Europa Universalis: Rome is the latest title in this long standing franchise and for the first time has a setting in ancient Rome. If you are new to the Europa Universalis series you will be pleasantly surprised to hear that it is much more than just another war game. There are however some game crushing bugs which will ruin it for many.
The game world is divided up into provinces, each of which is ruled by a religion, a culture and a national power. Each province provides tax revenue and manpower to build an infrastructure and to fund technological research. With the help of the tax funding, armies can also be raised. All the events play out in day to day real time so the game works as a RTS and as a very in depth strategic simulator. Obviously if you are a fan of simple and straightforward RTS games this will not be appealing.
The game allows you to select any specific starting date from across 250 years of Roman history right from the middle Republic wars with Carthage to the civil wars that established Rome as a formidable Empire. Impressively, each date details the economical, political and military climate as they were all those years ago. The developers clearly have spent considerable time researching all the histrionics.
After you have selected a starting date you then pick a nation to lead, such as Egypt or Numidia. The two big nations you can choose from are obviously Rome or Carthage however selecting one of the lesser known powers can prove to be just as entertaining.
Rome has no set winning objectives, the idea is to try and expand as much as possible but this can prove extremely difficult so quite often holding on to what you started with is equally as challenging. You need to set trade routes, gain peace with some nations, declare war on others and of course you need to raise armies to protect your nation. This can seem overwhelming at first, however to aid you the game time can be paused while you issue commands throughout the various interface options.
Long time players will be pleased to hear that the pop up messages that interrupted the game every few seconds have been scaled down to only present the most important alerts, other messages can be found in a menu system and can be read at your leisure. At the top right of the screen there is now a new outline list that details armies, navies and sieges so you can quickly tell at a glance what is happening around the world.
The development team have also adjusted the management system to help the game play a little more intuitively. Technology research for example progresses over time but instead of having to upgrade the infrastructure every generation, new discoveries give you bonuses to your current assets. Also in line with the ancient historical time frame you won’t need to be worrying about 100 different combat units, there are only a few at hand for each nation which is more than adequate.
This game is not about live control over units in combat, in fact there is virtually no interaction at all once a battle initiates, the whole thing plays out via random die rolls and you watch the battle resolve in a pop up window. This window details the numbers and types of units involved as well as command units, unit modifiers, morale levels and the surrounding terrain and any effect it has on the combat. The battle window shows the heads of each warring nation with casualties floating above, however you have no control over any of this.
This is the point where many gamers reading this review will be disheartened, after all surely a game like this deserves the player to be able to pick tactics for the combat or even unit formations. I think some basic tactical options might be beneficial however the sheer scale of this game means that individual battles should be handled by your units and commanders, user intervention at this level might actually ruin the focus of the game entirely. The ultimate test of strategic skill should be dealt with by the player beforehand, when you place the units in certain positions with specific commanders in charge.
Another long standing complaint is directed towards the routing. When an army is under attack and losing heavily they will attempt to flee, meaning frequently you will be chasing them across provinces to land the final blow. While this sounds realistic, in practise it becomes rather annoying especially when they are surrounded and they still manage to break into the next territory.
There are some annoying issues with the combat; there is no way to sort the unit by type so if you want to know how many soldiers you have in your total army you need to scroll through the lists and manually count them. The stupidity of this is compounded by the fact that once a battle starts there is a window at the bottom right detailing all this ! This makes army management much more difficult than it should be. Additionally there are problems with the siege battles. Once your forces surround an enemy fort you have no control over them. You can select individual armies, however the siege window in front means you can’t actually tell who you have selected, only by selecting a move order can you see who you are controlling. Equally as frustrating is the fact that if you wish to take some units away from the siege to another attack you need to totally break the siege and reorganise the units, then attack again. It is a bewildering oversight and I can only blame the development team for a lack of play testing.
Moving away from the focus of combat, special attention needs to be paid to the welfare and happiness of your provinces, if you have disloyal generals or an unhappy populace you may very well have a civil war about to erupt. These are a nightmare to deal with and special care should be taken to manage your resources, otherwise situations like this will happen on a fairly regular basis and just like real life there is very often no way to resolve them until one of the sides is completely decimated.
Diplomacy has some issues as well. There are very few options to increase your standing with another nation to forge an alliance. I can understand hostilities erupting between nations close to each other, but frequently a nation on the other side of the globe is your sworn enemy with little explanation as to why.
The movement issues associated with previous EU games are still unfortunately present. If you select a destination and decide to issue new orders, the movement resets and you start over. It has always been present in this franchise and I am absolutely baffled as to why it has yet to be fixed. Also, for some reason the newest EU has army synchronising issues which have to be manually managed. For example if you order two armies to attack the same territory from different directions and one is faster moving cavalry, the slower soldiers will take much longer to reach the destination, meaning the attack is disjointed and half assed. You need to now check arrival dates and hold back the faster units so the timing matches.
The EU games have always stayed true with strict board game style environments and with little animation on the armies. This time however they have stepped up the presentation a little and have created a 3d map that depicts elevation as well as a plethora of environmental and geographical features. This looks considerably more polished and adds to the overall aesthetic appeal of the game, the armies also seem more detailed right down to the weaponry and clothing. I would like to see the size of armies more clearly depicted as currently no matter how large an army is it is only shown as a single unit. The music is acceptable, however with such long game play sessions in such an in depth title, I am confident the sound will end up muted.
Europa Universalis: Rome is an extremely sophisticated strategy game which is sure to appeal to fans of previous titles in the franchise. Unfortunately many of the previous bugs and annoyances have made their way into the latest incarnation. This will be enough to ruin it for many people unsure of whether to risk a purchase. This is such a shame as EU: Rome has made significant progress in other areas, such as the level of detailed information now presented to the player.
The game is certainly very good value if you are willing to invest the time needed to get the most from it, but you will also need equal amounts of patience to overlook the annoyances which rear their ugly head from time to time.
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