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Posted on May 22, 2008 in Electronic Games

Europa Universalis Rome – PC Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Like all Paradox strategy games, diplomacy in EUR is deep and rich. Even Rome needs allies, particularly in the early games. If the player’s relationship with allies is good, they can be counted on to join in wars, even wars the player has started. But each nation’s reputation and relationship with every other nations is tracked, so if the player routinely ignores allies’ requests for help, these same friends might respectfully decline the player’s call to arms. The diplomatic memory of the game also keeps track of casus belli, or cause for war. If the player’s nation goes to war without cause, it will result in a drop in domestic stability and give allies pause in joining the war effort. This makes war by other means attractive, and a bag of dirty tricks is available: assassination, bribing provincial governors, and the ability to incite revolt are just a few of the options. If your covert actors are caught however, the target of your efforts will have a casus belli on you, so use dirty tricks with care. Of course, the diplomacy features also allow players to improve relations. Gifts and trade relations strengthen ties, but as in real life, convincing a bitter enemy that your nation is really a friend takes patience and a great deal of money.


One very realistic diplomatic feature is that quite a bit of negotiation is often needed to stop a war. Small nations with only a handful of provinces may do almost anything to cease hostilities after they have lost a region or two, but they may not be willing to actually hand over the keys to the provinces the player has conquered. Some large nations like Carthage can be very stubborn and fight on even after losing six or seven provinces. As wars drag on, domestic pressures like loss of stability, war exhaustion, and lack of fresh bodies for the legions can make even intrepid players sue for a white peace; i.e. with no gain or loss on either side. The realistic result of this gameplay feature is that swift and total victory is very difficult to achieve. True to history, the player will probably have to test Carthage’s mettle in several wars to finally get rid of that annoying competitor.

Compared to other Paradox games, domestic management does not have all the levers and sliders that veteran EU fans may be expecting. Also, those who were hoping for a detailed simulation of internal Roman politics will not find it here. But still there is plenty to do, and players will quickly come to appreciate the streamlining. In the game, the player’s domestic management is mostly limited to building provincial improvements, establishing trade routes, appointing personalities as governors, technology research, setting national ideas and invoking omens. The game engine juggles a great deal of information about taxes, revolt risk, corruption, and religion in the background. The player is never asked to micromanage, and overall, this was a good game-design choice.

One new feature in the Europa Universalis series is that in Rome there is a heavy emphasis on personalities and dynasties. For each nation, the prominent families provide characters to command armies and fleets and become regional governors. Each character is rated for military ability, charisma, finesse, and loyalty. They also have characteristics like suspicious, vain, unhealthy, etc. The effect of these characteristics is subtle and sometimes not clear. Occasionally, the player will be asked to make a choice for these virtual characters—Do they support a commoner in government? for example. But the effect of these decisions rarely has dramatic impact and only gently nudges your nation in one direction or another. Still, some characteristics are potent: Better military commanders do win more often, and less loyal commanders are unlikely to let their troops be taken from them.

The game goes out of its way to establish a relationship between the player and the virtual ruling class. While the player controls which characters become generals and governors, the virtual folks mostly live their own lives. The game’s programming tracks and logs each character’s personal history, such as his children, rivals and friends. The log entries do a good job of recording major events like victories and political offices, but also record the mundane ones. Many of these entries are cryptic and sometimes confusing, but they generally reflect what the characters have been up to. A very nice touch is that characters have full historic names, and these relate to dynasties. Like watching a virtual soap opera, players can sit back and enjoy the daily tribulations of the good, the bad, and the ugly in all of the ruling families.

When nations are small, the character-tracking features really pull the player into the game. To illustrate how deep these stories go, take the tale of Manius Valerius Maximus from one early game. Modest and hard-working, Maximus at the head of the 1st Legion kicks the Greek city-states out of Italy. He becomes so popular that he is offered the post of dictator in peacetime. Like Cincinnatus, Maximus turns down ultimate power, but does become consul. As politician, the great general is not that nimble, and there is much grumbling about how he is dull, brutish and mixes too easily with the lower classes. Upon Maximus’ death, his rivals push his children aside, and Rome is ruled for twenty years by vain, corrupt men. But then, just when a crisis with Carthage arises, Rome is saved when Maximus’ grandson, displaying the virtues of his grandfather, rises to the top and leads Rome out of the dark times.

Unfortunately, in later games, the characters take on less importance and these stories are mostly lost. This is partially due to interface, and partially due to the size of the Roman Empire. When Rome grows to have over fifty provinces, there can easily be over a hundred characters. The character interface does a great job in letting you see and follow the family tree when a character is in office, but if your great general has died, it’s very hard to find where son-of-great general is, particularly if the youngster is not holding office. When Rome becomes a superpower, the information overload that comes with the territory is tremendous and the player can’t resist cutting corners. Rather then reviewing character histories and hand-picking the best and brightest to command armies and run provinces, the player starts selecting anyone who is available and is capable of spelling his own name.

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