The name of the game itself means something about Europe and universal and the number 2, but I went to a public school that no longer offered Latin so I only picked the game up because its cover looked like a Wheaties box for history nerds: Napoleon and... some other guys who look vaguely important. But Hell, Napoleon would beat having Derek Jeter on a Wheaties box any day! Anyway, I picked up the game, looked at it, thought it sounded interesting even if the Cool Kids didn't, and brought it home so I could play it instead of going outside in the sun.
Am I glad that I did that (and not just for preventing skin cancer!)! This game lets you start off in 1419 and play as any country in the world up through 1820. That's Joan of Arc through Napoleon for those of you who eschewed history in school. And when I said that you can play as any country I really meant it. Feel that France is not your bag? How about the Irish? Or the Aztecs? Japan? C'mon you xenophobe, there must be some country you like!
The way the game works is you play as your country against all others on a map that represents the earth rather accurately. You manage the economy (inflation I loathe you), military, and politics of your country. Militarily, you just march in with however many troops you have, and the computer resolves it, taking into account technology disparities (which you research) and military leaders (Cromwell trumps a Benedict Arnold). The real meat of the game, for me and my inner nerd at least, is the politics.
Starting with your monarch, each have individualized ratings, you determine who to ally with, who to remain neutral to, and who to attack with reckless abandon!
Now, this is extremely important, as each country will be doing the exact same things as you. If you go around attacking every country, you begin to gain a reputation as a warmonger. Not that I think this is a bad thing, but apparently many of your neighbours do. Something to do with being a “menace to global stability” or some other such mularkey ("Rogue state" is the current trendy term). Any way, these countries will attack you if you come off as a troublemaker. So you'll want to keep your conquests neat and tidy, otherwise you can find yourself in a war against a number of countries, and that's never good for your population.
Speaking of which, your population is something else you must watch out for. As an observant being, I've noticed that people tend to believe various religions and sometimes have slight... disagreements with each other over these differences.
Evolution in schools
Now, while harmony and settling these differences in an understanding manner is all well and good in the real world, in the video game world it tends to be more exciting when things turn bloody. Chalk up a point in EU2's favour. Example: If I were to take over another territory that doesn't happen to share the same faith as my own country, well, let's say that certain... problems could arise - problems like the peasants grabbing pitchforks and rioting. While humorous on The Simpsons, it is not nearly so fun for my country, and even less so when some disturber like Martin Luther appears and gives vast swaths of my territory the idea that I am somehow mistreating my populace (I am, but I don't want the serfs knowing!). Now, with these unbelievers in your territory, what is an absolute monarch to do? Convert them of course! Remember kids, inquisitions are only not fun for those who don't believe. But if the inquisition fails, prepare for more peasants and pitchforks. So, needless, faith - and the riots that follow - play a tremendous role in how you play.
Of course, no historical game within this period would be complete without explorers. Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain - they're all here. Even the underrated Zheng He makes an appearance. They explore new areas, help you settle, and then explore new areas as you begin stealing land - uh... I mean claiming new land from the natives. This part of the game is mostly reserved for major nations, as the smaller ones can't quite afford the expense of exploring. But bide your time, Ceylon; one day you will make the English rue their insolent ways.
The most entertaining part of the game would have to be the historical events. These events, which are based in fact, represent a major event which could change the path of your country depending on your choice. They are all multiple choice, with the positives and negatives told to you, for the most part, up front. They add an interesting bit of spice to regular motions of politics and the military in the game.
The game also allows you to tailor how you want to play. You don't have to go out and completely and take over the whole world. You can set the parameters for your game. Become a trading power, a military power, the head of your religion - all these paths are open. It's a nice open-ended game where the goals are all up to you.
The graphics are about what you'd expect from a turn-based strategy game. Plain, but nice on the eyes and clear. Everything can be brought up easily via menu and you're never at a loss in figuring out borders. The controls, being turn-based, are pretty much irrelevant. The mouse and the pause button will become your best friends. The learning curve on this game can be pretty steep. Reading the manual is a MUST, as the tutorial will not explain everything you need, and some things, such as the economy and attrition rates of armies, need to be found in the manual. But give it some hours and you will understand it and be hooked.
That is pretty much the final verdict. If you are in need of a game that will take up a number of hours/days/weeks from your life, even at the game's advanced age of 5 years, this is one to pick up. You learn an absolute ton about history as well as get the chance to be an actor in it. A very violent actor, if that is what your devious little heart desires... The Cool Kids won't know what they're missing.