Reviewed by Ursus
Rome Total War (RTW) seems to have set the standard for a Roman gaming experience, and all games are necessarily compared to it. Having found RTW wanting in several respects, I was definitely ready for an improvement. I wanted to find a game that left RTW in the dust, allowing me to write a triumphant review boldly proclaiming that RTW had finally been consigned to oblivion. Unfortunately Europa Universalis: Rome (henceforth designated as EUR) did not adhere to my expectations. Rarely have I been so disappointed. Consider this review a warning to not waste your time and money on this flawed product.
EUR is a grand strategy game set in 278 BC, after Rome has conquered most of Italy and concluded a treaty with Carthage. According to the game's producer, this time frame gives a roughly equal balance of power between the major cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East. He then goes on to claim that Rome's domination was not exactly foreordained, and had things gone differently at that point in time one of the other major powers might have inherited Antiquity. EUR allows you to play either Rome, or any number of other powers ranging from Carthage to the Seleucid Empire. By building trade routes, forging alliances, and creating military units, your goal is to lead your culture to preeminence.
Admittedly there are elements of the game that are better, or at least refreshingly different, than RTW. Whereas in RTW one forged a simple trading treaty with one's neighboring powers, in EUR you have to designate which items in a given province are traded with items in other provinces. These items are critical in building military units and civic improvements; for example, if a province doesn't have access to wood, it cannot build archers. The diplomatic function is also more advanced than RTW's; among other things you can incite rebellions in neighboring powers, or call in military units from allied states. It also numerically grades your relations with other powers, allowing you to see if war or alliance is likely.
Unlike RTW, EUR is more historical insofar as Rome is represented as one faction rather than four. Another advantage over RTW is one does not have to defeat a rival faction to play it; you can start the game as any of a number of powers from the Mediterranean and Near East. The other factions are generally more historically derived than RTW; Ptolemaic Egypt has Hellenistic military units rather than the exotic New Kingdom units offered by RTW, to name one example.
One can set gameplay speed as well, as everything is real time. Gameplay is measured in days, with the beginning of a new month accruing new revenues for trade. You can have the days march by in minutes or seconds. In peacetime a fast pace is tolerable, but in times of war a slower pace is advisable to keep an eye on critical battles.
Thus far EUR sounds superior to RTW. But there are two critical areas where it lacks. One is sight & sound. RTW offers a superior audio and visual experience to EUR, with amazing music and detailed battle scenes. The graphics and sound of EUR is standard at best. Admittedly EUR is more of a grand strategy game than a tactical realism game, and thus it might be unfair to compare the two games on that level. Still, going from RTW to EUR is like downgrading from a BMW to a Dodge.
The other area, and the salient deathblow to EUR, is gameplay. In RTW one clicks on a military icon and simply moves it onto a new area or into an enemy icon, thus evoking battle. In EUR you click a military unit and point it at a given territory. And then you wait. And wait. And wait some more. It takes weeks of gaming time for military units to cross provincial borders; even on high gaming speed it takes forever. RTW's campaign map was more efficient and enjoyable.
EUR's battle play is also laughable. When two military icons clash, instead of entering a cut screen for a tactical battle play, you simply get two pop ups, each representing one military unit. The pop up measures the morale of the fighting unit; the first unit to completely lose morale loses. Another pop up proclaims you as the winner or loser of a battle, the number of troops you lost, and any points in popularity gain or lost with your populace. If RTW battles could be difficult to manage at times, at least they were interactive and enjoyable. EUR's martial aspects are about as exciting as watching paint dry.
EUR had a nice idea at its core, but its execution is horribly flawed. While RTW was historically inaccurate, it was a hell of a lot more fun to play than EUR. EUR's back cover quotes Cicero: omnia rerum principia parva sunt - the beginning of all things are small. Indeed, the only way EUR can be redeemed is through extensive modifications from its fan base, building on that small glimmer of potential it manifests.
You can order this game online at Amazon