Updated: February 5, 2021
Some games are fun. Some games are extra fun. One of them is Euro Truck Simulator 2. Strap into the cabin of an eighteen-wheeler, and roam free the roads and bahns of the European continent, delivering goods to and fro and making honest buck (euro) in between. So when there's a DLC, offered cheap, Cyber Monday whatnot, then you buy it, despite my stance on DLC in general, and you play some moar. Let's call it an expansion pack, shall we?
The name of the DLC is Beyond the Baltic Sea, and it instantly reminded me of the awesome movie Cannonball! and its iconic opening theme song and sequence. If you've not seen it, you must. Now, the lyrics of the song include a line: from sea to shining sea. Well, almost the same, except it's the Baltic Sea. Indeed, the DLC opens up a bunch of new roads in the countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, parts of western Russia, and the south of Finland. Sounds cool. Ignition on.
Since the headquarters of my company and its modest garage were set in southern Germany, I thought the simplest thing would be to take a freelance job in one of the regions, otherwise I'd have to make a "free" drive of almost 2,000 km north. Even in Euro Truck Simulator, that's a lot of kilometers. So I took a job of carrying scrap metal from St. Petersburg, Russia to near Brno in the Czech Republic.
The truck I had for the job felt underpowered, or perhaps it was simply the weight of the cargo. But after my Arctros, it felt sluggish, and I rarely could use the 12th gear while cruising, and had to stay in the 11th most of the time. That aside, the game continues to shine - and improves slowly but surely. Road signs in Cyrillic, subtle differences in vegetation and road infrastructure, noice.
The fun is in the detail
And then it gets better. A seemingly trivial EUR3 road toll, which will duly be paid by my employer, as I'm only hauling cargo, and this ain't my truck. It ain't heavy, it's my truck, ho ho hi hi. Then, there's the passport check control - twice, once you leave Russia and once you cross into Finland (and EU effectively). Cool little details that make everything far more engaging.
Then, there are surprises - like a random driver deciding to suddenly stop just after the border check. I had to actually brake fairly hard to avoid any crash. And then, I pulled around the vehicle, and continued on my journey, using the very narrow band of RPM to accelerate the over-heavy truck and its trailer.
In Finland, things changed - ever so slightly. Inclement weather - although I'm not sure if there's snow or a snow mod for Euro Truck Simulator 2, something to explore for sure. I got fined twice for speeding, even though I was only doing about 85 km/h in an 80 km/h zone. I guess the Finnish police is more stringent than in other (game) countries. But again, this is a cool detail. I also got a fine for incorrect headlight use, plus someone hit me from behind. Alas, the game just fines you EUR320, no questions asked. Inside Helsinki, there was still more goodness, like the green tram and narrow streets. Another fine for red light, even though it was only yellow when I went through, damn. Detail, detail, detail! The game paints the police cars very accurately, for each country. In Finland, you get the new Toyota Corollas, the word Poliisi included.
Overall, driving in Finland turned out to be quite traumatic for me. I missed the turn for the port, where I was supposed to take a ferry. And then I encountered a situation that every truck driver dreads - having to reverse after missing a junction, with no ability to actually U-turn.
This turned out much harder than anticipated. First, I'm not that good with the trailer, still. Second, there were cars behind me, in front of me, they refused to budge, and you can't go through the virtual XXX barriers. Effectively, I was stuck at this point, and had to use a rescue service, which cost me money and time.
After that, I had to drive for another few hours, redo my journey through Helsinki, NOT missed the right turn, and then board the ferry. At least I got to see the port in daylight, so there's at least that. But the sense of indignation and frustration ... And it's only a truck simulator, right.
In Germany, things went back to how I'm "used" to them, including the roads and the police and everything. Still, I had a fairly long slog ahead of them, but it went without any fresh traumas. I did notice my right headlight not shining as brightly as the left one. Perhaps it's just the camera angle, or another little trick to make this game more realistic and enjoyable.
In the Czech Republic, a couple of trucks wouldn't let me merge - they effectively competed with me for speed, and me driving an underpowered one, with a trailer full of strap metal, I couldn't really keep up, and had to slow down, in the middle of the road, in order to be able to change lanes. Similarly, a couple of cars did the same thing, overtaking me on the right, just before the exit. Oh well.
But I find all these little snags a great improvement - you also get to see pedestrians here and there, and the AI is getting more human-like annoying. This makes the experience more realistic, and after all, if you're gonna spend hours driving a truck quite slowly, you might as well get all the perks of an unrewarding job.
Eventually, I did it. And I even managed to time my last eight-hour driving slog just so, being able to deliver the cargo that earlier. Time earned is money earned, innit. I got my bonus points and everything, but my rank is still relatively low to be able to unlock all the truck models and accessories. But that's what makes it all the more interesting. I guess I ought to expand and get another vehicle and a third driver.
Once again, Euro Truck Simulator 2 proves its wickedly simple yet complex concept, its excellent attention to detail, the right blend of fun and realism, allowing you to immerse yourself in a seemingly dull activity with great passion. I never would have thought just driving a truck and not drifting through corners could be such a blast. But here we are.
Beyond the Baltic Sea is a cool addition to the core game. While there is some level of "repetition" in the overall scenery, there are also enough new and unique elements in each country to make the DLC worth the purchase. If you like the original, you will like this one, too. A great blend of everything. And on a happy but slightly unrelated note (just slightly), I've also got meself a copy of the American Truck Simulator, so you know what that means, don't you. It's time to get ourselves a little convoy! See you soon.