Europa Universalis 4: accessible strategy and the rise of nations

By Brenna Hillier, Saturday, 17 August 2013 15:36 GMT

Conquest isn’t for everyone, but don’t let the breathtaking scope of Europa Universalis 4 put you off; Brenna expects Crusader Kings 2 fans to find themselves at home in no time.

Tremble before the mighty empire of Sweden.

It’s difficult to talk about Europa Universalis 4 without talking about Crusader Kings 2. Both are products of Paradox Interactive’s flagship internal studio, and both are strategic games allowing players to rewrite history according to their whims – and skill. In that sense, neither game is that different from several others Paradox has produced over the last decade, but Crusader Kings 2 is a special case: it went kind of viral.

Paradox games have always sold pretty well; the PC-centric publisher supports a busy release schedule and seems to be in fine financial health. But it’s always been kind of niche; although history boffins love its catalogue, it’s not the sort of publisher whose name gets bandied about on Twitter. Or wasn’t, anyway, because Crusader Kings 2 was something of a breakout hit, setting gaming social media as much ablaze as is possible for such a hardcore game.

Europa Universalis 4 is Paradox’s very next internally-produced game and suddenly it has a whole new potential fanbase to cater for – those who first delved into grand strategy with Crusader Kings 2. The publisher has been very clever in developing a tool which allows Crusader Kings 2 fans to import their save files, so they can start their game with a world layout they themselves helped build.

They’re still pretty different games, though. Crusader Kings 2 was able to win so many hearts because it focuses on personalities – the dynasty established by the player, with individual characters taking central stage. But the Dark Ages ended, and at the start of the Renaissance the world began to change rapidly; fiefdoms, city-states and provinces began to give way to larger nations, with centralised governments. Where players took on the role of characters in Crusader Kings 2, they step into the shoes of whole nations in Europe Universalis 2.

“If for some reason Europe Universalis 4 doesn’t so as well as Crusader Kings 2, then we’ll know: characters are the way to go,” project lead Henrik Fåhraeus told me during a demonstration in Sydney just before the game’s launch.

Crusader Kings 2 was Fåhraeus’s baby, so it was nice to chat with him about the game’s success, which is something he seemed justifiably proud of, smiling broadly when I mentioned it. But he’s also very proud of Europa Universalis 4, which has a broader scope than Crusader Kings 2 – more territories, more variables, more historical ground to cover. It was hard not to be daunted by the seemingly endless array of menus on-screen as he guided me through gameplay.

“We always aim for complex but not complicated,” Fåhraeus said, and indeed as I followed his example scenario – England at the end of the Hundred Years War, under threat from France and her vassal states and with a perilous grip on Normandy – the Matrix-like lists of options began to resolve into something I felt I could understand.

Still freaked out?

Paradox has produced a number of video tutorials explaining how to get started in Europa Universalis 4.

As I began to grasp the basic systems of accumulating and spending resources, warfare, trade and diplomacy, I started to feel more confident but also somewhat daunted. Europa Universalis 4 is an historical sandbox; there’s an end date, but there’s no real win state except the one the player chooses, like “smack the French”, “unify Germany”, “make Australia the ruler of the entire world” or similar. With so many paths open, how do you choose what to do? And with so many enemies out there – there are hundreds and hundreds of starting territories – how do you ever succeed?

To my surprise, Fåhraeus said the hardest part of developing Europa Universalis 4 was the balancing. That in itself is not shocking, but what Paradox struggled with was making the game hard enough. Imagine that: in a game where you can, for example, attempt to conquer the globe in just a few centuries, after starting as New Zealand, or a single Japanese province, the developer had a heck of a time making it tough enough for its loyal fanbase.

I am pretty sure this game is going to eat my life.

Europa Universalis 4 is available now on Linux, Mac and PC. It has cross-platform multiplayer and will support Steam Workshop.

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