Domination, come on world domination.
Europa Universalis III sees you choose a nation (anywhere) and leaves it up to you what to do with it from any given date between late 1399 and 1841. There are a huge amount of pre-set time frames given to choose from, each one also listing several nations that would make for an interesting choice during that given time frame. Of course, the Grand Campaign is the big one, 1399-1841; this should be the structure of choice.
Naturally, for a strategy game that is essentially a world map, you are given free reigns to how you go about your business. You want to take control of neighbouring states utilizing a policy of aggressive expansion based around sheer strength in numbers? Sure, as long as you’ve got the funds. Perhaps being an aggressor is not your style or you cannot afford it, a policy of ally making and claiming crowns from other nations through subtlety and charm is more for you? Sure. The way you play the game is entirely up to you, the player, and everything therefore is your fault. There can be literally hundreds of different alliances, wars and truces all taking place at once across the whole map and it is entirely up to you whether you join in or take advantage.
With this completely open ended playing style come both advantages and disadvantages. The game has hundreds of different options open to the player at all times (too many to list), even down to how the map appears – political map mode is the only one that made sense to me, bringing with it a nice folded map effect – and because of this, you can feel overwhelmed, opting for a simple route that you can actually understand. The huge wealth and variety of interchangeable effects mean the game is inherently complicated, making the game easier to play with a policy of sheer strength in numbers, and taking advantage of colonies when you discover more of the world through an increased naval range to make more money through taxes; this is harder than it sounds. However, the inherently complicated nature of the game could unfortunately put players off, which is a shame, as when you get past the steep learning curve of actually how to play the game it opens up wonderfully.
Despite the steep learning curve I imagine the game could cater to players who like to keep things simple, which is surprising. Who the game is really for though, is those who prefer a strategy game to anything else, it is like a more extreme Civilization.
Once you get into the game and learn how to play it to a higher standard however, it becomes addictive. This is down to how you play the game, to really get into the strategy one must pause the flow of time, meaning you can make choices on everything while time stands still, once you start the flow of time (with four speed options), is when stuff goes down. You will want to see how your decisions play out, and a lot of the time you may just want to put the flow of time on its maximum speed setting in order to build your reserves of money.
However, in your first play through of the game you will find it extremely difficult at the start, severely crippling what you can do later in the game as at least one nation will become a complete powerhouse, dominating the map and perhaps your own nation. If you do not get your foot in early, the rest of the game may end up as simply a case of survival, but this should not happen to most players if they know what they are doing early on.
Europa Universalis III is perhaps the strategy game’s logical conclusion, but it struggles with this title due to its inherently confusing nature and steep learning curve. If you can get past the steep learning curve, the game opens up wonderfully and becomes the addictive nation simulator it is meant to be – you will want your nation to succeed, prepared to take the thick with the thin when the going gets tough.
A clever strategy game perhaps too complicated for its own good.