This is the sixth in a series of reviews of Paradox’s empire management games. See the earlier reviews here:
Europa Universalis II: A Tale of Two Europas
Hearts of Iron: Europa of Iron
Victoria: Nineteenth Century Essay
Crusader Kings: A Dynastic Adventure
Hearts of Iron II: Return Engagement

Paradox Interactive returned to their original empire management series at the beginning of 2007, with the release of Europa Universalis III for PC and Mac. It was a completely re-done game, with plenty of new features, but the scope was reduced back to about three centuries (1453 to 1789). Fairly quickly, two planned expansions were released: Napoleon’s Ambition in late 2007 (which extended the timeframe to 1822) and In Nomine in 2008, which moved the starting date to 1399.

Paradox then released a combined edition called EU III Complete in late 2008, little realizing that fan insistence would later prompt the release of two more expansions. This version covers 423 years, which is the largest scope of any Paradox game yet (no, wait, Crusader Kings II with The Old Gods expansion would be longer). I’ve only played Complete, so this review will purely be about it.


At the time Hearts of Iron came out in 2001, it was obvious that the game had much the same feel as the preceding two Europa Universalis games, but it was mentioned by Paradox that almost no code had carried over, and they weren’t really the same ‘engine’. I haven’t seen anything about the later games, but I can only assume that as time went on, they got better at doing code that could be re-used in each later game.

In the mid-2000s, they began work on an actual game engine that would be written from the ground up to be expandable and to support all further games they did. This project was named Clausewitz, and has formed the basis of every new game from Paradox since 2007.

The centerpiece of all of Paradox’s games is the map, and the Clausewitz engine featured an all new 3D-rendered map. While it would later become fairly spectacular, it was less than stellar on its first outing. The oddest part is that the provincial borders managed to feel very arbitrary, since they consist of a bunch of straight lines (there is actually a grid pattern that the borders are defined by) that occasionally have odd, meaningless detours, and don’t match any easily discernible boundaries (for instance, none of them follow the courses of rivers visible on the map).

The map is easily zoomable with the mouse scroll-wheel, and while it can zoom in to the point where you are only looking at a couple of provinces, you can’t even see all of Europe at the furthest zoom out. At the closest levels, small trees become visible, while at the further levels even the province names become invisible. Color-coded map modes are still the preferred way to easily display information, and this is improved over the previous games with a striping effect for things like showing that someone has captured a province. Also, there are now color-coded tool tips in many places that let you know what effects are bad (red numbers) and which are good (green).

The general structure of the engine is that every game first brings up a launcher window, from which new updates can be detected and downloaded. Typically, there are no intro movies when the game starts, and as the game loads, instead of a single loading image with a progress bar, a number of paintings go by before bringing up the main menu.

One of the most impressive features of the new game, shared by most of the other games on the Clausewitz engine, is the ability to start at any point in the period the game covers. There are still specific scenarios, but these are just ‘bookmarks’ to particular dates; you can change the date and the year, and watch history unfold in the country selection map.

Simulation vs Recreation

In my review of EU II, I mentioned that much of the game, and especially the events, were built around a sense of ‘acting out’ history. This general idea was followed in most of the rest of their games, but came to an end here.

These events helped generate the feeling of actual historical context, and helped with a ‘living world’ experience… when they worked right. The random bits of history that happen because of events and people outside the scope of the game still happen. However, it was too easy for things to go off the rails, and for these events to never happen, or worse, happen when they were entirely inappropriate to what was actually going on in the game.

In EU III, most of these events were taken out of the game entirely. Also, the old system of getting certain monarchs and leaders on a fixed schedule was scrapped, with new monarchs becoming a random event with random abilities. This removed a certain level of historical interest, but made the game more internally consistent.

Decisions, Decisions

Possibly the biggest new feature in EU III was decisions, which only grew in importance from the initial release to In Nomine. Generally, any nation will see a large list of options available to them, that will offer bonuses and penalties. To be able to take any particular decision, you need to achieve certain prerequisites, and all of this is spelled out clearly in tool-tips for each one.

