Before we start, I would like to apologize for the review being late. I’ve had some issues in real life, the one most affecting my writing capability being a crippling case of repetitive strain injury that all but stopped me from being able to use a keyboard effectively for several weeks. So, without further ado, here is the review.
What is Europa Universalis IV?
Europa Universalis IV, or EU4 in shorthand, is a grand strategy game. While it might not call itself one, it most certainly is a 4X game, though it has shifted Exterminate to first in the order of Xs. EU4 starts in 1444 and things are starting to pick up steam in Western Europe. The Hundred Years’ War rages on between France and England, Spain is completing the Reconquista and Portugal is off exploring for new trade lanes. In Eastern Europe, other things are changing, too. The once mighty Byzantine Empire is now just a spark in what used to be a bonfire, the writing is on the wall for all to see now. Poland will soon be leading a personal union with Lithuania, both powerhouses. A little further east, and Muscovy is starting to unite the Russian people. But in Central Europe, the Holy Roman Empire is wracked by internal conflict.
A good thing about Europa Universalis 4, however, is that you can import a finished save from Crusader Kings 2 into EU4 and it will use it to generate Europe. If, for example, you used the Legacy of Rome DLC in Crusader Kings 2, played Byzantium and stopped the fall of their empire and indeed, reversed it and brought it to new heights of glory, you could declare the Roman Empire again. In Europa Universalis 4, the empire would be carried over with a new set of national ideas available. Even your ruling dynasty name would be carried over. This is definitely a great feature, but I wish that it went forward, too. The game ends in 1821, ten years or so short of the start date in Victoria 2. While the dream of marching a country from the Medieval to the Industrial ages might not yet be here, we could potentially see something like that rather soon. Being able to cover a thousand years of history, or indeed even more, would be a wonder of gaming in my opinion.
Europa Universalis IV is a complex game, but don’t take that to mean that it’s hard to play! The game has several tutorials and a tutorial campaign, perfect for teaching you the ropes. But if you have ever played Europa Universalis III, you are already capable of playing Europa Universalis IV at a decent level. Though the game may well catch new players off guard with its depth, it has hints and tooltips available for you to see and the large online community has written plenty of guides and you can read through one of the many, many After Action Reports, or AAR for short.
Now it might be personal taste, but I love AARs, and you can learn things from them. They allow the player to show the story of their nation, no matter how humble its beginning. They even help the developers track down and deal with the occasional bug that managed to evade the team when making the game, and some call AARs the worlds longest bug report. Now, let’s begin properly, for I am sure that no one wants to read me rambling on and on about AARs and the like for the rest of eternity.
The First X : Exterminate.
For some die hard 4X loyalists, having exterminate being the first X amounts to piling a heresy on top of another heresy, but it’s the only X that is truly practical at the beginning of the game, at least, if you are playing a European nation, anyway. There is an entire globe out there to play, with vast amounts of nations, some of which may be born, like Great Britain or the USA, others may die, like the Byzantine Empire, or Venice.
Destroying your enemies for looking at you funny may be common in normal 4X games, but in a grand strategy game like Europa Universalis IV, you need a reason for war, a casus belli. Missions can give you some, for instance, the English get the mission to vassalize the Scottish, thus giving them a valid cause for war. But these missions are less missions and merely guidelines. In one of my games as England, for instance, I chose the mission to vassalize the Scots, then annexed France, crippled Spain and pillaged the Aztecs. A busy decade for my armies to say the least. You don’t need a mission to get a cause for war, though. You can get them from actions of another nation. For instance, if they insult you, that is a valid cause for war, at least, a small war. Starting a war to defend your honor and starting a war to seize territory are in a different scale from one another altogether and seizing provinces during a defensive war can be a bad idea as it causes aggressive expansions penalty and potentially overextension, but we’ll talk about that later.
Mechanically, combat is fairly simple. For those wanting manual control of your troops on the field of battle like in Total War, you will be disappointed, for Europa Universalis IV doesn’t have a manually controlled battle system and for good reason, in my opinion. Having potentially, in the late game, hundreds of battles occurring simultaneously involving hundreds of thousands of men across the globe would get tedious after a while I believe.
There are three different categories of land units. Infantry, the bread and butter of your army and will take the most casualties. They will make up the majority of your army and will typically be where your army draws a lot of its strength from. Next are the cavalry, which will be fairly small when it comes to numbers but can provide a decisive edge by morale damage; few can resist a good cavalry charge and it shows. An army of pure cavalry might sound like a good idea at first, but it’s in fact actually a bad idea. Cavalry doesn’t have the staying power needed to be on their own and they take a penalty if they don’t have adequate infantry support. Finally, you have artillery. This will usually start appearing in the 1500s and it is very important.
