Europa Universalis IV from Paradox Interactive is the latest instalment of the grand strategy series, and adds many huge improvements to an already impressive game. I try my hand at world conquest to see if this is the game that makes kings, or the kind that makes kings turn in their graves.
The first thing that players will realize upon firing up Europa Universalis IV is just how mind-bogglingly complex it is. If you’ve played something like Civilization and found it more complex than, say, the original Greek texts of Archimedes’ Calculus books, then I’m afraid you’re going to find Europa Universalis IV the equivalent of a treatise written in Linear A, which is not to say that you should give up on the idea of playing it. Good heavens, no. Europa Universalis IV is possibly one of the deepest, most intricate games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing in a very long time indeed. Let me elucidate, shall I?
The core game is set in historical Europe, using the decline of the Byzantine Empire around 1444 AD as its backdrop. The game lets you play around in the years 1444 through 1821, a decent span of years considering that this game takes a realistic span of days to do things. You can take up any number of civilizations as a starter from the Ottomans, the Spanish, the Russians, to the Chinese, and then expand or improve as you will. In fact, you can expand across the globe as you wish, and change the way history went. You can push the Turkish empire to establish the Americas before Columbus did, for example, or lead a Chinese conquest of Britain if that’s the kind of thing that tickles your…whatever you like having tickled. The possibilities here are simply amazing, and it’s wonderful to watch events play out. I’m a particularly vindictive type of player myself, and I found myself becoming a tyrant in very short order.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m afraid that the game is not very friendly to new players at all, and even though a tutorial is provided, many of the finer points of managing an empire are left to be desired. A broader tutorial would have been nice, but you can see it in one of two ways, really: on the one hand when you finally do get the game figured out, you feel as if you’ve surmounted a heavy challenge worthy of the kings, sultans, and emperors you’re playing. On the other, it’s intimidating enough to scare casual players, cowards, and candy crushers away. The interface, for example, has a ridiculous amount of detail, and you can tweak just about any aspect of your game from your advisers, your heirs, your royal marriages, your armies’ numbers and squads, your colonies, all the way to individual military leaders, merchants, and diplomats. In many ways, it’s a typical 4X game, and in others, it’s more. Quite a large, complicated bit more. For example, I’m personally still struggling to come to grasps with several of the finer aspects of trade within the game.
The usual technology and research trees are to be found here, as well, and they are quite detailed. There isn’t enough space in your nation for ALL the trees (known as ideas in this game), so you have to be quite specific about which direction you want to take your conquests. Do you want to expand your empire by military might, for example, or by the judicious use of colonists? Would you rather be a paragon of diplomacy, or a nation known as masters of the trade routes? You can have some of it, but absolutely not all of it. On top of all this there are national missions to undertake. For example, if you decide to play as the Ottoman Empire, one of your early missions is to spread Islam to all your provinces. These missions often take a while, but they give your game so much additional flavour, depth, and character. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel more at one with the rulers you are supposedly embodying.
Beyond the game’s mesmerising, hypnotoad-esque complexity, it’s surprisingly difficult to fault. It’s the kind of game where, at around 8pm, you say to yourself, “Let me get about half an hour’s conquest down”. Half an hour later you look at the time and realise it has just gone 5am, getting light outside, and you have to be at work in 3 hours (Ed: True story, I take it?)
It is, indeed, the kind of game that makes kings. Kings, Emperors, and Sultans.
Final Score: 9 world-conquering prawns out of 10
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Platforms: PC, OS X, Linux (all via Steam)