If you like historical strategy games and you haven’t played Europa Universalis IV, you’re missing out.
The scope of PC-based grand strategy games is huge – from their roots in the mid-1990s, the games have developed to become all-encompassing behemoths that allow players to control every aspect of a nations development and fortunes.
The current foremost developer in the genre is undoubtedly Paradox Interactive, and Europa Universalis IV (EU4) is their latest and greatest title. Since being released in August 2013 the game has received widespread praise from critics and gamers alike, which is reflected in its Metacritic score of 87, Gamespot score of 90, and IGN score of 89.
It is the fifth edition in the Europa Universalis series and is designed around a modified version of Crusader Kings II’s graphics engine, making it the most attractive game that Paradox has developed to date. There is an impressive level of detail across the whole map, with the world’s giant mountain ranges, sprawling rainforests, and vast plateaus all faithfully recreated – it looks great regardless of whether you are zoomed all the way in to the minute detail, or zoomed out to a regional or global view.
EU4 focuses on the time period between 1444 and 1821 – chosen as the years of Ottoman Turks’ victory in the Battle of Varna and the year of Napoleon’s death respectively. The four centuries in-between cover the era of European expansion into the New World, giving gamers the choice of hundreds of playable nations, from mighty colonial powers to small African tribes, and from roaming Asian hordes to New World civilizations.
Players are free to choose their own path through the game. With skilled use of military alliances, trade partnerships, royal weddings, and technological advancements, the game allows any number of historical scenarios to unfurl. Whether you want to faithfully recreate the British and Spanish global conquests using naval power, make the Mayans rule South America through religious unity, or turn the Indonesians into a world power through careful diplomacy, it is all possible.
Trade forms a key part of the game, as it should in any quality grand strategy title. In EU4 it is based around the concept of ‘trade nodes’ which nations compete for control over. Players use merchants to either collect the trade for a given node, or forward to a node over which they have more control.
Alliances form another key part of gameplay. Whilst the powers of Western Europe have the strength and wealth to steamroller everything in their path, other nations and territories are required to take a more nuanced approach. You need to choose your friends carefully, an alliance with a powerful nation can help protect you from threats, but also leave you open to attack from your ally’s sworn enemies. You have been warned!
Expansion of your territory happens in many ways. Alongside the obvious military conquest, players can take new lands and vassalizing weaker nations, inheriting lands through royal marriage, or colonising new provinces that are as yet unclaimed by any nation. Balancing the different methods is a challenge – too many forced annexations through military power will cause your neighbours to become unhappy at your perceived aggressive expansion, and potentially form a coalition against you. On the other hand, never taking your forces into battle will result in your army and navy losing its tradition and being less effective when they are needed for defensive purposes.
The tech tree has been overhauled from Europa Universalis III. Your nation is still allocated a tech group that is correspondent with its geographical region, but advancement through the system is now based on amassing diplomatic, military, and administration points from in-game events and actions. In addition to the 3 categories, each nation also has the choice of eight ‘ideas groups’ – these are highly specialized technologies which enable your state to excel in the areas which you plan to take it. They include religious, innovative, and plutocratic concepts.
Multiplayer forms another important component of the enjoyment of EU4. The developer recommends not having more than 12 players on an Internet-based game, though 32 players are supported on a LAN. The game provides both ‘hot-joining’ and ‘takeover’, meaning you can join a game that’s already in progress, or leave a game without disrupting the other players.
For those that already own one of Paradox’s other games, one of the most intriguing aspects of the game is the ability to convert your saves and load them into the other titles.
Theoretically, this means you start a new game during the Middle Ages in Crusader Kings II, and take your nation right through to 1948 via EU4, Victoria II and Hearts of Iron III – encompassing colonial expansion, the industrial revolution and World War II along the way.
Expansions, Mods and Community
Paradox Interactive are known for regularly releasing expansion packs for all their titles, and have already released the ‘Conquest of Paradise’ add-on, which introduces new events, ideas and buildings for the New World civilizations. Their second expansion, titled ‘is scheduled for release in the coming months, and is expected to build upon the trading aspect of the game.
A thriving modding community exists – a visit to the EU4 Wiki page will guide you through the main choices. Options include everything from tweaking the gameplay and altering the trade routes to reintroducing the Roman Empire and changing the start year.
Reddit also has a large Europa Universalis community, which has discussions on everything from after action reports to tips and advice.
Finally, for those new to the game, the YouTube series of videos by Arumba07 is a popular 39-part guide to all the facets of the game.
System Requirements and Availability
The game has Windows, Mac and Linux editions, and requires at least 2GB of RAM. It is available for purchase on Steam for $39.99, as are the expansion packs and other downloadable content.
The game has taken the grand strategy genre and moved it into a new era, leaving behind the old indie classics. If you have played and enjoyed anything from the Civilization or Age of Empires series you are certain to love this game (incidentally, we covered ways you can play Civ for free, and an open source version of is AoE as well).
If you do heed my advice and buy the game, ensure that you stock up on frozen pizzas beforehand – Europa Universalis IV is highly addictive and is unquestionably the finest game of its genre that is available today.