From the mid-12th century for a period of about 300 years, the minor kingdoms and principalities of Europe began, through a series of border-defining wars and inter-marriages, to coalesce into many of the modern European nations we know today. By 1492, the year in which Europa Universalis begins, the aristocratic gene pool had already become worryingly deficient from too many marriages to cousins and half-sisters, and Columbus was about to prove once and for all that you couldn't fall off the edge of the world, even if you wanted to.
If that sounded a bit too much like your old history teacher rabbitting on, and you began to fall asleep in the middle of the first sentence, then sorry, but Europa Universalis isn't for you. While this huge strategy game is clearly influenced to a certain extent by the likes of the Civilisation series, its real raison d'etre is historical accuracy. You don't have to play the game for long to realise that the historical research that has gone into this opus has been a labour of love for Swedish developer Paradox Entertainment. Which means that, if historical war-gaming is your bag, this is going to be like Christmas all over again.
Going, Going... Gone
On the surface, Europa Universalis is just another strategy game based around the tried and tested trio of resource management, exploration and combat. The visuals, based on stylised world maps drawn in the crude fashion of early explorers, are good without being mind-blowing. The interface is functional and fairly easy to get to grips with, and the pace of the game is about right (and can be easily adjusted using the pause and time acceleration controls). So far, so average - you've seen all that before. Extended play is required to reveal some of the more interesting facets of the game.
Probably the best of these is an attempt to accurately simulate the difficulties of maintaining armies and navies given the poor communication and supply lines that would have existed at the time. You might very well build a huge army or navy, but as soon as you take them on a campaign to conquer neighbouring provinces they will begin to suffer from desertion, illness and all the other things that can cause the size of your force to dwindle. This means that you can't just go on the rampage - you have to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of each battle and choose your targets wisely.
The Peasants Are Revolting
Another of the game's strong points is the consideration given to the political aftermath of warfare. Even if you manage to win a territory you may still have to deal with the indigenous population. A fledgling colony in a newly conquered province may find itself at odds with the belligerent locals, especially if conflicting faith systems give rise to religious intolerance. Fortunately you have options other than sword and cannon. A particularly good strategy is to pave the way for future expansion by setting up strategic trading posts.
Europa Universalis is probably not going to have you wetting yourself with excitement from the moment you open the box. But it does have its rewards if you are willing to put in some serious playing time. Mission-based single-player games add some spice to the massive 300-year-long campaign game and there is also support for up to eight players in the multiplayer mode.
If you prefer fantasy settings and you're after instant gratification then this isn't going to do much for you, but for fans of historical simulations and war-gaming this is probably going to be an essential purchase.
Download Europa Universalis
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP