Lite on graphics, heavy on history
Put down that copy of Splinter Cell, little children, and gather round the campfire. Grampys got a little story to tell ya. It's about how games used to be made, back in the good ole days. About back when games depended more on substance than style because we didnt have the technology for style. Games back then forced you to use your imagination. We got excited that our blue little dot reached the black line because we knew, in our head, that it was really Napoleon reaching the gates of Moscow. Now with all your flash-bang wizardry you kids today dont have to imagine hardly anything. Well, at least not until now...
Keeping out the riff raff
Europa Universalis 2 is basically aimed at the hardcore strategy gamer, others need not apply. Indeed, like the metaphorical bouncer at the door, EU 2s graphics, gameplay, and unending torrent of text boxes will turn off many potential gamers before they even learn enough to care. True story: the simple act of moving an army and attacking a foe can produce 4 or more dialog boxes (1 box for every time your army moves into a territory, 1 box telling you your army has reached its destination, 1 box telling you it met the enemy, and 1 box telling you the outcome of the battle). When you start moving multiple armies, sending merchants to centers of trade, toss in a few revolts, and involve a navy, the information will quickly overwhelm you. Fortunately, you can turn many of the boxes off, although even vital information boxes can quickly stack up.
The tutorial, while informative, gives information in the form of you guessed it dialog boxes and has all the fun of the dull history textbook you had to read in high school. Unfortunately, this isn't one of these games you can just pick up and start playing without looking at the tutorial. The game is brutal if you dont manage your empire correctly, and the game will chew up a novice and spit them out without mercy. However, if you can wade through the tutorial and actually try the game, I can guarantee youll be hooked. Why? Because once you figure out how to let the computer micromanage 90% of the work, you can get back to the duties of running your country and ruining your rivals.
Graphics are for sissies; bring on the text!
Most game designers were brought up on board games, and this tended to influence their work. The graphics in Europa Universalis 2 look almost exactly like a Risk board, with little zones representing the different territories in the world. Armies are shown as one guy with a number next to him showing how big the army is. Yet it does allow you to see, at a glance, the relative strength of your country versus your neighbors. There's even a color-coded political map of the world for you to look at. Fun! The music in EU2 is (for better or worse) lots and lots of classical music from the period, which while a little stodgy is entirely appropriate. Sounds consist of the clanging of swords and gunshots for combat, the occasional trumpet signaling victory, and a baby crying for defeat. Youll grow to loathe the baby crying sound over a 400-year campaign, since your armies can get defeated pretty easily. Oh yes, and before I forget. Save often, as there is a highly annoying bug in the game that causes it to crash randomly. I have downloaded the newest update (1.06), and havent seen the problem addressed yet. Oh well...
A text box from the King of England to see you, Sire
I'm sure many of you are asking yourselves why you should bother to play this game, and the reason is two very positive aspects that overcome all the other problems. The first one is the highly realistic diplomatic options and general counterbalancing nature of the game itself. In most games diplomacy is more of an afterthought. Like dessert, it is nice but not necessary. In fact, it's easy to dismiss diplomacy at first in EU2 simply because their boxes look like at the other crucial dialog boxes the game presents. In EU2, diplomacy is crucial to your survival in the game. If you try to play EU2 like most other strategy games (i.e. invade every country around you) then you will lose. No matter how much of a badass you think you are in the game, if you are outside of a strong alliance, you are probably going to lose some territories soon. The reason is that conflicts between countries rarely stay local, and almost always escalate as countries pull in support against you. Therefore, you must choose your friends and enemies with great care in this game. Even if you are playing as the Spanish at the height of their power, go it alone and you can kiss your empire goodbye. The other cool thing about this game is the amazing level of history that went into this game. Real historical events pop up that you must deal with. Although some seem strange since they pop up regardless of what is going on in the game world (i.e. Spain under my rule had tons of money, yet still had to declare bankruptcy twice because of the historical pop ups), it is still cool to see what would happen had the Spanish not thrown the Moors out.
In fact, the little what-ifs are the core of what makes this game fun and infinitely replayable. What if the English had not switched to Protestantism, or what if Austria had colonized the New World? Since there are so many scenarios to play (Age of Revolutions, Age of Exploration, etc.) you will never find yourself playing the same game twice. Beating your historical counterparts is one of the fun little bonuses of the game. A challenging scenario I like is playing as the U.S. and choosing who wins the Presidency (and wrestling Canada away from England). Another is that you can play as virtually any country that ever existed between 1419 and 1819. Everyone from Aden to Helvetia to Zimbabwe is included. Even these crappy little countries have their own little historical events, which shows how much the designers really cared about the game. Religion is handled nicely as well in the game, as different religions give you bonuses, affect stability (persecute the Protestants and see how long it takes for them to constantly revolt), and add to the what-if category.
It's all in your head
Europa Universalis 2 is really a great meat and potatoes strategy game, once you wade through all the crap. Most of the rewards of the game occur in your own head rather than on the screen (it wouldnt have killed them to put a freaking good job screen in after I spend weeks winning a 400 year campaign). However, there is a certain sense of fun and accomplishment in picking loser countries out of the ashbins of history and making them prosper. Once you slay the dragon of micromanagement and text boxes, you will find a game that will have a home on your hard drive for a long time to come.