You see, in a battle, your army’s combat width is limited by the terrain. Flat ground, for instance, provides more combat width than fighting in mountains. Combat width is how many units can actually fight in a battle at once. Think of the film 300, for instance. While the Persian army had massive numbers, they couldn’t bring them to bear because of the terrain simply was not suitable for doing so. Ingame, this lets a properly led, disciplined force resist a larger army if you are clever enough to use terrain. But this is where artillery comes in. Artillery goes onto a second line of combat width behind the front line. Here’s an example. You are Switzerland and you are fighting the Austrians in the Alps. They’ve got a much larger army of twenty thousand, a mixed force of infantry and cavalry. You, however, only have 13 thousand men, five thousand infantry, five thousand artillery and three thousand cavalry. The mountains mean both armies only have a combat width of five, so the cavalry won’t see much service, if any. But since you have artillery, you can effectively double your combat width to ten while the enemy only has five. By the end of the week, the battle is a victory for the Swiss defenders.
Your units, however, are more complex than just infantry, cavalry or artillery. They also have different combat values. There are three different combat values. Fire, Shock and Morale. Fire is the ranged combat ability of an army, so you can expect to see that on artillery, since the artillery shouldn’t be on the frontline of a battle. Infantry and late game cavalry will also have some fire value and many a battle can be decided by the fire phase of combat alone. After the Fire phase, the battle moves on to Shock, which represents a regiments melee capabilities. But then the game seems to move it back to fire. I actually looked this up online and it seems like this part of the game is bugged, which is rather unfortunate.
Naval battles are on the other hand, fairly simple. You have four types of ship. Big ships, think of galleons and the HMS Victory for this. Small ships which represent frigates, sloops and others. You also have galleys and transports. Galleys are special, they get a combat bonus in closed seas like the Mediterranean, bringing them up to scratch with big ships, just with much higher maneuverability. The fact that galleys are dirt cheap in comparison to their cousins also lets you use a large number of them. Big ships are the sovereigns of the sea and can cleave through smaller vessels quite easily, but are slow. When in a battle, their high hull size and high amounts of cannon both mean that they can take one hell of a pounding while dishing one out. Light ships are great in peace time, since they are used to patrol trade lanes which increase your trade power (I’ll talk about this later, under exploration) and also stop the occurrence of piracy. In Europe near game start, piracy is rather unheard of due to the large numbers of nations with sea access and the economy thrives due to fleets of trade ships routing trade around the map. Nations rise and fall because of wealth and trade is a damned good way to get vast amounts of cash. Overseas goods, for example, spices, porcelain and tobacco are worth quite the pretty penny in Europe.
And that brings us on to the next phase of gameplay.
Exploration, or finding The New World
Once you have the Exploration national idea you can start exploring the oceans in the quest for new unclaimed territory. After all, it’s easier to colonize unowned territory than to assault someone else and take their provinces from them. You just recruit an explorer, assign them leadership of a fleet and send them off to the strange, unknown parts of your map. It couldn’t be easier! Land armies work in the same way, except you train a conquistador instead, sending them off to go explore strange new continents and to pillage unknown civilizations.
Overtime, the discoveries will spread out and your fellow countries will learn of these distant places and usually set off to colonize them too. That doesn’t mean that the AI won’t go off on its own and explore distant lands, they will, and they’ll typically go for what they had historically. Spain, for instance will go for Central America while England will typically colonize the exact positions of the Thirteen Colonies. As the colony develops, it will discover what natural resources are available in the province. This seems to be random, but with a historical preference.
Your colonies will start generating small amounts of base tax as they develop, growing higher and higher as the number of settlers in the province increases. The money created by the colony will return back home, but you need a large fleet somewhere in your empire to increase the tariff efficiency, which is effectively how much money can be brought home from the colonies. As the colonies grow, so does the tax and so will your fleet need to grow to make optimal use of all the wealth being generated by your overseas empire.
There are also the natives in the provinces to deal with. They can either be highly aggressive and attack your colony as it grows, or they can be peaceful. You can also annihilate them by moving an army into the area and issuing the attack natives order after which, quite scarcely, the province will have zero natives. Otherwise, if the natives remain, they will be peacefully integrated into the colony once it reaches a thousand inhabitants, turning it into a fully functional component of your nation. If you leave a military presence in the province while it grows, it is usually enough to stop the natives from razing the colony to the ground, a good way to protect your interests without killing the natives.
