It’s been nearly 2 months since Paradox Studios released their latest Grand Strategy hit Europa Universalis IV, and it still continues to be one of my go-to games to dive into and play when nothing else draws my attention.
For those unfamiliar, Europa Universalis is one of Paradox Studios’ staple franchises which focuses on playing on a full world stage. The players has the ability to play any country spanning the mid 1400’s to the early 1800’s. That’s nearly 400 years of history that you have the power to shape and influence however you see fit. You could do some of the obvious choices like rebuilding the Roman Empire from the broken and dying Byzantines, form an early and powerful Russian Empire from one of its smaller nations, or build an expansive colonial empire as Spain or Britain. My personal favourites are the smaller fish however, playing as Scotland and taking control of the British Isles, Playing as one of the smaller Holy Roman Empire’s countries and either becoming the leader of the HRE or dissolving it from the inside out.
A very large amount of my play has always been outside of Europe in this series, however, in Europa Universalis III I’d say over half of my games took place in Asia or the Philippines. So far in Europa 4 I’ve tried to keep my gameplay as evenly spaced between the east and west as I could for the sake of review.
Those coming from the latest big release from Paradox- Crusader Kings 2 - may be surprised by the lack of character focus in EU4. In Crusader Kings you are always worrying about characters, traits, reputation, and relations between one person and another. In Europa 4 I like to think that the camera or world view has been pulled back a great deal, and not simply in terms of the game map. EU4 is more about the country itself as the player character. You control play as a government figurehead of sorts, developing and shaping the government and country in turn. This may lead to a much less personal experience than you may have had in CK2 and lends much more to a RISK style game, where the main focus in on gaining power. Though unlike RISK there are many ways to go about it besides just military might.
Economy and trade have seen the most interesting changes from the earlier EU3. Instead of trade simply being about certain trade hubs where you sent a merchant to gain profit, now you can influence trade with your navy. Trade depends on your location relative to the trade hub and whether it’s reachable via land or sea. In my first play-through with Venice, it was very interesting and exciting to see this system fully in action. Something that had much less importance in past games now has many more options available to it than before. While you still won’t be able to just turn up profits for countries that are weaker and farther outside the range of these major trade hubs, you still are allowed options which will lead to improvements later in your game.
One feature that remains similar to CK2 is combat; with a few differences. The major difference is that armies exist as a standing force instead of being formed up during times of war. It takes time to recruit and train soldiers so the army must be formed and waiting both for defence and offence, lest the player be caught in war with no men to defend. Your forces are still dependent on the land you own as well as the development of it. You have a national manpower which determines how many men are ready and able to be recruited, or serve in your armies. This can be modified by anything from war exhaustion lowering your manpower, men not being available for combat, or allowing the young to serve bringing about an increase. Your economy is also a huge part of your military’s ability to stand strong. Without the money to pay your standing armies they will suffer low morale and will be easily crushed by armies of smaller size who are more willing to stand and fight with coin jingling in their trousers. The inclusion of techs which will advance your armies, providing upgrades to your soldiers essentially keeping them on par with their historical counterparts throughout the ages. Techs also exist outside of the military and provide a basis for the advancement of your country. Tech groups are reliant on location, with the Western tech group being the most powerful. You can change your tech group as long as you meet the requirements stated to take the action. Doing so can lead to much strife but eventually lead you to greater advancement and power.
Europa 4 has improved upon much of Europa 3‘s past grievances, namely through the improvement of trade, though everything has been expanded and enhanced. One of the best inclusions was the tutorials built right into the game. In past titles you had an adviser which would pop in and give tips and hints, but in EU4 you can actually play tutorial sequences that highlight key features. Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy games have always been difficult to get in to and understand and I feel this feature will allow newer players to learn the major basics of economy, military, and exploration, and will help players to learn the deeper mechanics themselves. Allowing my younger brother to play EU4 when he has never played another Paradox Interactive title, he was able to use the tutorials and play a semi successful game as Venice, only losing when the Ottomans decided they’d had enough of him picking off land that they decided was rightfully theirs.
The user interface also provides a persistent unique challenge. While it is very polished compared to past titles it still remains a maze of menus full of info you may not understand or need to in order to enjoy the game. My sibling had plenty of trouble keeping the menus in line and keeping track of what info he needed and when. I think they spent a bit too much time building an ornate and pretty menu system and maybe not enough time trimming the menus and organizing them to make them simpler and easier to understand. For a new player the menus could easily be enough to stop them from playing just from the frustration of trying to understand them.
Though the tutorial is a great step, the game is still very deep and difficult. This remains a double-edged sword for me. While those familiar with the game will continue to enjoy and take the game as far as they can, newcomers will still find difficulty in learning everything there is to do. There is a lot of management that exists and sometimes it can change from fun and strategic to tedious and annoying. It is an unforgiving experience to spend 200 years building up an empire to have it picked apart by a lack of management over your nation’s funds, or something as simple as not seeing relations with a long time ally degrade and allowing a rival to swoop in and create a new enemy.
Paradox titles have always been known for their sharp learning curve and EU4 is no exception. The tutorials in-game plus walkthroughs you can find online or through Steam will help out a new player or an experienced playing looking for tips they may not have thought of or noticed. The time investment required in order to simply learn the game may be too much for some newer players and may seem daunting. The lack of a fully polished UI on top of different map views which may even further confuse you (I’m looking at you economic map view), could leave the player frustrated and annoyed with spending money on something that takes effort to get into. Crusader Kings 2 was very accessible but it does not meet some of the features of EU4 in terms of complexity. I do believe that they have done a good job at trying to soften the experience of learning; it’s mostly up to you as the player to determine if the learning barrier is worth vaulting over or not.
For myself, Europa Universalis IV goes above and beyond my hopes of a sequel from EU3 and I very much enjoy the change of pace from managing families in CK2 to a whole government body in EU4. Some may find it too much to handle or not personal enough, but any fans of Europa 3 will surely enjoy the new and polished version we find in 4. It will be interesting to see the improvements that usually come down the line in the form of expansions and add-ons.
Europa Universalis IV is out now for PC.
- A great sequel that both meets and improves upon its predecessor
- Gives the player a lot of freedom
- Steep learning curve may be too much for some
- Jumbled user interface can be confusing