Europa Universalis IV: The Kotaku Review

Europa Universalis IV: The Kotaku Review
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At the height of its powers in the early 18th century, the British Empire spanned all corners of the globe, from Brazil to Alaska, Austria to Manchuria, and… wait, what?

OK, so in actual history, it did no such thing, but in my history, the history of a nation I led through 400 years of expansion, conflict and religious turmoil, that’s how it all went down. And it’s that freedom, that historical sandbox, that makes Europa Universalis IV so damn good.

EUIV is Paradox’s first major grand strategy release since last year’s Crusader Kings II, a game I liked so much that I nominated it for our 2012 Game of the Year.

The aim of the game is to choose a nation and guide it through the end of the Middle Ages, through to the Renaissance and on to the early days of the Industrial Revolution. You’re in charge of almost everything to do with the running of that nation, from trade to the economy, research to government, diplomacy to warfare. You’re even in charge of colonial expansion and the church.

If that sounds like a lot to keep tabs on, or for one game to even attempt, it is. I’m not going to lie to you: this game is not for everyone. When I fell in love with CKII last year, I urged people to try it out, because its insane depth and intimidating user interface were worth learning thanks to the soap operas playing out via the game’s character system.

That system doesn’t exist here, because this isn’t a Crusader Kings game. This is a Europa Universalis game, which trades character for added strategic depth. What this means is that, at least initially, there are more buttons, more menus, more numerical values and more sliders than you’ll know what to do with. It also means stuff like character portraits, complex character relationships, dwarves and hunchbacks are out. If you’re coming to the series from CKII, you’ll be shocked at how much more data there is to keep track of.

If you’re coming in raw, having never played one of these types of games before, well, God help you.

There is a wonderful strategy game under all these buttons, I promise you. Playing out in real-time, and with a wealth of options and possibilities at your fingertips (Convert religions! Blockade ports! Trade…slaves….), once you get your head around how it all works, you really will feel like you’re at the head of an emerging global powerhouse (or, if you’d like, a minor backwater just fighting to stay alive).

What’s more, because there are so many states in play – the game’s focused on Europe, but you can play as anyone, from the Aztecs to African nations to Chinese dynasties – and because it spans such a length of time, EUIV is able to tell the most amazing stories, as nations clash and empires fall, each game playing out as a different experience and telling an all-new series of tales.

I’m still not sure whether I like the game’s approach to history. On the one hand, you’re given so much freedom. You can repel Western incursions into the Americas, or propel Japan across the Pacific centuries before Pearl Harbour. Yet the history books are always nipping at your heels, introducing important, game-changing events at their historically-accurate points in time. It’s annoying to have a perfectly-run and harmonious empire start to crumble because of religious upheaval that’s creeping in beyond the player’s control, as I found in both my main playthroughs as England and Japan.

It’s a shame that only the patient and persevering will ever get to experience just how grand a strategy game this really is. Paradox have slowly been making improvements to the accessibility of their games, to the point where EUIV comes with some mini-campaigns designed to show you the basics, but it’s still not enough. The amount of menus to track and buttons to click will terrify newcomers, and explanations as to how even many fundamental tenets are usually too brief to adequately explain what’s going on, leaving the community to once again step up and help introduce prospective rulers to the game’s nuances.

I’ll say it again, though: no matter how tough it is getting past the game’s confronting first hours, it’s worth it. Few games let you rule like EUIV does, and few let you rule in a world so vast in scale, so open to players writing their own histories and shaping the globe.

I guess the best way of describing the game is this: if you like Total War and/or Civilisation, and you’re willing to trade those game’s character and visual flair for something with more meat, this is the game for you. Just make sure you find some good YouTube tutorial videos before you start.

Note: Yes, this is a ridiculously detailed game, with complex mechanics. If veterans or specifically curious newcomers have more specific questions, drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!


  • My EU4 experience so far has been good, great even, but not perfect. It frequently crashes, especially when I try to save to the cloud, and yes, many of it’s mechanics are left unexplained- often to my detriment. The mechanics behind trade is still a bit of a mystery to me and I only just discovered how to influence Papal elections. (Damn you Spain! stealing my cardinals just weeks before the election! Paradox: please put in a notice for when someone outvotes one of your cardinals, or when a papal election is coming up so you can check yourself!)
    Besides that, I’ve sunk nearly 30 hours into this game and I’ve had it maybe a couple of days. Not a week yet. It’s so addicitve.
    Oh! and as france, my religious wars did die out eventually, you just have to weather the storm. Don’t be afraid to suppress rebellions with military points fuelled crack downs and be careful of expanding at the same time this is happening. At a certain point, the reblleions will die out, after a few decades, the game gifts you a couple of stability points and you move on with the game- often more powerful than before. I think this mechanic is used to balance out larger empires early game so they don’t just blob everything.

  • I picked up Crusader Kings 2 in the last Steam Sale and as much as I want to play it, the tutorial in that is just broken in that it won’t let you past a certain point. People say just jump in and you’ll pick it up over a few playthroughs, but they definitely need to make an effort with accessibility. I’m going to try again soon though to get into it and maybe pick up EU IV at some point as it does look like the game I want to play, but atm I don’t have the time to spend simply learning how to play a game

    • I couldn’t get past king/kingdom selection before running away screaming and loathing myself for my cowardice.

    • I got the game last Steam sale as well, purely to try the Game Of Thrones mod. After trying to use the tutorials to learn how to play first, I got a tip that watching some Lets Play’s helps. I’d recommend that.

  • So this is more in the vein of Civ than it is Total War, I assume? That is, there is no real-time battles?

    • Its the campaign map of a Total War game. In real time. With less indepth military but with far more depth in trade, religion and tech. With ~170 playable nations.

      • Hrmm.. everything that gets described sounds like a real-time version of Civ5.. I guess I’ll just have see if I can get a demo or something and try it out for myself..

  • I love Paradox Interactive. I braved the precipitous learning curve for Hearts of Iron II, woah! I picked up HoI III in a Steam sale. Every time I loaded up the game’s tutorial it would crash. I jumped on the forums where a PI staff member posted: “Yes, we know the tutorial is broken, and, no, we don’t plan to fix it any time soon, because, if you need a tutorial YOU’RE NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH!! It’s nice to hear they’re becoming a little more user-friendly. The next time I have a year free I might try EUIV.

  • I’ve sunk around 40 hours into it already. Its an excellent game; I’m really enjoying it!

    The new mechanics are pretty good. I really like the removal of infamy; the new system makes more sense. Monarch Points are quite interesting, I was particularly screwed in my Aragon game; Castile and France who were way ahead in tech merely because they consistently got better kings. Likewise with the 5/5/6 you start with if you play Ottomans… yeah, its real easy.

    I quite like the new map though ( i seem to be in a minority) .

    I think its probably a good entry point to a grand strategy game. I get the tutorial is probably not the best though.

  • I’ve played a lot of Hearts of Iron I and II and Arsenal of Democracy. I tried HoI3, but couldn’t get into it, been meaning to try it again.
    Is EU IV closer to HoI II or III?

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