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Europa Universalis IV Review

A 4X strategy game from Paradox Interactive that will provide hundreds of hours of fun as you systematically expand across the world and engage in Machiavellian-tier diplomacy and politics as you manage your time, manpower, and finances. When the clock runs out will you hold the worlds in your hand or will you be another footnote in history?

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Introduction

This isn't Paradox Interactive newest release, but it is by far one of their best. The year is 1444, Japan is still in the Waring States Period, Byzantium stands on the brink of destruction and England is staring down France from across the channel. Europa Universalis IV may start off paying close attention to recorded history but the moment you hit the start button the future changes and is rewritten, with the player holding the pen. Europa Universalis IV is available for $39.99 on Steam.

Storyline 

Europa Universals IV (also known as EU 4) doesn't have much of a storyline. The point of the game is to forge your own destiny and create your own story as you (re)write history at the head of your chosen nation.

Gameplay

Customization in the game is limited, as EU 4 presents itself as an alternative history game. Before the start of the game you can choose a nation that existed at the time of the games starting year anywhere in the world, but for new players, it is generally advised to pick one of the recommended nations listed in the starting menu. These most beginner-friendly nations are Portugal, Castille, The Ottoman Empire, and France but of course, you can play any nation represented on the map, you just have to click on it and hit start.

Ducats are your primary resource, right next to manpower. A little nation like Serbia will start off in a considerably weaker position with less manpower and less disposable income than the peaceful and non-threatening Ottoman Empire to the immediate south. You need both manpower and Ducats in order to recruit soldiers of any kind, and certain provinces in your empire will be more valuable for producing each of these invaluable resources to fuel your dreams of global conquest.

Europa Universalis IV Review starting menu 1444
Technological development in EU 4 is fueled by a separate set of resources, known as Monarch Points. These points are developed by, surprise surprise, your nations monarch. Or whatever kind of leader you have in accordance with your government type. There's Administrative Technology, Diplomatic Technology, and Military Technology. This is where nations that fall on the Western European tech group have a natural advantage over the rest of the world, as the game has a historical leaning, so historically successful nations will inevitably come out on top unless the player takes action or sets up the game to remove the bonuses given to "Lucky Nations" , or re-distribute them to 10 random nations. Apart from the tech group, good leaders are essential in EU 4 in both the military and in administration. From personal experience, I can tell you that losing a good leader can end your game before its even began. Leaders help generate Monarch Points, one of the most important resources in the game which are tied heavily into technological development.

Monarch Points are spent not just on technological development, but on boosting faction influence, developing a province, reducing stability, increasing stability and a host of other actions meaning that you must watch these points carefully to ensure you don't get left behind by your rivals. You can hire advisors for Ducats in order to raise the number of monarch points generated each month, and different societies and government types can generate monarch points in different ways. Steppe hordes can generate it by razing provinces, for example. You can't buy them or farm them, they come from your leaders and a certain number is generated every month, with specific factors hurting you. For example, having too many diplomatic relations can decrease the amount of Monarch Points you gain in the diplomacy section.

Europa Universalis IV Institutions
Not really the ideal situation, as diplomacy in EU 4 is one of the central pillars of the game. As the game presents itself as a 4x strategy game with a heavy dose of historical elements, I would be upset if it wasn't. Naturally, it is going to be a bit more in-depth than the standard 4x game. Fortunately, Paradox has ensured that you don't get too lost in the options. Sending one of your diplomats to a nation can improve relations, from which you can establish royal marriages (assuming your government type permits), alliances and trade agreements, begin covert operations in order to launch a war, and establish rivalries. In order to start a war, you usually need a fabricated claim on one of your enemies provinces or else you will take a massive hit to your stability, which affects everything from the national tax to manpower reserves.

You do not control your soldiers directly as they fight. Combat in EU 4 is carried out mostly on land. There is naval combat, but to loose the land battle is to lose the war. The combat system isn't entirely obvious and can only be seen through the combat interface when you're fighting in a war or battle. Combat isn't really a dice system, but a sort of simulation that takes into account factors like terrain, penalties for crossing rivers and amphibious assaults on coastal and island cities. Of course, the military technological level is also important, as a nation with a military tech level of 6 will lose to one with a level of 20, no matter how many soldiers that level 6 has.

Europa Universalis IV Review after battle report
Now, Europa Universalis IV is a bit of an older game. Released back in August of 2013 it has had a lot of time to improve and to sort out its major flaws and bugs. But Paradox has also had quite a lot of time to sort out the bugs and issues in the AI, making it genuinely challenging. The AI in this game is no slouch and will delightfully go about spoiling your carefully orchestrated plans at a moments notice. The AI is very well developed and utterly merciless, which will likely turn off a lot of the newer players without experience. You have to adapt and be able to think on your feet as the web of alliances and deals constantly shifts and changes between AI nations. For example in one of my more recent games I played as the nation of Aragon, a Mediterranean powerhouse that owns parts of Sicily and the lower half of Italy. One year, I was the best of friends with France and then less than a decade later after a few treaties and improving relations with Milan and Savoy (whom France was not keen on being friendly with) they were besieging my capital and looting my provinces.

