Crown of the North Review

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Graphics: 7.0
Sound : 5.0
Gameplay : 8.5
Multiplayer : 8.0
Overall : 7.5
Review by Dennis S.
Strategy game Europa Universalis and its sequel Europa Universalis II have enjoyed a lot of success worldwide, having been given great ratings by many magazines. To my shame however, I've never tried any of them, so when I received my review copy of Europa Universalis II from the kind folks at Strategy First, I had a clear mind and no preconceived opinion of what I should expect. Crown of the North is a standalone expansion pack for Europa Universalis II, concentrating on the medieval history of Scandinavia, the homeplace of the game's developers, Paradox Entertainment. It also includes the original Europa Universalis II with three new added campaigns; however this review will discuss exclusively Crown of the North.


Crown of the North takes you back into the 13th century, when rival factions and kingdoms fought for ultimate control of the Scandinavian region. At the beginning of the game you may choose to play as one of five parties involved, taking the role of a real historic king. The gameplay takes place on the same map, which is basically a detailed map of Scandinavia that is separated into the little kingdoms that existed at the time, each of them having its own historic name. As you select which side you'd like to start with, the only difference between each one is its starting position and amount of resources available at the beginning of the game. The locations vary in level of economics development, starting military force, number of neighbors, and of course level of seclusion from other parts of Scandinavia. All of the above makes each territory that you may choose to play with harder than the previous one. Before starting the game you may also select the difficulty and aggressiveness of your future opponents, which will affect the game later on. A nifty feature is that you can change those settings anytime during gameplay, which is something that not a lot of games offer.


The game itself is real-time based; time flows like it would normally, day after day, year after year. You, however are given an option to either slow it down or on the other side speed it up. The basic gameplay revolves around upgrading the infrastructure of your cities, keeping your population happy, and obviously waging war with your neighbors and expanding your territory. The buildings that you have in each kingdom / city influence how much money you'll be getting from taxes, how much grain you will produce (grain is needed to feed your armies) and how fast you'll be able to recruit new armies, so the more you upgrade them the better. The population of your land consists out of four groups: nobility, clergy, burghers and peasants. Relations with each of them are rated on the scale of 1 to 10, and the worse they are the bigger are the chances of them rebelling against you. To keep each of the groups happy you can execute special actions which will make them like you more, but will cost you money, and some of them will worsen your relations with other groups. For examples granting new fiefs to the nobility will improve your relations with them by 2 points, while it will worsen your relations by 1 point with each of the other groups. Normally you won't even use that, unless you need to decree a special war tax in order to get more money or something of that sort – after which you'd need to improve the relations with them, since they obviously won't be too pleased with you pocketing some extra money from them.



One thing that brings variety to the game are the special events that occur every once in a while. When they happen you are given several options on what you'd like to do, and each one of them will have influence on your relations with one or more of the population groups listed above, your budget and victory points (later on that). For example: one of your relatives can go insane, and you can either select to still leave him near you, which will make nobility and clergy like you less but won't take any money; send him to a monastery, which will make the clergy like you more but cost some money; and so on. The beauty of those events is that they are random, and really bring some 'surprise' element to the game. Back to the victory points – the game can be won in two ways: either by eliminating all of your opponents, or gaining the most points. Victory points are gained for building new buildings, winning battles, annexing new lands, and as consequences to your actions in regards to the special events. If you choose the cowardly and treacherous way to act during some of them, you will lose victory points, and consequentially risk losing the game.

Finally, there's a diplomacy aspect to the game – you may choose to offer gifts or insults to your neighbors, and you have a relationships index with each of them. Often when you're involved in a war that you see you can't lose it'd be easier to send a lot of gifts, and then ask for peace... so you could assemble some new forces and strike back at them a few years later! You can also make military alliances and even propose royal marriages to ensure that your relationships last. All this really makes the gameplay so much deeper. But like every game, Crown of the North is not without fault – what I personally missed here is a technology tree – there are no upgrades to technology or troops at all in the game. That means that there is only a grand total of seven troop types in the whole game, and no upgraded types for any of them. While one might argue that technology simply didn't advance that fast in the middle ages, and it'd be simply wrong to include upgrades in the game, I personally think that even a few researchable things would make the game so much better.


When it comes to the game interface – it's very well done, and very easy to control. The manual will explain everything you need to know in-depth, but even the hints system in the game is excellent. While I think the graphics themselves could've been slightly better – mostly if some more animations could've been added, such as sea movements or maybe trees shaking on the wind... But that's probably only me and my aestheticism. The units are meticulously well done, from the models to animations, and all of the buildings also have animations and various ways to represent their condition – the more you upgrade your buildings the better well built they look, and they obviously show damage when under attack.

The only real letdown of Crown of the North is its audio department – there's no music whatsoever, something that made me like Hearts of Iron, which was made by Paradox as well, even more. There are no background sounds, and there's not much variety to building and battle sounds. The ones that are in there are well done like the rest of the game, but the lack of variety is somewhat shocking.


Conclusion:

Crown of the North is a very deep and entertaining game. It's unique in the sense that no other strategy game has occupied itself with Scandinavian history prior to it, and it does the job well. Even the disturbing lack of music and scarcity of sound effects is fully compensated by a well done and fully functional interface and a great multiplayer mode. While it features only one scenario to play, the inclusion of the full version of Europa Universalis 2 with three new campaigns make it a steal for a pricetag of under $30. So you don't have Europa Universalis II and are a fan of Lords of the Realm and Hearts of Iron? Well, then I see no reason why you shouldn't get it now... what are you waiting for?