Decisions exist in three different forms, in three different places in the game. National decisions have their own tab/window in the main interface (shared with missions, below), and can affect most everything in the game. Religious decisions are similarly national in scope, and are listed in the religion tab, while provincial decisions naturally exist in the provincial UI (though there is an alert and ledger page that tells you when there are provincial decisions available).

Many decisions are trade-offs, increased stability for decreased revenue and the like, but others are more straightforward, rewards for achieving certain preconditions. They are a good extra system of ‘customizing’ a country to specific needs, that does not require any continuing input by the player.

Finally, there are a number of nations familiar to us in the twenty-first century that had not fully formed in the fifteenth. Traditionally, EU had events that could form Russia, or turn the Iberian kingdoms into Spain, and that was carried through in EU III. But in In Nomine, these events were turned into decisions. As events, they went off randomly after the (not-visible) requirements had been met. As decisions, they are visible to any country that can qualify for them. These events were turned from a random occurance into something that could be planned for, and implemented at the player’s choosing, instead of waiting for it.


While you technically play as a country in a Europa Universalis game, the government itself was not much of a concept in the original, with lists of historical rulers with abilities judged on historical performance who reign during their historical times being about the limit of definition in the original, and the addition of eight policy sliders in EU II allowed some player personalization.

EU III introduced governmental forms, and the random changeover of rulers. Monarchies and despotisms generally have rulers who serve for life, and the age at which the monarch dies is random, as are the abilities of his heir. Republics have an event every few years that elects a new ruler with a choice between candidates which emphasize each of the primary ruler characteristics.

Initially, there were thirteen different forms of government, these could affect policy changes, how often rulers change, and a few specific bonuses. In Nomine increased the main set to fourteen, and added some special groupings that only interact with the main set through decisions.

Three ‘tribal’ government types which represent the last vestiges of pre-Medieval culture in the world of EU have some policy restrictions, and increased costs to develop technologically. This last is on top of the fact that countries with this government type already belong to a culture that has slower technological advancement. On the other end, a late-game country can undergo a revolution to become a Revolutionary Republic, which gets plenty of powerful events to help out, while also forcing wars with much of Europe.

The policy sliders mentioned above from EU II have stayed the same, but most of the time, you can only adjust them at an even slower rate than the once-per-decade of EU II, as only the most flexible governments can manage that rate. And several governments have restrictions on the slider settings. You aren’t prevented from going past the limits, but revolt risk starts rising sharply if they do.

Another feature added ‘people’ to the government with three advisor slots. Advisors have a lifespan just like rulers, and there is a general pool of available advisors, but when a new one appears, he is only available to one country for a year, and then he will join the general pool, if he has not already been hired. There is a large number of different types of advisors, and each one has an effect on a different part of the government (taxes, technology research, stability, missionary conversions, colonization…). They also have ratings from one to six, and the higher the rating, the higher the hiring cost and monthly salary, but the stronger the effect.


The big addition to countries didn’t involve people, but did involve personalization. As government technology increases, idea slots are opened. Ideas are considered fundamental policy decisions, that generally give a bonus to one of the multitude of national statistics.

The number of ideas that a country can have goes up throughout the game, as governmental technology slowly unlocks more slots, up to a maximum of twelve. At the same time, the number of available ideas grows, as they are unlocked by advancing the relevant technology. There are forty ideas in the game, spread across five fields of naval, land, exploration, state, and culture.


Combat still has the same sequence as the original games: alternating fire and shock phases, and each military tech level slightly adjusts the effectiveness of troops in those phases, with fire being useless at the beginning of the game, and slowly overtaking shock effectiveness as the decades roll by.

A lot of other things did change. Troops are no longer just lumped into pools of each type that are attritioned away and replaced with fresh men, but are hired in discrete 1000-man units like every game from Hearts of Iron on. These units are more expensive, but reinforcements are sent to them every month if they are understrength at a rate that depends on the unit’s current situation and the military budget.

