In Nomine is the second expansion pack for Paradox Interactive's Europa Universalis 3, which is itself the second sequel to Europa Universalis, a “grand strategy” game that came out almost a decade ago. The Europa Universalis brand is by now well-known as a combination of real-time military conquest, intricate diplomacy, and social and economic engineering, which plays out across the entire world from the first voyage of Columbus to the storming of the Bastille in 1789. If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is.
The original Europa Universalis 3 was seen as a disappointment by most of the dedicated fans (me included) who buy, play, talk about, and obsess over Paradox games. The developers added a 3D engine to render the world, which needlessly increased the system requirements and provided virtually no gameplay benefits, the game was bug-infested, the A.I. was a tepid opponent at best, and many of the new features included in the game were either worthless or only half-implemented. At full price for fifty dollars, many people felt like they'd been screwed.
The first expansion pack, Napoleon's Ambition, extended the playing time from 1789 to 1820, reworked the centers-of-trade concept, fleshed out the military system, and fixed some of the more galling bugs but didn't really address most of the pressing gameplay issues. This new expansion pack, though, does address those issues. It tackles the A.I., drastically improves diplomacy, espionage, trading, fighting battles, colonization, religion, government, and a million other things. It finally turns Europa Universalis into the game it should have been. And that game is one of the best strategy releases in years.
The long laundry list of stuff in this expansion pack begins with fixes small and large to existing systems. The Papacy and the College of Cardinals are more robust, and they can be bribed and manipulated into excommunicating your rivals or declaring crusades on those nations you wish to attack. The Holy Roman Empire is now more relevant to the German and Italian city-states, which are a part of it, and the emperor takes a greater personal role in keeping it intact. Missionaries have been overhauled; it's now easier and less costly to convert a province, but the risks of provoking a revolt are much higher. Colonies develop more organically, and the revenues you receive from them are determined by your ability to enforce tariffs and protect sea lanes. Religious toleration makes more sense. The worldwide trading system operates on a more free market system of supply and demand. Naval blockades are more effective. Pirates are stronger and more frequent. They changed the interface.
Several new nations have been added, including the Byzantine Empire and a few small principalities in Asia and Europe. The timeframe of the game has also been shifted back from 1453 (the game used to begin right after the fall of Constantinople) to 1399.
"In Nomine is really jam-packed with new stuff to obsess over.."
Not a single part of the original EU3 has escaped modification in some way. The changes I've listed here are barely scratching the surface. Napoleon's Ambition felt like a $20 patch, but In Nomine is really jam-packed with new stuff to obsess over. This is one of those truly transformative expansions, even if many of the changes in it should have been already present in the original EU3 or released for free through patches.
I Wanted a Mission
In Nomine fixes dozens of issues and re-works existing systems, but it also adds a considerable amount that is brand new. The most major additions are the mission and decision systems, which all by themselves radically alter the way the game is played.
Missions in In Nomine are analogous to quests in an RPG. There are hundreds of possible missions for every nation, some of them generic (raise a certain amount of money or build a navy) and some specific, and each mission is coupled with a reward, either in gold or prestige or “claims” on enemy provinces. The Byzantines (one of the several new nations in the expansion pack and one of the most interesting to play), to give an example, receive missions to reclaim parts of their lost empire and spread the Orthodox Christian faith, and if they manage to succeed, they receive prestige bonuses which can enable them to secure more alliances and even push back the Ottomans. The mission system lends a bit of structure to the game but is not restrictive of players' freedoms in any way – you can take advantage of the mission system and reap the benefits or completely ignore it.
Missions don't just apply to the player, either. The AI often tailors its strategies to focus on completing missions, and since anyone can see the mission any nation is working on, you can gain insights into the directions your rivals are heading by figuring out which mission they have. A neighboring nation with the mission to accumulate money might not be much of a threat in the short-term, but an A.I. on your border with the mission to conquer half of your land certainly is.
Decisions in In Nomine are player-activated events. Each nation has its own set of decisions, and, like missions, some are generic, and others are tailored to individual nations. Each of the German city-states has the decision “Form German Nation,” which in order to be activated requires the city-state to own certain provinces and allows the player's country to change into Germany, gain an immense amount of prestige, and reorder his government to become more centralized and efficient. Castille and Aragon can each form Spain if they own the right provinces, and the benefits the new Spanish nation recieves are similar. The Byzantines can reestablish the theme system after they've conquered a certain amount of provinces and in so doing gain a manpower bonus. The Ottomans can westernize after they've changed their government and can gain access to more powerful units and higher technology levels.
Decisions are a bit difficult to explain without the aid of the game itself to demonstrate their use, but they are a crucial aspect of the Europa Universalis experience now. Decisions provide broader goals for players to pursue and introduce a considerable element of intrigue and suspense into the game. For instance, if one of the various Slavic kingdoms in far-eastern Europe manages to make the decision that forms Russia, then the Turks, Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, and Persians will be clamoring to form alliances and beef up their armies, and the Russian player will start making plans for world conquest. Decisions can alter the course of the entire game, and in this way In Nomine has contributed immensely to making EU3 a better game.
Roll the Dice
There are some problems. The new system that handles rebellions is slightly more realistic than it used to be but oftentimes extremely weird and even ridiculous. Rebels used to be only of a single type, and so Cromwell's New Model Army, the American revolutionaries, and the mobs that stormed the Bastille were all treated the same way. In Nomine
breaks rebels up into different types and calculates their combat effectiveness and spawn chance accordingly. For instance, in the New World most rebels will be nationalist, and if they succeed they'll take land from their colonial masters and form a new nation. Other rebels are revolutionaries or pretenders, and they will attempt to take over the entire country and institute a new form of government or install someone new on the throne. Others still are peasants, and they won't do much of anything besides pillage cities and generally ruin things. Religious rebels spawn in provinces where a missionary is active, or where the state is intolerant of the religion in that province. If they succeed, they defect to the nearest country of their religious persuasion. The same thing applies for cultural rebels, e.g., Greeks under Ottoman rule, who will either form their own country or defect to the Byzantines.
It all seems well and good, except for the fact that the New World rebels are jacked up, and religious rebels are oftentimes schizophrenic. Sometimes a Catholic province in England will rise up in revolt and then defect to the Papal state, all the way across Europe in the middle of Italy. Sometimes the United States of America forms in Peru, or Peru forms in Boston, or California forms in Brazil. By 1700, in most games, the New World is a disorienting stew of weird-shaped countries in weird locations. It all seems too random to be believable.
Reviewing games and not talking about how much they cost is dishonest, especially so in this case. If this is the first you've heard of EU3: In Nomine, and it interests you, you're about eighty bucks away from it. The base game was $40 the last time I checked, Napoleon's Ambition is $20, and this expansion pack is another $20 on top of that. That's a bit absurd, especially considering that, ideally, games should be playable and interesting and fun from the very beginning of their life-cycle. In reviewing the expansion pack I've tried to temper my praise with the knowledge that it took Paradox about a year to finally deliver an EU3 worthy of the Europa Universalis name. Nonetheless, they did eventually figure it out, and the results are very much worth playing.