When most people think of real-time strategy games (or RTS for those of us 'in the know'), they think of games like Warcraft, Command & Conquer, buildings that produce units, technology trees, and micromanagement of dozens of units.
This is an odd thing, because it's apparent that Europa Universalis can more accurately depict what strategy is all about. The game has you leading a vast range of countries over more than 300 years worth of campaigns as you try to make your nation the greatest on Earth. You're given the opportunity to choose anything from the War of the Roses to the War of American Independence, as well as the option to pick any side in each of the conflicts.
At first glance, the game is complicated. Heck, at second and third glance I was still scratching my head at what was going on. This game is one for people who really like strategy games. You'll be keeping track of dozens of national parameters, researching multiple areas of technology, keeping your military strong, and still trying to make sure you make it through the year.
First, the graphics: UE3 has gotten a visual upgrade from its predecessors. Gone is the bland, two-dimensional appearance of a board game. There is now a 3D landscape to look at, one where you can zoom in and out to your preference, showing details like miniature representations of armies, towns, and other notables. There's also a lot more focus on this map, rather than a series of screens with data on them, so things don't feel too cluttered or overwhelming.
There's a lot to do as you expand your growing empire, such as managing your national ideas. There of thirty of these which you can research and activate to help you, though only ten can be activated at any given time, letting you decide what bonuses are most helpful to you at a given time.
Another big change is managing your government. Now, government is just another research topic that you can go up in technology levels with. As your levels of government increase further, you'll be given access to new forms of government that can change the restrictions you have in regard to war, trade, and diplomacy in general. For example, a monarchy, while not generally loved, will allow you to inherit another nation if you plan your marriages right.
There's also the inclusion of more forms of armies. In previous versions you had a choice between basic forms of armies like infantry and cavalry, as well as a couple more. In EU3, however, with research, you'll be able to select different subtypes from each of these base classes. Each of the subtypes come with their own pros and cons, so it'll be up to you to choose which type of unit is better suited for the upcoming battles.
Additionally, the presence of 'military tradition' is new to the series. This is basically the battle experience of your entire nation, divided for each type of unit class. With each battle, you get points that you can spend on such things as generals to lead your armies, giving them the bonuses that might make change the tide of a battle.
Also new to the series is the spy. With a spy, you'll be able to infiltrate enemy towns and cause all sorts of mischief, whether its sabotage, raise unrest, or even assassination. You'd better be careful with these, however, since if they caught, it gives another nation a reason to go to war with you (known as a cassus belli).
There's a ton of things to go through in this game and I could go on. I had the opportunity to play around with a recent beta build of the game, and experienced the game without a manual or most of the in-game help. It's incredibly hard to just jump into, with many variables and little details to keep track of, though it's an involving experience once you can actually figure out what's going on. As to be expected, the current build has a bunch of bugs and a variety of things that need to be finished, but as it stands Europa Universalis III could well become a strategy buff's dream.