Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Minimum requirements: Microsoft Windows XP/2000; 1.9 GHz Intel Pentium or similar AMD; 512MB RAM; Direct X 9.0c compatible video card with at least 128mb & support for pixelshader 2.0
Release date: Available now
Review by: Jason Pitruzzello
When Europa Universalis: Rome was released last year, it represented Paradox’s attempt to use their EU3 engine to cash in on the demand for Roman strategy games. They ended up creating a title that meshed the interaction of individual characters with the destinies of entire countries. Still, it was a game that encouraged players to want even more detail and nuance. Rather than create an expansion filled simply with more military bells and whistles, Paradox instead chose to improve the aspect of the game that made it interesting—internal politics—in Vae Victus.
Veterans of the original will, upon loading Vae Victus, be greeted by familiar combat units, from elephants to heavy infantry, and will see the same factions at work around the Mediterranean. It’s when you open the government window that you find just how different the expansion makes the core game. No longer do monarchies and republics differ merely in whether or not the ruler runs the country for life. Instead, each kind of government now has a host of positions that need to be filled. Republics now have a Senate with military, merchant, civic, religious and populist factions, each of which has different domestic and foreign-policy goals. These goals combine in various ways to restrict your actions. Sometimes the Senate opposes war with certain factions, while at other times it demands that certain characters be appointed as generals and admirals. This radically alters gameplay, forcing anyone playing a republic to spend as much time manipulating internal politics as they do plotting the conquest of neighbors.
Monarchies don’t have Senates opposing their actions, but there are still positions that need filling. Because advisors and bureaucrats have their own ambitions, you must monitor who they want to inherit the kingdom. When they start to prefer someone other than your ruler’s designated heir, it’s time to start firing them, even if they are smart and hardworking. This causes various characters to fall in and out of favor, so the ruler is often forced to pick loyal, but not as competent, advisors to avoid assassination and civil war.
The expansion also improves a number of smaller aspects of gameplay. The tech tree has been modified; while inventions are largely the same, there are no “empty” tech levels that require research to unlock other advances. Barbarians have been reworked somewhat; it is now possible for them to settle down by themselves and form their own barbarian states if they are undefeated. Combined with the new format for internal politics, there is more to do between wars.
However, the expansion suffers from at least one serious problem. There is currently a rather nasty slowdown triggered when secessionist factions fail to have a state culture assigned by the game engine. The end result of such a bug is that the game freezes at its most interesting points. This is even more frustrating because there are ways of encouraging such things in other countries; such a bug makes intrigue actions such as Encourage Disloyalty a quick way to crash the game when used on governors. Furthermore, republican politics are plagued by a problematic shift towards populism early in the game. There is a bug that causes characters to be angry at having no job when they turn 16; since no one can be assigned to any job before 18, the first generation of children that come of age all end up embracing populism before they even have a chance to enter politics. This wouldn’t be a big problem, except that there is little you can do about it for the first 50 years or so; populist control of the Senate and a populist ruler have only negative effects, unlike every other Senate faction.
While the features of Vae Victus are a welcome addition to a game that I already liked, it’s disappointing that the expansion has such an unpolished feel. The problems with secessionist states are annoying, and a few tweaks are clearly needed before republican governments are both sensible and fun. Hopefully the expansion will get some more ironing out to make it a worthy addition to Europa Universalis: Rome.