Thursday, December 04, 2008

Europa Universalis: Rome - Vae Victis Review

Europa Universalis: Rome - Vae Victis, developed and published by Paradox Interactive on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Missions, simplified governorship with rebellious leaders, more sophisticated leader succession, tenuous republics, additional character attributes
The Not So Good: No manual and lacks new or modified tutorials, relatively minor improvements some of which we’ve seen before
What say you? An expansion that improves Rome for the better: 6/8

I really like the Europa Universalis series. Europa Universalis: Rome takes the game back in time and focuses on a more intimate experience in a specific area of the world, and I liked it, although I may have been slightly more enthusiastic that what was really appropriate (it’s happened before). Hot on the heels of the quality In Nomine expansion for the “regular” series, the developers have turned their attention back to Rome and come up with Vae Victis (Latin for “In Nomine”). Paradox has a pretty good track record regarding expansions with meaningful features, so how does Vae Victis stack up?

Same stuff here. Moving on…
No, seriously, keep going...

Europa Universalis: Rome - Vae Victis (I’m not quite sure how to punctuate the title) is most probably the smallest expansion I have ever seen, weighing in at a hefty nine megabytes compressed. I'll get my complaint out of the way first: the new features are not documented in any way, either in the tutorials or in a PDF manual. So I’m supposed to figure out all of the new features myself? In fact, the tutorial still uses indicators for the old interface (pointing at the wrong icons at times)! Ha! I actually had to approach the Paradox PR rep and ask for a features list to make sure I saw all of the new stuff. No matter how small (in terms of size or content) an expansion (or a patch) may be, it should always be accompanied by appropriate documentation. End of rant.

Despite the fact that Vae Victis is secretive about the new content, it does make some significant improvements to the original game, all of which seem to be positive. Countries are now organized into larger regions that a governor will run, instead of having one governor for each province. While this is a great feature for the Roman Empire (you quickly ran out of candidates if you expanded enough), this makes running the smaller alternative nations much less interesting and a lot of people out of work. It would be nice if the availability of multi-province governors was dependent on the size of your empire, or give you the option to combine provinces yourself. Governors can also be given armies to defend the area (called “consorts,” I think; if I am wrong, blame the lack of a manual!) and reduce revolt risk.

Another area of minor overhaul is the monarchy system and ruler succession. There are now three types of succession (eldest male child, senior male family member, and alternating between male and female like the Egyptians) and each member of your council (also new) will have a preferred heir, which may not be the proper heir and might lead to some conflicts down the line. There can also be some shenanigans where successors can buy their way to the top (which is pretty much how it works in real life). As for republics, they get a senate that can also lead to some internal strife: members can dislike actions like espionage or declaring war. In additions to struggles between families, you also have factions (like political parties) that can add another layer of conflict. Yay! Who knew running a country was so difficult? The party that is in power might adapt laws without your consent: nice. Most of these features are intended for the larger nations (especially the game's namesake), so controlling a smaller nation is pretty much the same in these aspects. Characters within the game are also more complete, with ambitions and the ability to be put into jail or even executed (that tends to anger some people). One of the aspects of Rome that I found intriguing was the character and family dynamics (something that EU3 lacked) and the Vae Victis expansion for Rome makes this aspect of the game more interesting.

The rest of the features were “borrowed” (stolen) from In Nomine, like missions for countries (still a great feature) and laws for temporary bonuses. There are additional icons on the interface for the new aspects of Vae Victis, although, as I ranted about earlier, they are not explained. They do maintain the easy-to-use nature of Rome, though (at least compared to other Paradox grand strategy games). And the AI is better, although playing as Rome you'll tend to steamroll through everyone else anyway.

If I played Rome extensively, I would purchase Vae Victis. The expansion provides meaningful, albeit a bit subtle, enhancements to the basic game that make it a more complete product. The changes also highlight the unique aspect of Rome: the characters. Running a monarchy or republic is more complex and ultimately more rewarding thanks to additional levels of conflict with ruler succession, senate laws, political parties, and other assorted nonsense meant to make your life more difficult. While I would like the ability to remove multi-province governors, the rest of the improvements seem to be for the better. All Paradox had to do was add a manual and/or alter the tutorials and a 7/8 would have been theirs. Oh well.