Each unit also has a type with its own modifiers for damage and morale in shock and fire combat, with better types becoming available as the game goes on. Each cultural or technological group has its own formations available, so for example, Western cavalry is the best in the early game (late medieval), and late game (Napoleonic), but substandard for much of the rest of the game. The actual performance of a unit is dependent on its type as well as the overall modifier from your current tech level.

The large structural change to combat was the introduction of combat width, but while it was graphically represented, it was never clear nor well explained. In general, the idea is to limit the utility of super-stacks. The width is the maximum frontage (units) an army can put on the line. The two forces line up, and attack their counterparts (only) on the other side until destroyed or forced out of line. Cavalry units (with higher mobility) generally go on the flanks, and if unopposed, are allowed to attack a unit on the other side in the flank, causing it to take more damage than if engaged by just its counterpart. There is a second line behind the main line of each side, and artillery will line up there and and its firepower to the unit in front of it as it attacks its counterpart. A larger army should beat a smaller army, as it will have more units to cycle through the line until the smaller army breaks, but smaller army with superior units and/or leadership only has to take on force of about its own size, and can defeat the parts that can get at it in turn.

Sieges work much the same way as the original games, but instead of mountains and other rough terrain giving a bonus to the defense that makes it harder for the siege to get going, it adds to the defensiveness rating. This rating (which can get national modifiers), causes the amount of time between each siege check to go up, lengthening the entire process that way.

Finally, in the earlier games leaders had also followed a set schedule with statistics based on history. EU III acts a bit more like Victoria, and introduces the concept of Army (and Naval) Tradition, which can be gained through fighting battles, exploration, and a few other activities, but then declines over time. Leaders can then be recruited as desired/needed, and their level of ability depend on the current military tradition.


Like in the original games, one of the major internal pressures on a countries are armed rebellions that can spring up depending on a number of factors. This turns into a monthly chance of a rebellion starting in a particular province, which then must be put down.

And that’s about where it ended originally. When a rebellion happens in EU III, the rebels have a type, which defines their goals, should they not be stopped. The most common types are patriots and nationalists, who either want to join a nearby country, or found a new one, as determined by culture types. But there are peasants who want lower taxes and liberties, zealots who want to change the official religion of the state, and a few other variations.

A final rebel type are pretenders. They have a leader that they want to see on the throne instead of the current ruler, and tribal governments tend get a lot of them (in a succession crisis) every time the ruler changes.


As with everything else, EU III both maintains much the same colonization system as the earlier games, and brings new features to it. A very important new feature is that uncolonized provinces have no resource at all. Previously, every province’s trade resource was fixed; now, it is only decided when a colony grows to size 3, and it is randomly chosen from a list of resources appropriate to the region.

The trade post system was dropped, leaving only regular colonies in the game, which operated much the same. In Nomine reworked things a bit. The idea of colonial range was added; the distance from the home country that new colonies could be founded, to keep European powers from grabbing all of Asia too early.

Being able to colonize at all was made dependent on a few national ideas, especially Quest for the New World, which allows exploration, and Colonial Ventures grants a colonist each year (state religion can also generate colonists). In addition to sending out explorers, just owning a province adjacent to terra incognita will eventually reveal the adjacent areas, so countries like Russia can expand across Asia without needing to take the idea.


Europa Universalis III is a sequel game that does not entirely replace the former entry to the series. The shift in philosophy causes a few things to be lost, but in all, this is a much improved game. The graphics are lackluster, and lose some artistic charm, but EU II wasn’t that great looking, and graphics are not at all the point of the game.

Releasing a game with two expansions already planed for within the next year raised some ire and accusations of paying for beta-testing. To a certain extent, this is true. But, I have found that some of the best games are those that go through an intense period of revision with guidance from a large audience. EU III got that in it’s first year, and I think the wide audience feedback allowed In Nomine to be an expansion that really made the game much better than it already was.