Thursday, November 26, 2009

For the Glory: A Europa Universalis Game Review

For the Glory: A Europa Universalis Game, developed by Crystal Empire Games and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Improved support for modifications, tweaks and additions to game rules improve combat, better AI, ten thousand historical events, minor graphical enrichments
The Not So Good: Lacking some interface enhancements from EU3 such as the outliner makes controlling large nations arduous, most changes are very subtle
What say you? A slightly better version of Europa Universalis II intended for dedicated fans and modders: 5/8

Back in 2008, Paradox Interactive released the game engine used for their last-generation grand strategy games for free as the Europa Engine License Program. Anybody could contact them and develop a game that would be published online at their download service, Gamer’s Gate. The first of those games has arrived in the form of For the Glory. This enhancement of Europa Universalis II incorporates the infamous AGCEEP mod, which added tens of thousands of historical events, and a handful of other changes to the old game. Europa Universalis III is most likely my favorite game ever and I am quite used to the many improvements that version added over the second in the series. Will the additions For the Glory offers compensate for using an older game engine?

Unlike most (if not all) standalone expansions, For the Glory actually makes some changes to the graphics. Now, the base 2-D map presentation from Europa Universalis II is still intact, but there is some minor progress made that veterans of the series most likely will notice. The major changes come in the form of interface alterations: there are more detailed tool-tips for some items, troops are visible from the political map, and the quite-useful alerts have been borrowed from Europa Universalis III to succinctly inform you of pressing issues. For the Glory also support a wider range of screen resolutions, and takes advantage of this increase in real estate by placing more information on the top menu bar. We also have a couple of new map modes, displaying revolt risk and color-coded diplomatic relations. There are also smaller graphical changes, such as nation-specific troop sprites and additional fonts and flags. These make the game more varied visually but don’t impact the gameplay at all. Really, other than the alerts, there is nothing importantly different that For the Glory offers in terms of graphics; I wish the developers had expanded the interface changes further, as I will complain about shortly. Still, For the Glory certainly loads and plays much faster than EU3, so those with older hardware will appreciate that. As for the sound design, it remains the same except for the music: For the Glory uses the EU3 song lineup because of licensing issues; I don’t remember the musical score from Europa Universalis II so I do not have a preference either way.

Since the excellence of the Europa Universalis series has been firmly established, this review will focus on the changes and (hopefully) improvements made to Europa Universalis II by For the Glory. First off, the scenarios have been rebalanced to promote more historically accurate outcomes, something that Europa Universalis II strives for. I haven’t seen dramatic shifts in the results of games due to different starting conditions, though, as the alterations seem relatively minor. The developers have included two user modifications with For the Glory: Age of Timur, which shifts the action to the 13th Century (that’s the 1200’s), and the aforementioned AGCEEP mod that offers an astounding (and disturbing) 10,000 historical events: highly recommended, and I suspect most people will play with it “on” by default. Since the authors of For the Glory were modders themselves, this version of Europa Universalis II has greatly increased the modification potential by removing a cap on the number of actions in events and increasing the number of provinces, countries, and religions that can be added to the game. In addition, more of the game’s values have been externalized so they can be altered. Mod makers certainly have much more to play with here, and the quality modification support of the Europa Universalis series has been significantly increased.

The next round of changes deals with war, something you will inevitably be a part of unless you are playing the most boring game of Europa Universalis ever. The first is the introduction of several types of core provinces: territory that a country feels “belongs” to them. “Regular” core provinces offer increased income and manpower, but some may now be “claims” with no manpower bonus, “casus belli” provinces that only grant a reason to go to war, and cores dealing with the Treaty of Tordesillas, which grant Spain and Portugal reason to take any colonies of opposing nations. These bonuses that these changes remove were usually minor enough that the effect of these new cores is fairly small.

There is also a host of smaller changes in For the Glory. The spread of Protestantism is more realistic and less completely random like it was before. Supplies are handled more realistically as well: having troops in enemy territory results in some significant losses with slow replacement, something to consider while waging war. You will also have more land connections through some regions of permanent terra incognita (they are provinces that cannot be colonized, but can be traversed), and regions can become impassable during winter: a neat touch. A new leader type has been introduced: privateers. These are basically fancy pirates, and getting one gives all neighboring countries a temporary Casus Belli against you: not so fun. Newly formed countries now have full troops when they are established, and rebels and pirates are significant opponents. Finally, the AI has been improved, reducing the frequency of crazy, nonsense wars involving countries located nowhere near each other.

Unfortunately for people like me that can’t keep track of what’s going on in a large empire spanning many continents, the most significant interface features of EU3 did not make their way into For the Glory. Most noteworthy is the outliner, which listed all of your troops and provinces in one handy list that was always displayed on the main map screen. Without this feature, it’s really hard to remember where everyone is located at all times. In addition, conquered territory is not shown on the political map, requiring you to squint at tiny flags to figure out who has control of each province during war. Finally, you net income per year is not displayed in the treasury balance display, which makes it a more involved process calculating how much money you need to save to overcome your monthly deficits. These are admittedly minor, but I wouldn’t have listed them if they weren’t important to me. Summed up, it makes For the Glory much harder to handle than Europa Universalis III.

I'm always skeptical of re-releases of older games, mainly because they promise to add all sorts of new things but end up just being the equivalent of a “gold” collection. This is not totally the case for For the Glory, however, as the enhancements made from Europa Universalis II are significant for fervent fans of the game. The graphics have gotten some minor changes, from sprites for individual countries to allowing for custom screen resolutions. The user interface has incorporated alerts and the ability to move troops from multiple map modes from EU3, but does not include some key features like my heavily-used outliner and some additional budgetary information; this makes it difficult to play large nations spread across the map and keep track of what exactly is going on. Europa Universalis II has always been more historical than EU3, and For the Glory continues that trend by including the AGCEEP mod and its 10,000 events. Speaking of mods, For the Glory also allows for a much wider range of changes to be made by the user by removing limitations on the number of actions in events, countries, religions, and provinces: the impassioned mod community will certainly enjoy that. The rest of the game tweaks are patch-like in my opinion and don't significantly impact the gameplay, although the varied changes (like the spread of Protestantism and supply rules) do produce more plausible results. The AI is more believable; you no longer have minor Asian nations declaring war on Brandenburg, for example. But I miss the significant interface features of EU3 too much, and I actually prefer the less predictable (and more wacky) outcomes (yay Prussia colonizing Cuba!). While I will not be switching to For the Glory for my grand strategy fix, people who prefer the more historical Europa Universalis II over EU3 will appreciate the improvements made here.