Game Name: Europa UniversaIis IV
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Irrational Games
Retail Price: $44.99 for the Extreme Edition
Category: Crunchy historical empire builder
I’ve had a soft spot for many of Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy games over the years but my two go to franchises have always been Hearts of Iron (WWII) and Europa UniversaIis (world history from the 1440s through early 1800s) and I’ve invested hundreds of hours playing both. With a new game on the horizon utilizing the Clausewitz Engine focused on the Cold War period (ala Twilight Struggle) there might be a third title occupying a lot of my PC time but rather than getting ahead of ourselves let’s look at the latest incarnation of Europa UniversaIis.
Obvious comparisons will be made to Firaxis’ Civilization series but the truth is Civ and EU are worlds apart. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good game of Civ but for all its grand strategic empire building, Civilization fails to “feel” historical. Europa UniversaIis, on the other hand, provides an ever changing alternate history which never goes too far over the top as far as what’s taking place in the well over three hundred years covered. Fans of Civilization should look at their experience with that series ad a primer to EU.
Europa UniversaIis IV has a much prettier look than its previous edition although graphics have never been the major selling point of the series; solid historical gameplay is what draws gamers to the franchise. EU4 has a lot of other changes under the hood as well including a revamped trade module and the inclusion of rival nations, just to name a couple. You’ll find a true sandbox in which to dive in and the ability to choose from not only an extensive list of scenarios beginning with the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1444 all the way through the French Revolution in 1792 with the ability to choose any country on the map. Granted, I’m not sure how exciting playing as say Hessa might be since there aren’t nation specific events taking place for a country that small but it’s interesting to have that option available.
EU4 plays out in real time, although you’ll be pausing and telescoping slower in order to keep an eye on wartime developments or speeding things up during times of peace. I usually play on the fastest speed regardless with a drop to the middle setting for time passage on very rare occasions – such as unloading troops in the midst of an offensive. You’ll find yourself pausing quite a lot as you’ll normally have three or four items requiring your attention be it improving provinces of your kingdom, tackling the Papal system or Holy Roman Empire module, building and maintaining units, creating colonies, and a whole lot more. Players who believe they have too much juggling to deal with in Civilization should be forewarned EU4 can make Civ look like child’s play.
This isn’t to say careful planning (and a touch of luck once in a while) isn’t rewarded as taking advantage of rivals at their weakest moments or swooping in to begin colonizing an area just before a rival’s settlers arrive can bring a broad smile to your face. Of course you can expect the AI to take advantage of you in the same way if you get sloppy. Which brings me to my thoughts the AI is a tad too sharp most of the time and occasionally you’ll feel as if the game is stacking the deck against you. I won’t go all in and say the game cheats but you’ll want to be aware EU4 is a challenge.
As I mentioned there is a ton going on in the game and to include everything here would lead to a review consisting of four or five pages so I’ll just focus on a few items.
Beginning players will no doubt want to cut their teeth by playing a country which didn’t historically engage in much colonization. This will allow them to get a handle on the core aspects of EU4 such as combat, diplomacy, religious influence, trade, improving provinces, and so forth. I’m not saying the colonization aspect is complex by any stretch but first timers may feel overwhelmed at the reins of England, Portugal, France, or Spain; I mentioned there’s a lot to keep an eye on and, since exploring the New World comes pretty quickly, too much focus on exploration and colonization can lead to neglecting the home country which can lead to finding yourself spread too thin and rivals going to war against you at the most inopportune times.
Diplomacy plays a huge role in the game and in ways which may not be overly apparent. Every other country has their views about your own and varying degrees either positive or negative. EU4 isn’t only about keeping your allies happy and your enemies afraid to attack. Nearly every other nation has allies and enemies too so it’s important to get an idea of the overall situation before going to war since what can originally look like you’ll be shooting fish in a barrel can quickly turn around to have you find you’re the one in the barrel as new allies join the cause against you.
Expand slowly and surely as opposed to swallowing huge swaths of territory. One aspect of EU4 I like quite a bit is being penalized for expanding too quickly, either through colonization or militarily. Other countries won’t appreciate constant land grabs and will form coalitions against you which will eventually lead to war. You also risk finding your country fighting revolts breaking out everywhere which in turn burns through man power – woe to those who find a revolt break out in with twice as many revolutionaries than your army – while weakening you to foreign threats. You know your enemies are going to think about pouncing if your army is being decimated by near constant interior battles.
During the period being simulated countries didn’t go to war at the drop of a hat. In order to show the world the country had the right to make war they needed Casus belli, or justification, in order to attack their enemies. Sure this could be as simple as an insult (and you can declare war without Casus belli but you’re going to regret it in the long run if you do it too often) but the world view was civilized people don’t just duke it out for the hell of it. There are many ways to instigate your enemies into giving you legitimacy to go on the offensive and you can always fabricate claims on their provinces in order to go to war too.
Like I said, I actually dig the restrictions built into the game to prevent whole nations being annexed and watching a nation double in size over the course of a decade since it comes across as much more historically accurate.
Lastly, take time to learn the numbers behind the game. A multitude of factors are at work as to why something is happening in your kingdom and having an inkling of the digit crunching behind the scenes will go a long way toward not only your enjoyment of EU4 but also keep the frustration level low. Maybe you can’t understand why you always seem to be losing money. Then take a look at the Economy screen to see where the gold is being spent. Maybe you find you’re always losing battles even when the enemy is outnumbered. Get a better idea of how terrain comes into play not only as far as negative modifiers but also the limits each province has for how many land units may occupy it before attrition comes into play. Maybe you find your country in a state of constant revolt. Look at the stability and ways you can lower the chances for revolts breaking out by making provinces cores, changing culture and religion, and using military might.
I will mention something I still don’t have a very good grab on is Trade. Trust me it’s not from lack of trying either, but it’s not made clear in the tutorial about why you’re gaining more trade in a specific region than another and the steering of trade doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either. I can still make sure my country is pulling off a good amount of income from Trade, I’m just not positive how to maximize it.
I began the review by saying how I enjoy Paradox games and with EU4 I think the company has stepped it up to the next level. The way the alternate histories the game creates always strike one as plausible and the events this time around are a lot less preprogrammed and random. Here’s a good case in point:
On a recent playthrough I took on the helm of Spain in the longest scenario which begins in 1444. I went along with the historical missions which come about and reconquered the southern portion of the Iberian Peninsula while converting the inhabitants to Catholism. Later, through quite a few wars, Aragon became part of Castille and I was poised to unify Spain just as in the history books. Yet all along I’d been an ever present thorn in the side of England by staunch alliances with Scotland, Wales, and the Irish. Eventually, through fabricating claims and providing military assistance to Scotland, England was mearly a handful of provinces with Cornwall and Wessex as part of Spain. Within ten years England was no more and twenty years later, when the Scot king died without an heir, Spain inherited the crown of Scotland through marriage.
Suddenly there was to no Hundred Years War, no American colonies under English rule but in its place a mighty Western European Catholic coalition (controlling the Pope and defending the faith) to which the French could only rattle their sabers. This sort of alternate history making is where I think EU4 really shines! Nothing feels forced or tacked on and even if you were to helm the same country whenever you play, making nearly the same decisions, you’ll never find two games turn out the same.
Granted, as I mentioned, the AI does make life difficult for you and the Trade system doesn’t have the same transparency as the other modules in place but, for those looking to take their empire building to the next level, Europa UniversaIis IV is a must buy.