Digital Salad Revisits An Old Friend

After my New Year’s Day post I wanted to write about what I’ve been up to. I decided to go with my new year’s resolution of playing what I want how I want by reinstalling an old favourite game of mine. Europa Universalis 2 (EU2).


EU2 is a great game from the developer Paradox, who’ve made a lot of my other favourite games such as Mount & Blade. You can tell from the box art above how old the game is. It was one of my very first video games actually, back in 2001. Coincidentally EU4 was released a few months ago, so its probably a good time to cast the gaze back in history and give this gem a write up.

What is EU2? Its a historical strategy game not unlike the board game Risk. The key to EU2 is its simplicity, its incredibly well streamlined and the basics can be mastered in a matter of minutes. The great thing is though is that you continue to learn things even years later. It has an incredible depth that just keeps going, but can be skipped on the first play without too much being lost.

Playing as the Papal States, with Red countries being unfriendly - so not a very popular Pope!
A player playing as the Papal States, with Red countries being unfriendly – so not a very popular Pope!

You can see the similarity to Risk in the screenshot above. Its similar to a lot of the strategy genre really, but no-one does it as well as EU2 did, even later EUs don’t in my humble opinion.

Inevitably the game drew a lot of comparisons to the Total War brand; still the king of historical strategies to this day for better or worse. Back then it was the original Shogun Total War, with the original Medieval Total War in development. Neither of those had particularly great gameplay really, they were clunky at best and that was fine because the idea behind them was great.

There’s a real difference between EU2 and Total War though, with Total War the focus is the individual battles and you play a general leading his men. EU2 doesn’t give you any perspective on battles other than two little animated soldier sprites slogging it out on the map. EU2 is about guiding your country over centuries, making it grow financially, economically and politically. You’ll discover the New World, build a colony there, balance the demands of the colonists with your budgets back home. There’s a real depth to the kingdom management in EU2 that the Total War series still hasn’t even come close to.

Medieval Total War (looks pretty basic now) but a real different feel to EU2
Medieval Total War (looks pretty basic now!), had a real different feel to EU2

So, for me, EU2 is the real king of historical strategy. I like the Total War series but I see it as more like Historical Strategy light, the Call Of Duty of the genre.

So, I returned to EU2 since the New Year and I’m loving it. I’ve taken it further though. I decided, based mainly on my love of the original EU2 to splash out on Crusader Kings 2, the recent sequel to the original Crusader Kings (essentially EU, but covering the 400 years previous of EU – you could even link your save games to continue your country onwards!).

Crusader Kings 2 (CK2) is fantastic fun and still has all the essence of EU2 that got me addicted to the genre all those years ago. I still find it more difficult to tear myself away from a game of EU2 or CK2 than any other game I own.

The funny thing is though, for all of the updated to the graphical interface that came with CK2, and also in EU4 (the modern reincarnation of EU2), I still like the original EU2 the most of the lot. There’s a delightful smoothness and simplicity (in a good way) to it. Its not trying to be something its not, its done what it does perfectly and let the player fan base tinker with it how they want.

US Empire in the Caribbean? Sure! I even had the US take over China one time, each play is completely different!
US Empire in the Caribbean? Sure! I even had the US take over China one time, each play is completely different!

EU2 was a game made with love, a development team crafted EU2. Before the game starts a screen shows the message “This game is dedicated to our fans”. That’s not just a soundbite, that was the ethos behind EU2 and what made it awesome. Are modern blockbuster video games made for the fans like that? The answer’s a resounding no, they’re made for the figures on a piece of paper in the CEOs office.

I’m thinking of a car analogy for it (not that I’m a big car nut, I just think it explains what I mean well). Some masterpiece cars are built in garden sheds. Lotus is a big car brand these days, and they started in a shed in Britain in the 1950s. Modern games are more like modern Fords, mass produced out of clinical factory. It does the job, and I’d be happy to drive around in one, but it lacks the soul of the 1950s Lotus. Car analogy over!

I want to see the love coming back in to video games development. I’ve said that before, and my return to EU2 has only reinforced my sense of desperation at the state of the modern industry. Its lost its way, churning out games that are no better than androgynous grey mush in the grand scale. There are some new releases that I like, but I grow tired of them within months. No modern video game will still be with me 13 years later like EU2 is, still going as strong as it was; not even the newer EUs could do that.

I really would strongly recommend EU2 to anybody who has ever dabbled with the historical strategy genre. You can pick it up for under £5 from across the internet. Give it a try. Its supposedly incompatible with Windows 7, being developed when the legendary Windows XP was still a relatively new thing, but it works fine with mine so don’t be too worried about compatibility.

Are there any old video games that you still play with as much joy as you did when you first had it? What makes it so awesome? Are there any lessons the modern industry could learn from it?


Digital Salad –


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