But I love the mercilessness, the challenge that comes with it. Europa Universalis IV is on the higher end of the 4x genre and requires a good deal of planning and attention to detail (and it also doesn't hurt to have an interest in history, and alternative history) and maybe just a bit of a masochist streak. This is a strategy game that actually requires strategy and nothing is more rewarding than watching everything fall into place just as you planned it.  

Now besides war and diplomacy, trade is another central pillar of the game. Each province generates a resource, gold or fur or wheat or fish, you get the picture. The value of these goods being produced goes straight to the nearest trade node. Trade nodes are where you send your merchants to collect money or transfer trade power. There's also an action for nations to ask other nations to transfer trade power to them, a higher mercantilism score can even have the effect of increasing your overseas colonies to desire independence. Trade nodes are spread across the world and connect to form a global network. Each node hosts the trading activity of a group of provinces near one another. Money in this network can flow between nodes, but the connections between nodes are fixed and cannot be altered during the course of the game.

Europa Universalis IV trade nodes
Technological Institutions are one of the newest additions to EU 4. These will affect your technology research. There are seven different institutions that appear over the game as of now, and if you don’t get them to spread into your country and then get embraced by your government, your technology costs will slowly rise. In the beginning, it's not too big of an issue early on but as the game goes on this will start to hurt. Badly. When an institution has spread to at least 10% of your nation, you can embrace it in your government, removing the penalty permanently, and also giving a bonus to your nation. The cost to embrace depends on the amount of development in your nation without the institution. All institutions spread over borders (including 1 season away) if relations are positive, and the spread is based on development in the province getting it.

In truth, this is just a scratch on the surface. Europa Universalis IV has mechanics to control religion, population unrest, culture, and exploration. There are different types of governments, from Merchant Republics with democratic elections to tribal confederations, each with their own modifiers and bonuses. You start with only your region of the world known, the rest of it covered by a blank map with no way of seeing what's over there besides good old fashion exploration or by sitting and learning what other nations are finding as news filters throughout the world. I can't think of many games that go into such depth like EU 4 does, and you never feel like you're drowning in information.

Controls

The controls in EU 4 are not at all difficult once you've had the time to sort through them for a few minutes. It's a keyboard and mouse kind of game, and the controls are very responsive now that they've had some years to be polished. Smooth and easy, the controls are perfect. It's the sheer abundance of menus that you'll be sifting through that initially will cause concern, not the actual controls of the game.

Graphics & MUSIC

The graphics in Europa Universalis IV are lacking the beauty and aesthetics of Stellaris but have their own appeal. The graphics are solid and deliberately remind one of a map made in the time period the game takes place in, perfect for planning and charting your chosen peoples path forward. But if you don't like the graphics, there're absolutely no judgments from me because one thing about Paradox is that they have taken great care to nurture and assist their community of dedicated fan-mods. If you don't like the vanilla graphics, there are plenty of fan-made improvements to help you fully customize your game, all you have to do is look on the Steam Workshop page and find the ones you want.

If I had to pick an area where EU 4 didn't excel or meet its full potential, I would have to say it's the soundtrack. It just seems somewhat repetitive and general, perfectly fitting with the time the game takes place in. But the war tracks don't seem to convey any sense of urgency or convey the atmosphere of a nation in the midst of a war. It is very casual and while at first, I loved it after a few hours I found myself turning down the music volume in the setting options.

Summary

Europa Universalis IV is a perfect 10. Perfectly polished, minimal flaws which come down to personal preference at the end of the day. And an engaging strategy game that requires actual strategy in order to be successful, not just blobing out with your legions of uber-upgraded soldiers. There's a steady stream of DLC and improvements, meaning the game is always changing and growing and on a Friday night, it's not uncommon to find a multiplayer lobby with upwards of 15 to 20 people jostling for territory and making deals to carve up other nations in the pre-game loading menu. Is the game for everyone? No, absolutely not I don't think there's such a thing as a game with universal appeal but in the 4X genre Paradox has carved out a reputation as being able to deliver top quality strategy games and Europa Universalis IV is the go-to example to prove that.

ProsCons
 + Wonderfully polished – A bit of a learning curve at first
 + Challenging AI requires the player to think – Music is meh, not really inspiring but not at all bad.
 + Constantly being updated with content expansions 
 + Great for gamers who like alternative history
 + Great for gamers who like strategy
 + Gameplay is not repetitive  
10
Perfect

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