Europa Universalis IV
Europa Universalis IV puts you at the reigns of an entire nation, and charges you with taking care of everything from wars to theological doctrine to trade embargoes. The depth of control and choice given here is nothing short of remarkable. Nearly every conceivable way to rule is catered for, from Napoleon-style military expansion to the more insidiously evil colonialism that we Brits were so bloody good at. Want to pull your British troops out of Europe and focus on exploration of the new world? You can do it. Rather play as landlocked Poland, and build a force of diplomats and spies to undermine your enemies? No problem. These options, combined with the utterly dizzying amount of countries available to play, essentially make EUIV endlessly replayable, providing you can master it.
Europa Universalis IV finally ships with an in-depth tutorial, explaining most of the key features (trade, unit building, warfare) in enough detail that newcomers should feel fairly confident with them upon completion. This is a welcome improvement that makes this the most accessible Europa game yet. Unfortunately, as ever, to grasp every intricacy at work in Paradox’s latest title, you’d need an accompanying text approaching the density of Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man. I’ve long since given up hope that Paradox would be able to provide a serviceable introductory guide to their releases. There’s just far too much to cover. It’s an unfortunate inevitability that many will just never be able to get into a game like EUIV, because it requires dedication, patience and around thirty-six years of practice.
“The depth of control and choice given here is nothing short of remarkable.”Having said all that, this is far and away the most accessible title in the series yet. Paradox have added a robust tips and hints system, which can be used to find out exactly what all those sliders and bars really do. It’s not perfect, sometimes it can be difficult to find the exact information you’re looking for, but it’s still invaluable, and a vital addition for newcomers. There’s also a handy ledger which keeps you up-to-date with the resources, manpower and trade status of every single country. All this won’t provide much comfort when first gazing upon the intimidating list of options presented for negotiation with your neighbours, but it at least provides an initial buffer to prevent your overheated brain from exploding all over the screen.
Trade is certainly the most confusing aspect of EUIV to get a handle on. There are several pre-determined trade hubs, from which you can siphon various goods to and fro. You can, for instance, send your merchant to direct trade from Alexandria to your holdings. Doing so will force you to compete with other local powers, though, and unless you invest in trading technologies, the more mercantile nations will crush your economy. It sounds simple, but in practice it’s hard to work out exactly what impact your actions are having on the wider economy, especially as returns on investment tend to take a long, long time to come into effect.
Depending on how you want to run your country, you can invest in several different technology paths. The main draw in Paradox’s grand strategy games is being able to create your own alternative history, and EUIV offers an intimidating array of choices. Points earned through prestige and research can be spent on ‘ideas’, essential technologies that provide you with various specific bonuses. Exploration and colonisation tree provide you with more settlers and allow you to build your colonies up cheaper and faster, while the offensive military tree is perfect for expansionist land powers like Russia and France, providing you with better trained and more manoeuvrable armies. Most major nations and cultures have their own unique tech trees tied to their historical strengths as well, which is nice if you want to play a more historically accurate campaign.
Outside of the aforementioned tech trees, you can spend three main resources on major national decisions, namely administrative, diplomatic and military power. These are earned through self-explanatory means – fighting wars will earn you military power (assuming you win of course), while forming alliances and coalitions earns you diplomatic points. Administrative power is earned through stabilising your country’s government and economy. You’ll also find a list of potential missions to complete, which change over time. You’re free to ignore these missions if you want, but they do earn you various helpful rewards, from prestige to money or diplomatic power. Otherwise, the world is your oyster. There are hundreds of vassal states to bully, allies to be made and wars to be fought. Once you get into the cut and thrust of politicking and warmongering, the Europa series excels like no other grand strategy experience around.
Nations, alliances and coalitions rise and fall by your hand, armies maneuvre like chess pieces across the continent, and behind it all you pull the strings, securing an alliance here, fabricating claims on a rival’s land there. There are really no limitations on what you can achieve, and each campaign will tell a dramatically different tale. Since EUIV is essentially a sandbox for creating your own alternative history, it’s odd that it takes such a structured approach to its various historical events. You’ll see the same ones pop up every time you play as England, regardless of whether you decide to stay locked into battle with France or retreat to focus on building a trade empire, which slightly undermines the otherwise excellent feeling of freedom and choice. These are really just distractions, though, from the emergent narrative that develops over the course of three hundred years of history. Few other strategy games approach the variety and depth of what EUIV offers.
“There are really no limitations on what you can achieve, and each campaign will tell a dramatically different tale.” Praise must go to the developers for creating a truly beautiful map to house the strategic action. It’s a shame that its far more practical to play with the Risk-style political coloured map, because the terrain mode is lovely. As the seasons change from deep winter to spring, lakes thaw out and melt, while birds flutter overhead and armies trudge across mainland Europe. The interface is clean and attractive. Possibly the only thing that could be improved is the occasional clutter found in the menus. Diplomatic options are extensive, and it can be frustrating to have to click open sub-menus over and over to find the right option.
This is a less personal game than Crusader Kings II (which I’ve gushed about enough on this site), which initially makes it harder to get invested in. Without the humanising presence of your various kings, dukes, courtiers and family members, EUIV might initially seem a little dry. There’s no satisfying development of your liege, no familiar faces to plot and scheme against. Instead this is strategy writ large, stripped of the personality of Paradox’s previous game, and instead invested with admirable complexity. Study, earn your stripes (and maybe get some help from the excellent selection of Let’s Play videos available online) and you’ll find yourself invested in the astonishing opportunities presented to you to craft your nation’s own, unique history. Despite Paradox’s best efforts, it’s still not a game that everyone will be able to love, but for those that can, it’s a juggernaut of a title that will keep them occupied for the duration of the Hundred Years War.