Europa Universalis IV: The Verdict

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Europa Universalis IV

Paradox Development Studio’s Europa Universalis IV is a game about trade-offs, and it is all the better for it.

 

That’s true in two senses. First, EU4’s design represents a successful trade-off. Paradox titles often struggle to decide between being strategy games (which emphasise interesting decisions with clear results) and being simulations (which encourage detail for its own sake – exemplified by Hearts of Iron 3). But with EU4, Paradox has gotten the balance just right: while individual mechanics are clear and reasonably intuitive, together they fill the game with trade-offs. At any given point in EU4, players will have a dozen things to do – research technology, make friends, grab new provinces or consolidate existing ones – yet only limited resources. This forces choice between competing goals (Do I want to dominate the sea, or the land?) and strategies (to dominate the sea, should I invest in naval bases, or technology, or National Ideas?). Even small decisions feel weighty: when a fully developed kingdom only has six merchants, it matters where I send them.

 

Credit for this lies with the refinements Paradox has introduced to the Europa Universalis formula. New mechanics (monarch points, used as a currency for many actions) have added strategic depth. So have tweaks to existing ones – for instance, trade, rather than being separate from other systems, now involves multiple considerations: where do I send my merchants, how do I use my fleet to back them up, how do I grab land to support those fleets, and how do those land grabs affect the geopolitical situation? Old annoyances are gone: hunting down defeated armies is no longer a tiresome, click-heavy, strategy-light game of ping-pong. This is not to say EU4 is perfect. A few irritations remain – for example, rebels can be ludicrously persistent; Ironman mode, which restricts the player to a single saved game, is a great idea but could be tweaked (1); and I can think of more (2). At a design level, I would like to see the game model why Europe took the technological lead, rather than abstracting this via a European tech bonus (3).

 

Still, EU4‘s flaws are modest in the context of all that it does right: with this release, Paradox has added some of its best and most polished strategy mechanics to its traditional strength – the creation of an alternate-history generator that allows us to watch empires rise, and fall, and battle the same constraints as their real-world counterparts. The result is my favourite Paradox game since 2005’s Hearts of Iron 2, a good omen (together with last year’s Crusader Kings 2) for the studio, and a game I can recommend to lovers of historical grand strategy.

 

(1) I’d like to see ironman become a discrete option, the way Alpha Centauri and XCOM did it. Currently, if you enable ironman, you also have to enable several other difficulty options at game setup.

 

(2) For example, weaker AI armies sensibly attempt to retreat the moment you click on them… but this can produce giant Benny Hill chases. There are several workarounds, some strategic (unlocking a “forced march” ability, grabbing key enemy territory if their army won’t defend it) and some gamey (baiting the AI into attacking a smaller detachment while your main army waits nearby); nonetheless, this stands out as one of the few times when EU4 is long on clicking, short on strategy. Perhaps EU4 needs an “automatically hunt target stack” button, or perhaps it should borrow Hearts of Iron 2/3’s rule that combat begins the moment you click an adjacent province.

 

(3) If, say, technological progress for every culture came at the cost of social instability, along the lines of the current Westernisation mechanic, this could add another dimension of strategy. Do you ban the printing press and lock up astronomers, reaping short-term gain in exchange for long-term pain?

 

The basis of this review: Per Steam, I spent 70 hours in EU4, plus about another 2-3 hours in the demo. I finished one single-player ironman campaign as England/Great Britain. I have not tried multiplayer.

Series Navigation<< The World That May Have Been, a Europa Universalis IV Let’s Play – Part 5 (FINAL): Bend with the WindAyutthaya Universalis: Building an Empire in Southeast Asia >>
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