The Europa Universalis games are some of the most ambitious strategy games ever made, in that they let you select any country that existed in the early modern era (the 15th to the 18th centuries) and let you play from there. You have control over every major aspect of that country, from its military and diplomacy to its economy and religion. Thus, you could try to conquer the world or aim a bit more reasonably and just carve out a sizable empire for yourself. With Europa Universalis III, the aim is to make the game easier for newcomers to pick up while not sacrificing any of the gameplay depth. To get an update on the game, which is due out early next year, we caught up with Johan Andersson, the head of development at Paradox Interactive.
GameSpot: Could you give us a quick update on where Europa Universalis III is currently in development? Are you still on schedule to ship early next year?
Johan Andersson: Yes, we are on track for a release in the end of January and currently we are in the final stages of updating the game and polishing different features. The polishing includes improving the artificial intelligence, final changes on the tutorial, the game balance, and so on.
GS: One of the big efforts with Europa Universalis III is to make the game more accessible to newcomers to the series, partly by streamlining the gameplay and interface. Have you had a chance to test the game out with newcomers yet? Is this a substantially easier game to get into?
JA: Yes, we have tried the game with people in two different categories. The first was people who have played some of our other games. The second group was with people who were not familiar with any of our previous games and were new to the type of scope and depth of Europa Universalis III. We found that the majority was able to jump right into playing the game, and while they might not have been able to conquer the world at first try, it proved that it is our most accessible game to date. Now the challenge will be to master the game instead!
GS: How do you even describe the game to a newcomer? This is such a broad strategy game, how do you explain what Europa Universalis is?
JA: Good question. With the risk of sounding vague, the best way to describe Europa Universalis III is as a game that can be anything you want it to be. There are two criteria: You must like strategy games and you must like to be challenged. In spite of Europa Universalis III being easier to get into, this is not your average beer-and-pretzel game.
The setting, while impressive in size and scope, is quite easy to grasp. You can play any of the 250 countries on a world map from 1453 to 1789. Your starting point will always be historically accurate; however, once the first move is made, anything can happen and the gameplay is completely open-ended. Within the theme of exploration, diplomacy, warfare, and trade, your objective is to gain as much influence and power as possible and start building your global empire.
GS: We know that you plan on certain historical bookmarks to help ease players into the vast scope of the game, especially since you can play as pretty much any country that existed between 1453 and 1789. What sorts of bookmarks are you planning?
JA: We have highlighted some of the biggest and most historically significant events during this time period through bookmarks. The bookmarks will not only tell you the exact dates of these events but also give you hints as to which countries are the most interesting to choose for that particular event.
GS: You can make your own campaign or game by simply deciding on your own victory parameters (such as becoming the Holy Roman Emperor), but you'll also ship with certain recommendations as to which countries to play and which eras to play them. Can you give us an example of one of these recommendations?
JA: The Revolt of the Netherlands, the American Revolutionary War, the Thirty Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession, and, of course, Columbus' discovery of America are just some of the bookmarks players will find at their disposal. For each of these bookmarks, players will be given suggestions of countries to pick, but of course, all playable countries will be available for selection.
Enter ReligionGS: Could you discuss the new military rating and how it works? We know that you aren't going to be commanding armies in battle, but how much more detailed is the war modeling in this game compared to its predecessors.
JA: We have a leadership system that gives players military tradition based on how much they engage in battle. The more military tradition a country has, the better leaders the country will get, and of course, this increases the chance for a favorable outcome on the battlefield.
We also have hundreds of different unique unit types that add a certain national flavor to the game. If players want, they can choose from types like Swedish carolines [a cavalry unit], Apache guerillas, Mongolian bowmen, and Ottoman Janissaries. The combat system itself is a deep "under the hood" simulation where battles are abstracted.
GS: How elaborate is the diplomacy system, and how does it all tie into the rest of the game? For instance, is it easier to form alliances with nations that have similar religions or governments? Will you have a reputation that follows you around?
JA: It is easier to have alliances with countries that have the same religion, culture, and government settings as yours, as that means the country also has similar values. However, there are an immense number of diplomatic options in EU III (royal marriages, peace proposals, trade embargos, military access, and so on), and the diplomatic system is closely tied into the entire game mechanism. How players handle diplomacy will highly influence how well they fare in the game.
The reputation consists of two variables. The first is your perceived reputation--that is, how others see you and relate to you in the game and how much they trust you. The second is your prestige, which shows how strong you are and how respected you are. With many armies, much wealth, and an advanced culture, your prestige can be high in spite of a poor reputation.
GS: Religion is always a delicate matter in strategy games. How are you handling religion specifically in the game? Is it simply a matter of if two nations have different religions there will be friction between them?
JA: Every province has its own setting and religion, and every country has a country religion. Take Ireland for instance. Even though the country religion is Catholic, some provinces are Protestant. In such occurrences, there will be friction between the provinces and the nation itself. In addition, you could be the ruler of two or more countries, each with its own religion. Again, grounds for friction. You can change your state religion to a different religion in your group--for instance, if you have a Muslim country, you can change between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims.
GS: Finally, this was also a period of political upheaval and revolution. There are six government types in the game. Could you briefly list them and give their advantages and disadvantages?
JA: There are actually four government types in the game: monarchies, republics, theocracies, and tribes. Monarchies have the advantages of royal marriages; they can form unions and inherit thrones and wealth. Republics do not have the advantages of the monarchies, but they do have the same status and quality. There are also quite a few drawbacks to being a monarchy that republics do not have to deal with, like all the intrigues. Theocracies are different distinct religious territories that have none of the advantages above, but a theocracy will, for instance, have much better relations with the Pope if it is a Catholic theocracy. Tribes are described as uncivilized countries, without many of the benefits and with many drawbacks like more expensive technology or fewer taxes to collect from the people. Tribes are a real challenge.
GS: Thank you, Johan.