Published on June 5th, 2015 | by Tony Odett0
Europa Universalis IV: El Dorado Review
Summary: EU4 continues to get better and better, adding new gameplay mechanics to really justify playing as a non-European nation, as well as adding a robust nation builder into the game.
Spear in the Heart
It’s confession time: I nearly always play Europa Universalis as a European state. It’s hard not to. The era the game covers gives the European states a huge advantage. Europe is the only place to find a country that can wage war on a global scale, colonize lands across the world, and enjoy (endure) the religious/social events that I find supremely compelling. There have been a number of expansions in the history of the series that attempted to redress, by providing additional gameplay options for Japan, China and other lands. Yet, the game system is fundamentally designed to showcase colonization and European-style warfare, and without significant changes, playing this non-European powers always felt like you were playing a lesser form of the game.
This is why I’m happy to report that the new El Dorado expansion to Europa Universalis 4 made the alterations necessary to provide a compelling (and frankly, frantic) experience as a state in the New World. It’s not all sunshine, as there were some unfortunate problems that made me rub my eyes with disbelief. But the combination of the new gameplay with a fully equipped nation-builder makes this a compelling purchase for the EU veteran looking to play the game in a different way.
I began my playthrough as the Aztecs, and noticed first that I was not the large empire I was expecting, but one of a large number of Central American states. The large number of states and the peculiar conditions under which they operated quickly lead me into a number of wars. These Central American states, you see, operated under the constant threat of their religious beliefs, represented in the game as the Doom counter. Doom would steadily increase, resulting in civil discord, and when it got to too high a point, my leader would be sacrificed in order to appease the God, and prevent the end of the world. In order to keep Doom low, I was forced to fight Flower Wars. These are conflicts where the purpose is to take captives to sacrifice, preserving my own life and subjecting the defeated nation to vassal status. At any time, if my Doom was too high, I could sacrifice the leader of my vassal, losing the vassal status, but keeping my head firmly on my shoulders.
The Doom mechanic provided a different feel to the game. Previously, I fought wars in EU4 only because I wanted to expand, or because my neighbor did. Now, I was forced to out of religious necessity (self preservation fits in there, too, somewhere…). Constantly shifting coalitions of states resulted in swirling conflicts, and the need for a supply of victims meant that any of today’s allies would probably be tomorrow’s victim on the pyramid altar. Backing this system up was a steady stream of unique events, reflecting Aztec civilization and history, and forcing me to react to a number of different pressures. And all occurred against the ticking clock, as I knew the longer the game progressed, the closer I got to the arrival of the Conquistadors.
The sprites representing the Aztec armed forces looked fantastic, and absent horses and gunpowder, were confined solely to infantry. This made it a little disappointing when I besieged my first enemy capital, and discovered that the Aztec empires used the same siege sprite that the European powers did. And it involved, sadly, a cannon. All the ingame messages had a distinctly European feel, as my Marshal was still out reporting things. The expansion had so many other little touches to make it feel unique. I was sad that these other things were left out.
The expansion also includes a fully-featured nation builder. EU4 has always been heavily modable, but for those of us without that particular skill set, this is the opportunity to play the game however we want. You’re able to select a capital, territories, ruler, national ideas, and culture- basically building any nation you want anywhere in the world. So, if I want, say, the Kingdom of Tonaria headquartered in Manhattan, well, now is my chance. It’s a really nice option that lets you play with the sandbox of history, perhaps building a powerful global power outside of those old European standbys.
It’s hard to touch on everything in this expansion. In addition to the Maya, Inca and Aztecs finally getting their due, there are massive changes to conquistadors and New World interaction. There are now gold fleets and pirate hunters. And the expansion includes sweep updates to the map on a global scale, from the New World, to India and Africa. El Dorado is a welcome update which, while lacking in some superfluous areas, really adds a lot of play to areas of the world forgotten by most games of similar ilk.