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A Tale of Two Expansions

October 13th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · Design, Paradox

In the last couple of months, Paradox has released two expansion packs – one for the year old Europa Universalis III (called Napoleon’s Ambition) and one for the aging Crusader Kings (dubbed Deus Vult). The former adds more new content, new options and answers pleas that the community has been making since the initial release. The latter adds a couple of new dynamics but is mostly an interface and graphic makeover.

Here’s where the writer tells you in a cliche that the modest expansion is actually the better one, right?


Europa Universalis III is still a good game – it was a good game when it came out and remains one in spite of a few backward steps from EU2. Napoleon’s Ambition was supposed to address some of those steps back. Before EU3 was released, the developers claimed that:

a) the Napoleonic era wasn’t a good fit for the EU3 model since the revolutionary period was such a dramatic departure from the politics of the 15th to 18th centuries, and
b) historic monarchs and leaders would mess with the uncertain future they wanted players to experience.

Apparently the first problem wasn’t so much a problem as a design issue they had to work out, and they did to some extent. New revolutionary government models and National Ideas don’t make the break of 1789 feel like a huge departure from the past, but it’s not like they got the religious wars right either.

The second problem was addressed by letting the player choose whether or not to use historic monarchs, leaders and advisors. But they stuck to their guns, to some extent, by forcing certain trade-offs if you choose this option. Since you have historical kings and queens, you can’t change your government type (it’s now tied to the calendar), you can’t do royal marriages (since that could trigger dynastic stuff that could mess with something), and, most insanely, you end up making a bunch of National Ideas totally useless. Since you can’t use military tradition to recruit leaders, there’s no reason to choose any idea that affects it. And since all explorers and conquistadors are now historical only, the Quest for the New World idea is useless.

The AI still chooses these now pointless National Ideas, by the way.

So you get to play with historical rulers and advisors, but doing so cuts you off from the strengths of EU3 – the adjustable history and customization. In a system where half of the National Ideas were clearly better than the rest, and where dynastic inheritances could throw the continent into turmoil, making National Idea choice even more obvious and forcing a strict line of rulership emphasized the weaknesses of the game instead of the strengths.

So, you are left with the pretty good Napoleonic era, which isn’t really Napoleonic since you only get Napoleon if you play the historical setup or a scenario starting in that period. The expansion doesn’t make the game worse, but it does seem more like an attempt to make up for oversights than an effort to take the game in a new direction or make the experiences even more varied and interesting.

Deus Vult, on the other hand, plays directly into Crusader Kings’s strong points. CK was always a bit of weak sister in the military and diplomatic side. The movement rules and diplomatic factors usually led to outcomes that were not merely ahistorical, they were impossible. Muslim kingdoms would be founded in Ireland and baronial military exhaustion led not to greater centralized states but to fractured realms with the players’ kingdom spanning the continent; I’ve been – simultaneously – king of England, Scotland, France, Finland and Jerusalem.

But the dynasty building part of the game has always been great and by adding a couple of new twists, this role playing element has been emphasized and accentuated with a new ledger and alert tabs. The friend/rival mechanic adds drama to court politics, as your marriage falls apart or your spymaster plots against you. Or when an embattled king finds a core of loyalists who will stand for the crown no matter who else challenges the throne.

By hiding the talents of offspring until they are educated and mature, there is less incentive to go around murdering children who tand between your kingdom and posterity. This means that there is a good chance that you will have a bad ruler from time to time and, instead of avoiding that through murder or exile, you have to cope with it.

It’s not that there aren’t changes to the diplomatic/military side; it’s that these changes take a back seat to the court management spreadsheet part of the game, all aided through new events, a ledger that tracks the eligible brides of Europe and tab alerts like those in EU3 that let you know of vacancies, court bachelors, disloyal vassals and options for new titles. (The other interface addition from the EU3 system, floating text for tech advances, is more annoying than useful.)

There is still too much fragmentation of large AI kingdoms. Friendship won’t keep a kingdom together if the liege is always mobilizing his vassals’ troops and claiming every county in sight.

The biggest problem with Deus Vult is its stability. It’s very difficult to continue a campaign for over a century without crashes forcing you to retreat to earlier saves or autosaves. My medieval history is a little weak, but I don’t think the Third Crusade was canceled because of a fatal exception error. This technical issue is enough to keep me from fully endorsing DV; this needs a hotfix fast.

But I play Crusader Kings more than Europa Universalis III now. Both expansions are available only through Gamersgate.


