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Europa Universalis II & Victoria
A Plug by Nixon
Europa Universalis II (from here on in, EU II) and
Empire Under the Sun (from here on in, Victoria) are two exceptionally great strategy
games that seem unheard of both off and online. There is a large online
community for said games, but on the average general video game forum, nothing.
Similarly, in the real world the chances of ever running into these games are
slim to none, at best, they're going to be dusty boxes lodged at the bottom of
Gamestop's ever shrinking PC game bin. Which is a damn shame. I reviewed Hearts
of Iron 2, a game of different timeframe but similar scope made by the same game
designers, Paradox Interactive, about a year ago, and mentioned that their were
other great titles by said game designer. Since then I've intended to write an
article encouraging the playing of both games, but, well, I haven't, until now.
Mostly because I end up wasting too much time playing them. They both fall under the category of "grand strategy" but to be fair, there's
nothing else to really compare them too. The map of the world both games play
out on may look a little bit like Risk, but comparing the two is insulting (and
I don't mean towards Risk, either). Basically, pick a time period of human
existence, and expect to be able to play any nation in existence during it. For
Europa Universalis II the time period is 1419-1819 and for Victoria it's
1836-1920. The best feature of these games isn't just what they were upon
release, but that there is a dedicated community and developer that
continually improves both titles. But I'll divide up before going into further
Europa Universalis II
Europa Univeralis II centers around a very large time
period, so depending on who and when the player starts, the goals can differ
greatly. For some it's a game of heavy conquest, leading the Ottoman Turks
from Central Anatolia in 1419 to the Middle East spanning empire of 100
years later, for example. At other points it can be a game of preserving
empires, like trying to hold on to the claim of the French Throne as England
during the Hundred Years War. There's also those whose primarily goal is to
colonize as much as possible, like Portugal. The game supports all this
through it's at face value simplistic, ultimately deep, content. There's no
easy three tiers to break the game's goals into (unlike Victoria, see below)
but simply to make the player's nation more powerful by whatever means seem
most effective. The game's current state is also surprisingly non-Euro
centric (unlike the name) so there are plenty of fun games to be had trying
to unite India or form Persia.
EU II is on its eight major patch since release, most
recent ones improving gameplay and helping modders [the bugs got beat down a
while ago]. While most likely the last patch it will receive in the
foreseeable future, EU II has greatly changed over the last year thanks to
the efforts of gamers who have updated the map (adding some 400 provinces)
which, in conjunction with a major effort to include far, far more events
for each nation (to simulate historical happenings) has greatly improved the
outcome and enjoyment of any game. The updating of the map and the changes
surrounding it are sure to keep the game alive and constantly improving for
years to come.
Few. The only real one is that the game rarely ends anywhere
near historical, but considering there is 400 years for deviation, it's
entirely reasonable. Also while the detail of the game could certainly be
improved with the lessons learned by later Paradox releases, through a
sequel, considering it's five years old now, it's doing damn good.
With both the map improvement and game improvement mods,
this is a pretty accurate view of the world circa 1419. The game does cover
the entire globe, but this is all that Austria knows of. Austria being the
two tiny white squares about dead center of the screen. Fun fact: in 1419,
Poland was the rising power of the east, instead of it's punchline.
Victoria's focus is primarily economic; the 19th century was
the Industrial Revolution after all. As such the player would be wise to
concentrate his time on trying to foster as big of an industrial base as the
country can support. This involves a technology race to acquire the means to
produce more "machine parts" (key to industrial development) early in the
game, and trying to construct the most up to date factories and railroads
later in the game. The concept of maximizing exports and minimizing imports
to get the most profit might not sound like the most entertaining game in
the world, but it's worth noting that while industry is key to winning the
game, war is never far behind.
War takes place on land and sea, specialized to highlight
some of the 19th century's quirks. The player builds units on a divisional
level, having to both acquire the resources, manpower, and economic means to
form them. The player can also employ reserves, allowing for the
mobilization races that marked the end of the Victorian era (aka the Big
One). Combat is slightly more in depth that EU II, involving multiple
factors in the battle for any single territory, aka how dug in the defender
is, terrain, the presence of permanent fortifications, etc. After victory an
enemy territory has to be "occupied" a process taking days to months,
depending on the size of the invading army, creating dangerous delays for
those trying breakouts. The naval front involves that never ending arms race
for the better ship, the period marking the transition from wooden
Man-o-wars all the way to the Dreadnaught. As such the navy is like the
space race of the 60's, expensive and constantly demanding newer technology.
Except now it's against the British, instead of the USSR.
There's also colonialism at play. The 19th century saw the
race for Africa, the last push of the colonial era. The game highlights this
well, seeing nations fight over any swatch of "uncivilized" land. The
benefit is prestige, one of the three ways the player's success is measured
(the others, industrial and military, as the preceding paragraphs may hint).
While African colonies might never prove to be useful or even profitable,
that's how it was in real life. It's all about the bragging rights of who
has the biggest chunk of the worthless, worthless Sahara.
That's hitting only the three major factors almost any
nation is bound to encounter, there's also the dozens of revolutionary
movements, unifying and dividing wars, and the falling of old and founding
of new countries that filled the period. Most nations get plenty of events
to emulate the turbulent times, from the Liberal Revolution that rocked
Central Europe, to Russia's losing battle surrounding serfdom.
Victoria's still backed by the Paradox, expecting its third
major patch in March. There's also a great mod project (the Victoria
Improvement Project) which has greatly improved the gameplay of most
nations, adding tons of events, and modifying the game so that it plays out
more historically (race for Africa doesn't start till 1880's, America
expands westward at a realistic pace). The mod team plans to match the new
patch with it's own major improvement shortly there after. Overall, the
community isn't as vibrant as EU II, but that's mostly because it's a far
harder game to master. There's a lot more "in the details" when it comes to
being good at Victoria, and that isn't for everyone. But for those that like
the idea of a game that forces the player to spend as much, or often more,
time on the realities of government (the dolla dolla cent, ya'll) instead of
just warfare, it's very fitting.
Like most Paradox games it's hard for the game to stay "on
track" in terms of ending somewhat historically, but to be fair the game
usually ends somewhat realistically. The interface is clunky, as is
the immigration model, which funnels the US with immigrants to the point of
unrealistically high industry by the end of the game. The AI has a nasty
habit of not replacing old navies, meaning the naval race can be fairly one
sided. Finally I personally disliked the scope a bit, I wish the game
started a little earlier, to sink up with EU II's end date of 1819, perhaps.
Because 90 years blows by before you know it.
One of the game's many civil wars. In this case, battle
for the Crown of Spain. A couple years and a lot of dead guys later, the
rebel faction won. Note the large amount of options on the side bar. This
game has a lot of menus. Fun fact: If I had held onto Barcelona, this war
would be over by now.
Considering how both games don't have a lot of competition in
today's market, as I mentioned, it's hard to say if you'll enjoy playing either
title through the time tested method of "If you like... you'll love...!" But
these games aren't going for much nowadays. Drop twenty dollars on EU II, and
if you like it, try Victoria. Shit, try any Paradox title.
P.S.: One Last General Note
In case it isn't obvious by saying things like "pick a time
period of human existence, and expect to be able to play any nation in existence
during it" and "game rarely ends anywhere near historical" there's a lot of
replay value to be had in these games. They make the typical time sink that goes
into an RPG look like Max Payne. Hundreds of hours of enjoyment is not an
exaggeration when you're talking grand strategy.