This venerable strategy game gets a Far Eastern shot in the arm
Europa Universalis III is the strategy game that simply won't die. Since 2007 it's offered you the chance to take a single nation through 1399 to 1820 and the three expansion packs have widened the detail and scope of the original game immensely.
Divine Wind makes use of improvements recently seen in Victoria 2, which uses the same engine
That same detail and general improvement carries over to Divine Wind - the latest and final expansion which opens up the world of Europa Universalis III to the nations of China and Japan. It's the final step for this grand strategy game and one made by request from the series' fans.
Just as with previous expansions, Divine Wind is all about taking a fledgling nation state and building an empire out of its backward roots. It's a truly satisfying experience and the focus on China and Japan adds a great deal of new detail and interesting content.
This focus on the Far East is what makes Divine Wind such a compelling addition to an already fascinating game. Both China and Japan have been detailed with great care and the historical events married to the in-game scenarios are a huge plus in my book. It adds a great deal of depth to know that you're re-living events that really took place or are providing an authentic base for the scenarios.
If you're someone who's shown even the slightest bit of interest in the Far East then Divine Wind is going to be a riot of rich facts, interesting history and a dash of authenticity. This feels especially awesome in Japan which is divided into numerous factions all with their own culture and history.
What this means on the field of play is that you've got more to worry about in terms of internal politics and aggression. This is very similar to the Roman Empire in a previous expansion and adds an extra layer of depth to the game if you're interested in these countries. As it turns out - I was - and I couldn't be happier resolving the Daimyo's of Japan or dealing with China's three factions.
These new aspects might add quite a bit if you decide to play as China or Japan, but their inclusion doesn't make a huge amount of difference to the wider game. What does is a range of improvements and tweaks that have been added to streamline systems or fix unbalanced elements.
One subtle element is the amount of time it takes to build up an empire from scratch. Gradually forming your superpower takes longer and requires more complex decision-making than ever before. Something long-term lovers of Europa Universalis III are going to enjoy immensely. It does struggles to make this seem interesting at times if you're not used to the mechanics and I shudder to think what a first-time player will make of Divine Wind's plodding pace.
Yet this is what makes it such an interesting game - the level to which you can truly lose yourself in the process of trade, construction and development is immense. Helping this sense of involvement is a new building/production system that re-balances the old one and adds a bit more strategy to the whole process of nation management. Balancing your resources and deciding what structures to build or how to treat potential threats has been made to feel much more important.
The vastness of China is just one of the things waiting for you in this new expansion...
This new system, which requires magistrates to begin construction and a new build order designed around your provinces decisions and technology level, puts the emphasis on defensive play. Though that may sound boring it's actually a very interesting and exciting way to play. Balancing build strategies against your eventual aims and what may happen if you're pitted against an aggressor is similar to building an impenetrable castle against the Mongol horde. The joy comes in planning it all out and watching to see if your well-laid strategies bear fruit.
Of course, this process can take an extortionate amount of time which, though great for veterans, could be off-putting for newcomers to the series. Europa Universalis III and Divine Wind can be overwhelming and tedious until you grasp their fundamentals and a better tutorial system would've made the whole package much more palatable for new or returning players.
What's also a little ropey are the visuals which haven't seen much of an update for this expansion. Personally I don't have a huge problem with strategy games not looking like Crysis. After all it's the strategy we're after, not how Pixel Shader 7.0 can throw shadows onto our counting houses. Having said that the original engine was hardly groundbreaking back in 2007 and by now it's starting to look pretty bland. It isn't a deal breaker by any means but a fresh coat of paint wouldn't have gone amiss either.
The only improvement is in the map department. Here Divine Wind borrows much from Victoria 2 with a zoomed-out map and colour coded units. It also includes a new diplomacy interface which informs you of negotiated territory, blockades etc. It's the only graphical upgrade Divine Wind receives but it's a good one at least.
One change that isn't welcome is the augmented horde factions. These are now super-annoying if you neighbour their territory as they're default status is to be at war. Now you can only defeat them by colonising their land and the states around them or by throwing them large diplomatic bags of gold to restrain their attacks. The colonisation option is the only route to permanent elimination and when you're a more destitute state like many in the East, that goal is very difficult to achieve.
This is one instance of authenticity getting in the way of enjoyable gameplay. The hordes certainly act in a more organised and deliberately destructive manner - yay for historical accuracy - but they constantly make the progression of your empire unnecessarily difficult.
Aside from that whining the other changes are positive and vary from minor improvements to introducing some streamlined systems. Trading is more realistic as you'll need cities to be in range of one your provinces before you open up the merchant's wagon. Trade winds have more of an effect on the Old World trading routes and you're now restricted to just one advisor for each type. Small changes like this might seem minor but they go a long way in making Divine Wind feel like a more of an historically-authentic expansion and less of one packed with videogame tweaks and knobs.
Unite or conquer to build a new Japanese nation
EUROPA UNIVERSALIS III: DIVINE WIND VERDICT
Arguably these minor upgrades could be included in a free patch but Divine Wind is an expansion worth playing for its inclusion of China and Japan. I’m a nut for Far East history so their presence alone makes this worthwhile. Though the minor improvements tune Europa Universalis III into a more comprehensive strategy game rather than modernise it completely, Divine Wind is still an expansion pack I’d recommend.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Executing my economic and military strategies flawlessly to take over the known world.