7 Comments so far ↓

  • Patronicus

    Your criticisms of Napoleon’s ambition are all based on the player choosing the historical option. I don’t and I still love EUIII and its non-deterministic gameplay. One of my favourite countries to play is the Ottomans but I always hated how in EUII it’s downhill when Suleyman buys the farm. Here, have some revolt events, a string of terrible monarchs, and there’s nothing you can do about it!
    NA improves an already strong game. I can rename colonies? Cool. Automerchants? Awesome. NA improves an already strong game. Most expansion packs add new factions and technologies to play around with
    In contrast, Deus Veult is a strong expansion for a weak game. Crusader Kings is probably the least impressive game in Paradox’s catalogue, with self-addmited “beer-and-preztel” efforts like Two Thrones excepted. It’s the product of a failed co-operative effort between Paradox and Russian developer Snowball. Johan has admitted on the forums that the final product is substantially less than what was envisioned.
    What Crusader Kings needs most is a sequel. There was a huge leap in quality from the original Hearts of Iron (War diplomacy is only complete conquest or a white peace? Um, okay.) to its sequel. The biggest problem I have with CK is that there’s no overall point to the game. What is my overall goal? To raise my duchy to a kingdom? Okay, after that, then what? Get piety? Gone when my character dies. Prestige? Why, so I can buy more claims and make my vassals slightly more loyal?
    There’s potential in the Crusader Kings concept. It just needs a proper development.

  • Troy

    The Napoleon’s Ambition expansion’s main addition is the historical option – otherwise it’s the same mechanics over a slightly longer period. There aren’t any new ideas beyond those in the Revolutionary era or new game options. That’s why I devoted a lot of time to that.

    I should have spent more words on the auto-merchant and Center of Trade stuff, though. The auto-merchant should have been there in the first place.

    I agree with you on the appeal of EU3 otherwise. It’s a good game (better than a lot of people in the community give it credit for) and at its best when the player has real choices and unpredictable situations.

    And that’s kind of my point. The expansion didn’t add a lot of stuff that pushed the strengths of the game – the customization, variable paths and unpredictability. Greater differentiation in the National Ideas. Stronger cultural effects. Deeper event chains.

    I disagree that CK is a weak game, but that’s because I forgive the strategy stuff because the role playing is so strong. The goals in CK are no more nebulous than those of EU(conquer and colonize, conquer and colonize) and like EU3, very self-directed. CK is a sandbox strategy game.

    Its appeal is very different from that of EU or Victoria or HoI. It’s character centered more than realm centered. That leads to problems when the two parts of the game interact, but I have more interesting stories from CK than from EU3.

  • Patronicus

    “I disagree that CK is a weak game, but that’s because I forgive the strategy stuff because the role playing is so strong.”

    I’d have to disagree with you that CK’s role playing element is strong. It’s handled via events. Events in Paradox games are used to simulate elements the engine can’t handle directly, so the developers likely regarded it as secondary importance. Event-driven roleplaying also means you have no direct control over it: You’re sitting around waiting for the ‘Your wife is having an affair with your martial’ event to pop up.

    As an aside, you’ve referred to EUIII as ‘New and improved with half the flavor’. I recommend the Magna Mundi mod. I don’t agree with a lot of the choices they made but it certainly makes the game more interesting with more, well, flavor.

  • Patronicus

    An addendum: What I especially like is CK’s uniqueness. Few other games can claim they simulate the collapse of the player’s avatar’s marriage.

  • Troy

    The role playing in CK is more like watching a soap opera than acting in one; sometimes you can control what happens, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have lots of choices, sometimes none. None of this, in my opinion, detracts from the amusement of the enterprise. Event driven stuff can be problematic, as it was many times in EU2 (an otherwise brilliant title). But since events are even more tied to things that are going on in game, they are convincing for me.

    I’ve downloaded Magna Mundi months ago and tried it a few times, but, like many large community mod efforts it substitutes size and stuff for a real design concept. Lots of good stuff in there and lots of flavor, but a bit too much at times. Mind you, in the build I tried I had the same War of the Roses event seven times in a single month until I chose the “historical option” that the event designers seemed to want me to choose.

  • Gunner

    I’d highly recommend that you give MM another try. I’m not trying to sound rude or anything, but you just gave it the standard “most mods suck” label that I really don’t think it deserves.

    I mean, its design concept is to add more flavor and historical plausibility. That entails adding in a whole lot of small changes and events.

    That problem with the War of the Roses seriously sounds like a bug, which is one thing that they’ve made huge progress on in the past few months. Things have also just gotten a lot more polished overall, especially with their most recent release a few weeks ago. Really, go give it another try. I wouldn’t consider playing EUIII without it.

  • Michael A.

    Thanks for the reviews, Troy.