I’ll skip over to one of my other saves, now, so you can see what a large colonial empire can really look like, as well as the scary amount of power it can give you. I must confess, I have been extraordinarily lucky in this save and I do think that I won’t ever surpass this save. But I do think it’s a good idea to show in this review what you can do given time.
As you can see, France and a good chunk of North America are both inside my nation, along with the majority of the Caribbean. I was first over to the new world and it was costly. For the first century of the existence of the empire it came close to collapse several times. Indeed, barely twenty years ago I had a titanic war between myself, Spain and Portugal. Portugal used to own Mexico, but they lost that during the war as part of my demands for peace. Of course, hundreds of thousands of people died in that war, a heavy cost that may yet still result in the downfall of my civilization if anyone else decides to look upon my empire with hungry eyes. Due to the large size of the nation, a coalition against me could probably bring me down due to the logistical challenge of shipping armies across the globe.
Indeed, the wealth of dozens of conquered nations travels across the oceans back to London and straight into my coffers, giving me a vast amount of financial strength. Where some nations wield forks of wealth I wield a sledgehammer. Decades of wealth has piled up in the coffers making me a very, very rich man indeed. But I digress, this is a review of Europa Universalis IV, not of my empire!
At first, the main target to explore is North and South America, but as the years go by and more and more of that is claimed, people will venture further and further away from Europe. India is a common goal and can end up carved up between the various European powers. The East Indies are also an important position. Not only as a bounce point to Australia and New Zealand, but also thanks to large quantities of valuable trade goods, things that could add much more wealth to your treasury, in addition to neat strategic effects from controlling large quantities of a substance.
Expansion – Painting the world your shade of red
Expansion is actually rather simple, so I’ll cover other things that could be classed under expansion. A province in your empire has a lot of character. I’ll be sticking with the second save so that I can better show some of these things. A nice little feature in the game is that you can rename provinces to whatever you want. This lets you personalize your territory quite a bit. The province itself has a culture, a religion and a history logging everything important that has happened to a province such as important people coming from there, its discoverer and so on. If a province has the same culture as you, the same religion and has a core of your nation on it, you will have no penalty for controlling that territory. But if you take a province that is a different culture, you’ll take penalties as the people living in that province won’t exactly see eye to eye with the ruling classes.
To gain new provinces, there are several ways. Conquering them from someone else, colonizing them, stealing them from someone by causing a patriot revolution which can if not suppressed cause the province to defect or flat out buying it from someone if they offer to sell the province. The AI will sell provinces they can’t utilize properly if it has little strategic worth and the AI is not interested in developing the province, or if the AI is in serious need of cash. Conquering a province, however, will give you overextension if it isn’t a core province. This is sort of both a feature to stop the player going on a never ending conquest spree and also being fairly realistic. After all, if you have conquered three times your nation’s size in territory, it would be damn hard to keep it under your control. Nations around you will see your growth as a threat to their own interests and if you eat several nations in quick succession or go from one war to the next, aggressive expansions relations penalty can become serious indeed. People don’t exactly want to affiliate themselves with someone with a bad reputation, for good reason.
If you have made enough people angry they might form a coalition against you. A coalition is a sort of alliance against a single nation that anyone who has a bone to pick can join. I’ve been on both the coalition and the target before and they shouldn’t be underestimated. One finger is weak, but a fist is strong and the same can be with nations. A coalition of weak nations to destroy a larger threat is a fairly common occurrence and the best example I can think of is the Napoleonic Wars which could class as a coalition war. The AI will definitely try to curb your power if you are too strong and they are hostile to you.
Expanding by conquering native civilizations like the Aztec can be better than trying to conquer Flanders since the aggressive expansion and overextension penalties won’t be quite as bad and trying to convert pagan provinces to your faith is a lot easier than trying to convert those of other nations. The wars can also be quite uneven depending on the technology. The natives of Central America, for instance, won’t do too well trying to fight cannons with spears. Unless you have Sunset Invasion, the nations of the New World won’t pose much of a threat against your army when you march into them. Instead, the attrition from the provinces themselves will be the real enemy.
Thankfully, you can spread your culture for a modest price of diplomatic power (I’ll talk about this in the Exploitation section) and spreading religion between provinces is easy by just using missionaries, which helps a lot if the Catholic church fractures. Notice I said if. The church breaking isn’t a guaranteed thing, instead, it can be caused by people abusing the church which will create the Protestant faith, which can again fracture into Reformed. The counter-reformation will begin for the Catholic nations to turn the church back into a respectable entity. Religious unrest and religious wars are fairly common at this point. It is also possible if you control the Holy See for you to start a crusade against heathen nations. I myself called one against the Greek for the combat benefits that being in a crusade gives you.
