: Information is unloaded onto the player with little subtlety and no interactivity. Trials act as guided play sessions, and these are a little more helpful, but certainly not exhaustive. They cover military actions, colonization and government, but only on the most basic level. The government trial offers nothing new from the previous ones and is therefore somewhat useless.
The only thing to do is to jump straight in the campaign for some heated practice. This approach can be frustrating, though the game can be paused to consider your options and get more acquainted with the set-up. There's lots to take in, but soon players will find a powerful interface that is logically laid out. Through this interface, you have complete control over your civilization, from choosing national ideals to raising armies, to international relations and colonization.
Those familiar with the RTS genre will ease into the gameplay much more comfortably. As in games such as Total War, each territory can be monitored and upgraded individually. Buildings can be constructed and armies trained. The interface will feel familiar if you've ever played a strategy game before. Large armies can be controlled fairly easily: Left click to select; right click to move. If you have more than one unit on a territory, drag a box around them and they will all be selected. You can eject any undesired units, group the remainder together, and even assign a leader. These forces can then be used to attack enemy territories, though battle results will come down to army strength and dice rolls, since you don't get to fight your own battles. There are a decent number of unit types, ranging from infantry and cavalry to siege equipment and navies. Maintaining a good balance is essential.
The military approach isn't the only way to go, however. Though you won't last long without a standing army, you can choose to try and maintain good relations with your neighbors instead. There are plenty of options for conducting trade deals, for example, or fostering allegiances through marriage. Should you come under attack by invaders, you can request help from any of your allies.
The problem with such a complex game is that many players will feel like they're being dropped in the deep end. Because of the way the game plays, when you start a campaign you will already have a functioning civilization. Consequently, you have to immediately take into account everything that's there before you can start making decisions of your own. The pause function is handy here, though I can't help but wonder if the game's real-time nature is appropriate. A game of this complexity requires a lot of thought, meaning players will make good use of its pause function. Surely a turn-based structure would have been more appropriate?
Compilation games are always problematic. On the one hand, the game is easy to recommend for value alone: It is, after all, five games for the price of one. On the other hand, it's still a four-year-old game and in a very niche genre.
Europa Universalis III is one of the most complete strategy games ever released. If you can think of a way to customize your nation, you can probably do it here. Whether choosing your personal advisers, colonizing a new country, requesting marriage to soften international relations, or just stomping the boot of military might across the world, Europa Universalis III Chronicles is the game for it—as long as you're prepared for a steep learning curve.