Saving the world is the task that noble goal gamers are often faced with, but every once in a while getting behind the reins of a powerful empire and conquering it can be just as fun.
Paradox Interactive’s latest title once again allows players to take charge of a nation and history itself with Europa Universalis 4. Released following the success of Crusader Kings 2, which put players at the head of a European dynasty in the high Middle Ages, EU4 spans a large time period from 1444 to 1820 in which the player can guide their chosen nation on many paths. Unlike games such as Civilization where players build their empire from scratch, in EU4 players are presented with a variety of historical starting scenarios mirroring the political situation of the world at that time. Players who pre-ordered the game receive a converter plugin, which can take a game from Crusader Kings 2 into EU4, allowing the player to continue their path to world domination.
The character driven gameplay of CK2 is gone from EU4. Instead of worrying about lines of succession and whether a ruler will have bad or good traits, the gameplay now focuses on the diplomatic interactions of the world’s nations. Notice the emphasis on “the world’s nations,” here. Where CK2 was limited to Europe and parts of Africa and Arabia, EUIV opens up the entire rest of the world. While most aspects of the gameplay are carried over from previous EU titles, the trading and technology mechanics have been revamped.
Based on the stats of their nation’s ruler, players generate points in three categories: administration, diplomacy and military. These points are spent on various tasks such as increasing stability in the country, hiring generals, in random events and most importantly in researching new technology. Players now can manipulate the flow of trade across nodes on a static map, directing the flow away from nodes in other nations towards their own nodes and protecting the trade routes with ships.
One mechanic that may trip up newer players is how wars are declared. A country can’t just declare war to beat up and conquer their neighbor. Well, they can, doing so will just breed distrust and hostility from other nations. To declare war without invoking penalties a nation must have what the game calls a Casus Belli, some claim or righteous cause for war that is just in the eyes of other nations. These vary from having claims on provinces held by another nation, exploiting a disputed succession in a monarchy, holy wars and conquering natives across the sea. The overexpansion penalty for holding provinces that aren’t considered a core part of your nation helps keep crazy conquering under control, but it is still perfectly feasible to take over large swaths of the map through patience and careful decision making.
The game tries its best to emulate history, but the actions of the AI and player both will inevitably cause it to jump off the tracks. Britain may colonize North America and see the formation of an independent U.S., or perhaps they’ll crush the rebellion. The U.S.A. might form from Swedish colonies, while England is busy being taken over by Scotland. The Ottomans might be fought back and ousted from Roman lands, seeing the rise of a new Byzantine Empire. History is open for the player to follow or totally disregard.
The modding scene of EU4 is already looking to be a lively creature, with several popular EU3 mods on the table to be ported to the newest title. The game encourages modding with easy to alter files and a built-in system for handling multiple mods, which allows players to pick which mod files to place into play at the game’s startup. Mods can be simply balance tweaks, add in new nations or historical scenarios, change the game’s existing mechanics and even add fantastic elements like the lost island of Atlantis or an invasion of the dragon-riding Targaryen family from Game of Thrones.
With a sweeping orchestral soundtrack, a core of solid grand strategy gameplay and mechanics and a great modding scene, Europa Universalis turns history into a wide-open sandbox for players to dig around in and build forts all over. While there is a bit of a learning curve, the in-game tutorial and hints system does a great deal to explain the many mechanics and community produced tutorials and Let’s Plays explore them in even more depth. After a little instruction, new players who found themselves up a creek without a paddle at first will soon be charging across the Atlantic to colonize some new territory in no time.