Also of note is the Holy Roman Empire which can really go either way ingame. Sometimes it can unify the princes together into a single coherent nation, other times it can crumble out of existence with the member states being destroyed by outside forces. Other times, it is devoured from within by a growing power. But, playing the Holy Roman Empire can be a very interesting game. There are several electors of the Empire appointed by the Emperor, and they are the only ones who can take the electorate position away from them, only with a fight. These electors choose the next emperor of the HRE, who in turn passes the Imperial Reforms which slowly bring the empire closer and closer into unification into a single entity. The Emperor must also protect the member states of the empire and keep the empire stable to be able to get enough Imperial Authority to pass those reforms.
Exploitation – Making those provinces useful since 1444!
Expanding your empire is one thing, making those new territories useful is another. A province has a resource on the tile as I mentioned earlier, but getting the most out of that resource requires the construction of manufacturies. These aren’t their Industrial Age descendants, no, but they do increase the production of the good on that tile, which in turn feeds back into your treasury. However, too much production will cause it to outpace supply, so you need to be careful to avoid building too many manufacturies. After all, you wouldn’t want to destroy the value of that good, especially if your economy depends on it. But, don’t worry, manufacturies aren’t the only thing ingame when it comes to developing provinces. You also have the other building types; government, army, navy, production, trade and fort, as well as a sprinkling of unique buildings to put in important places in your empire. Every province can build up to level four of a building line, but going past that to level six of that building line means that you need to specialize the province in that type.
Constructing provincial improvements requires cash and monarch power which is divided into three categories, administrative, diplomatic and military. Every month, you gain a few points of monarch power which are consumed in a large variety of tasks. You have a base gain of three monarch points a month, with your leader’s skills being added to the gain along with the advisors. An era of bad leadership will see little happen for the nation, potentially causing it to fall behind in technology and the like.
Speaking of technology there are three categories for tech. You have administration, which improves the economy and allows you to get better government types, diplomacy which gives better trade and improved ship designs, and military, which unlocks new combat units and improves the ones you have, as well as general improvements like higher combat width, better fort defensiveness and so on. All three unlock buildings and keeping up with the pace of modern technology is a very important thing to do. Fighting an enemy with technological superiority isn’t pleasant.
National ideas are very, very important. They create the heart and soul of your nation and are unlocked by research into the administration tech line. For an investment of monarch power depending on the category, you can get special benefits for your nation. I mentioned earlier the Exploration Idea group, which provides benefits for exploring the world, things like longer colony range, faster colony growth, better tariffs and casus belli against nations in the New World. Your also have your nation unique ideas that only you can have, they are unique to your country and will die with you if you are defeated. Most of the major nations in the world have their own unique ideas and more are coming with every patch.
Missing in that idea selection screen is the Exploration idea, since I already have that. You can have a total of eight idea groups, but none of them are exclusive to one another, though you can kind of overspecialize if you have too many ideas from one area, since for instance, military ideas take military power that could be used for military technology or recruiting a general. It can be quite the juggling act to balance province development, national ideas and research, but with practice comes perfection and that very much applies to this game in a big way. The AI is cunning to say the least.
Europa Universalis IV is most certainly a worthy successor to EU III, with many new ideas and alterations to previous ones. It is a small step for Paradox Interactive but one gigantic leap for the genre.
Visually, the game is very appealing to the eye, but unfortunately, I lack the computing power to get the game to look its best for this review, so please, take the screenshots in this review with a pinch of salt for graphical quality.
The music is top notch, but there aren’t enough tracks in my opinion. Too many times have I heard Eire play, even when I am playing a country like the Ming. Though, knowing Paradox Interactive, more music will come in expansion packs or DLC.
But, speaking of DLC, this brings me to a problem. I’m not sure where they can expand on this game. The AI is skilled, the map covers the entire globe with some areas being wasteland because they can’t be colonized till the 1800s, outside the game’s timescale. They can’t move the clock backwards, that’d bring it into Crusader Kings II’s time scale, yet they can’t move it forward since that would push it into Victoria II. I expect that Paradox will, however, make smaller expansions, bringing the clock back to 1399 like EU3 and large event chain expansion packs for nations with a large expansion on non-European nations to give them more flavor. Personally, I’d love to see a random map generator for the New World.
Space Sector score:
Chris Salt, otherwise known as CaekDaemon on Space Sector and on numerous other forums, has grown up around strategy games and has a seasonal taste in games, with genres coming and going like the weather, but a constant remains, his love of strategy games in all forms. He loves writing in all forms, reviews, books and the occasional forum game or AAR, and would love to write more reviews and previews and more for Space Sector. See all Chris’s posts here.Subscribe RSS
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