Published on August 26th, 2013 | by Tony Odett4
Europa Universalis IV Review
Summary: This is Paradox's best game yet; a must-play strategy game.
My dad used a series of spreadsheets, a bunch of historical data, and a book called Numbers, Predictions & War to develop a mathematical simulation of the entirety of World War II. There were no pretty maps or graphics, and certainly no facile interface: this was a maze of statistical simulation, and his impressive dedication was fueled, not by tactility and visual grace, but by love of the era and the authenticity of his design. This has long since been the role played by the historical strategy gaming genre at large: dense, complex algorithm in the search for historic fact. It’s no wonder the genre has been so difficult to penetrate for so many users. Civilization is one of the more understandable efforts, thus making it more mainstream, but even that series sacrifices much history in terms of playability. Paradox, with their long running series of grand strategy games, has struggled with this balance, endeavoring to discover a method to allow users to penetrate a complex model, reflecting historical circumstances accurately while making their games easy to understand and play. Last year’s fine effort, Crusader King 2, finally laid the foundations for an effort that balances historicity and gameplay in excellent fashion. Those lessons are built upon with what is truly Paradox Development Studio’s crowning achievement: Europa Universalis IV.
Europa Universalis IV is a nation-simulator that puts you in charge of any country in the world you would like to run on any date you choose, from 1444 up until the game’s end in 1820. Over the course of decades, you’ll guide your nation, building armies, negotiating diplomatic agreements, organize your trade, manage your administration and research, and hopefully guide your nation to a future of prosperity and glory. This is a game that is massive in scope, and as you can probably imagine, incredibly detailed. However, Paradox has mastered the tricks of the trade in the years of developing strategy games, offering an effort here that is both supremely detailed, but also easy to play and pleasing to the eye.
If you’ve ever played another Paradox game, the first thing you’ll notice upon booting up EU IV is how attractive it is. In my most serious playthrough, I chose Muskovy, and even the Russian steppes were painted in spectacular fashion. Armies cast shadows as their armor glints in the sunshine, and ships sail across the seas as birds fly overhead. It’s nice that a game that expects me to spend hours staring at its maps has put in such effort to look good. Unfortunately, you’ll spend a bit of time on some different map types which, being more functional, lack the same graphical pop in terms of minute detail (focusing more on starkly portraying information).
In order to increase playability, a lot of features that were previously abstracted with points or systems in previous game have been personified. This is much easier to understand, and also adds a lot of historical flavor. When Russia needed to increase its relations with Denmark, I sent my diplomat. I sent a trader to the Black Sea to increase my trade there. Catholics in Narva? In went my missionary. When missions were completed, I had to wait for my aide to return before sending them on their next mission. It just feels a lot more real than waiting for my country to generate another diplomat point like I would in EU III. When Muscovy couldn’t declare war on Novgorod, it was because I had sent all my diplomats to other countries. Poor planning on my part.
If I had to point to any game changing upgrade to the game over previous versions, it would have to be the importance it places upon your nation’s ruler. In the other games in the series, while the ruler had an effect, I still felt I could largely achieve whatever I wanted no matter who was in charge of my country. In EU IV, it affected my decision making in many significant ways. Rulers are rated according to diplomacy, administration, and military, and they generate points in each of these areas. Actions in the game, like constructing buildings, negotiating peace settlements, and recruiting generals, spend these points. Muskovy, under my leadership, had a glut of rulers with high military and diplomatic rating, but who were rated zero in administration. This meant that while I could recruit all the generals I needed, research military and diplomatic technology, my country’s administrative technology and stability lagged behind. The game became a balancing act between the abilities of my ruler, the strengths of my nation, and the circumstances of the age. It feels right in every way.
I’d be at a loss if I didn’t mention the upgrades to the combat model. In previous games, numbers seemed to be the decisive factor in all things. However, technology, general ability and now frontage apply key position in the battle. Frontage is the number of units an army can use effectively in a battle, as determined by a combination of technology and terrain. Finally, unit caps prevent a country from simply building a massive army and conquering all comers. The alterations to the model make battles seem more realistic. Additionally, they’ve eliminated the ping-pong actions that used to typify the actions of defeated armies. An army that loses a battle in friendly territory will withdraw until it gets to a safe place. A loss in enemy territory, however, will result only in retreat into an adjacent territory. A force with zero morale that is engaged will immediately surrender, making an offensive deep into enemy territory extremely risky (as was historically). In previous games, I’d direct my offensive at the enemy capital and ignore most of their other territory. Now, such an attack would risk the existence of my entire army. In a way with Sweden, I couldn’t march straight on Stockholm, resulting in bitter border conflict. Marching deep into enemy lands risks following the historical examples of Charles XII and Napoleon in Russia. Not something I’d like to emulate.
If you’re still on the fence due to the game’s complexity, it also includes a comprehensive tutorial. Yet, if you’re like me, you’ve forgotten half of the tutorial as soon as it’s over. EU IV includes a hint system that guides you along as you play (unless you turn it off, of course). Answers to questions are easily accessible without a manual and without ever having to leave the game. It’s an excellent improvement to the interface design and really shows a commitment to trying to get new players into the series.
I can’t recommend Europa Universalis IV enough. As a history experience, as a leadership simulation, and as just a damn good time, EU IV is a fantastic effort worth a playthrough by any serious gamer. The effort to make a game that is both complex and accessible without sacrificing historicity makes this one of the finest strategy games ever produced.
This review was conducted using code provided by the publisher. Questions about our review policy, please check here.